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Unfiled July 22, 2004
 
Who Tolls the Bell?
 
 

Ever wonder how they pick who gets to eulogize dead dudes? Just take a look at a sampling of Khlebnikov's obit writers!

Serge Schmemann, The New York Times

Compared to Caputo, this guy seems like a saint. Schmemann's only crimes? Lying about Russia to the American public and maybe being a spy. Before we launch into details, though, we should clarify a little bit about Schmemann's race. The name sounds Jewish (and both the size of his schnauz and some of our sources confirm it), but he claims to be a White Russian. What gives? We assume his fluent Russian and the fact that his granddaddy had pre-Revolutionary estates means that he's the later, but it's possible that he's simply one of a long tradition of self-hating Jews.

Schmemann deserves credit as one of the first American correspondents in the USSR to actually speak the language (unlike, say Bill Keller or Peter Guy) and have something of a clue. But at least some people think the reason he got the NY Times job from '80 to '86 was he was working for Uncle Sam. The Soviets certainly thought so, and he was expelled from the country after getting caught receiving a packet of papers in a Moscow park. Of course, the commies were never above setting that type of exchange up themselves.

His real crimes begin when he gets sent back to Moscow as Times bureau chief in '91-'94. Over this period his violently pro-Yeltsin stance made for the worst distortions of a Russian politician since fellow Timesman Duranty covered for Stalin in the '30s. The Times coverage of the '93 assault on the White House was the most memorable example, where Yeltsin and the "democrats" protected Russia from the "red-brown" coalition. Of course, that protection meant establishing martial law and the elimination of freedom of speech.

So when Schmemann's obit laments that "law and an appreciation of freedom have not taken hold in Russia," take it with a grain of salt.

Michael R. Caputo, The Washington Post

Just 'cuz his name isn't immediately recognizable doesn't make Caputo any less evil. This guy was the spin doctor behind Yeltsin's reelection campaign in 96. As if subjecting Russia to the horror of that post-quadruple bypass pig shaking it with a Rostov pop band wasn't bad enough, greaseball Caputo gets to brag at Beltway cocktail parties that Jeff Goldblum played him in Spinning Boris. And now the Post handed him a chance to act righteous, condemning Russia as a criminal state! About the oligarchs (whom he has no doubt pulled the trigger on Paul), Caputo says, "Hellbent on getting rich, they have no boundaries. Raised in a communist world devoid of morals, they have no soul." Yikes! That thar's some perty strong language. But what about Caputo's soul?

We remind you that the '96 elections introduced the criminal concept of "loans-for-shares" to Russia. While Caputo didn't personally introduce this novel concept that further consolidated power and wealth into the oligarchs hands, he was certainly getting paid by the money it generated. Likewise, the blackout of information about Zhuganov's campaign might not have been his idea, but it went hand in hand with the avalanche of pro-Yeltsin PR that Caputo and his cohorts launched. Any way you look at it, the campaign was totally illegal and anti-democratic, and Caputo played a huge role in it.

Nor are his sins concentrated on a single event. In '01, Caputo's company Rainmaker Interactive signed a contract reportedly worth between $50-$100 million with GazProm Media, which was then in the process of taking over NTV. His mission? To convince folks in DC that the seizure of Russia's only independent TV station was a legitimate business move and had nothing to do with politics. No boundries, Michael, no soul? Apparently Russian oligarchs aren't the only ones hellbent on getting rich. Funny how back then he wasn't too critical of the "brutal criminals [who] still run amok in Russia, operating with impunity and no fear of prosecution."


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