And once again, just as with Burnett, and just as with Koyen, the same censorship was effected by the same awesome formula. First, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleisher told reporters, "He should watch what he says." Can you imagine if Putin or one of his spokesmen said that about a Russian TV announcer- "He should watch what he says"-to a Parfyonov or a Kiselyov? Why, the poor bastard would be fired the next day!
Which is exactly what happened to Bill Maher. He was fired from ABC. Just like Dan Rather was essentially fired from CBS earlier this year-but that's a case far more indirect, because there's evidence it involved a new way to censor unfriendly journalists-intentionally setting them up for false stories that will, once debunked, then destroy their reputations. But that's a story for another article:
Maher's case is actually quite similar to Koyen's. Maher show was called "Politically Incorrect," so theoretically, he shouldn't be punished for being just that, politically incorrect. Indeed the show itself was a celebration of America's free speech-and when it was shut down, most people "rolled their eyes" when Maher and his few supporters tried to say that what Ari Fleischer and ABC did was a violation of free speech. The conventional wisdom was that it was a business decision, and Maher could go find work on another network, like say a cable network-kinda, you know, like how the smaller TV stations in Russia like RenTV aren't as tightly censored.
In the same way, Koyen ran an alternative newspaper with an in-your-face editorial policy, which is what alternative means, but when he got into the wrong face-that is, the government's face-Koyen was forced to resign by "the owners of the media outlet."
There it is again: the emphasis on form over substance. A show called "Politically Incorrect" gets shut down for being politically incorrect; an alternative newspaper gets shut down for being alternative; censorship is when the government fires the journalist, not when the owner fires him.
This is where the huge disconnect, the grievance against America, really starts to boil. Because even after reading this, most Americans would still say, "Yeah, but it's not the same at all. It's different." They'd instinctively refuse to internalize any of this argument, and instead slip into the comfortable denial that is the hallmark of American existence, and that's that. Within ten minutes, you could start arguing again, bring up Peter Arnett's fate, or Ashleigh Banfield's, or Koyen's or Maher's, and, like Bush, the country collectively will ask, "I don't know what journalists you're talking about: they were fired by their owners, not the government."
This is where the Russians just can't get America's double standards and double-speak. It's one thing for government officials to say one thing and do another. Most Russians, particularly those in power, assume those are the rules. But the difference is that since Russians are a naturally skeptical people, somewhere deep down, the ones in power at least know they're cold-blooded liars and hypocrites when, for example, they start yammering about their concerns over democracy and human rights in Iraq or Guantanamo Bay, or whinging over the fate of fired American journalists. It's almost as if that Russian Interfax journalist at the Bratislava press conference was trying to say to Bush, and to his American media counterparts, "Look, we all know we're all liars, right? You, me, Mr. Putin, the Washington Post correspondent there. All of us. We all know we're hypocrites and we're all on the take, so let's just admit it. Please? Cuz this is really starting to freak me out, man."