Even the stridently anti-Putin Newsweek has jumped aboard the new story, as evidenced in their recent "Russia's Mighty Mouse" article, which suggests that Medvedev is going to chart his own liberalish course, leaving NCW peddlers like Lucas as high and dry as if they'd arrived in Moscow today with a container of Levi's 501s, thinking that they're going to make a killing selling blue jeans outside the Metro exits.
While Lucas and MacKinnon may look ridiculous having jumped aboard a fad as it was passing, what their embarrassing predicament really reveals is something about our sordid profession, and the difficulty of journalistic entrepreneurship. How do you sell a book, let alone an article, to the fiercely myopic and ignorant United States market, the only market that really pays cash to journalists? Marketing fear ain't easy in a fear-competitive environment. During the Clinton years, the market for fear was fairly wide open to the best fear-monger, no matter how ridiculous the fear-object was. You may have forgotten, but back then a lot of people seriously believed that Clinton was going to invite the UN blue helmets to occupy America, disarm the white male population, and force every household to quarter a homosexual underneath their child's bed. That fear story sold hugely in America, and it still lingers today. (Which raises another problem journalists have: trying to sell anything grounded in reality to a nation of Evangelical morons.)
Books about Russia, on the other hand, have never quite sold what the publishers hoped they would. Even big books like Hoffman's Oligarchs or his Washington Post colleagues' Kremlin Rising only hit big in Wonk World, not in Barnes & Noble where the money's made. Once Russia stopped scaring the shit out of Americans 20 years ago, it's been a hard sell. With the War On Terror-those damned cinematic Mullahs, with their flowing script and flashing scimitars!—it's downright impossible.
Pity poor Edward Lucas. Or better yet, pity Mark MacKinnon, who at least wrote a fairly decent historical account of how those "color revolutions" were actually carried out, only to let some editor contaminate his research with a tacked-on title and first chapter putting him out on the street as just another NCW street whore. And it didn't even work!
But most of all, pity US, the journalist-scavengers, damn it! We're the real victims here. With the collapse of this New Cold War market bubble, every Russia-based writer is left holding our irrelevant, no-news dicks. Under our breaths, we're cursing the appointment of Medvedev as much today as we cursed Russia's impossible rebound under Putin, because it's bad for business. Our business.
Sure, we're enjoying watching Edward Lucas take such a humiliating dive—but only until we remember that we're going down with him. And then we shake our little fists, along with Edward Lucas and Mark MacKinnon and the rest of our colleagues in the Russia-watching community, at the merciless Kremlin: "Damn you, Putin! You've foiled us again! We're not through with you though… Not by a longshot. We'll get you yet! Isn't that right Tony? 'Yes, Mr. Lucas! Raw Dloc! Raw Dloc!"
(With John Dolan from Vancouver)