Russian journalist Alexey Kovalev wrote a letter to his “doomed colleagues in the American media” about how they are now facing what Russian reporters have been facing for years.
“Congratulations, US media!” Kovalev wrote at Medium.com. “You’ve just covered your first press conference of an authoritarian leader with a massive ego and a deep disdain for your trade and everything you hold dear.”
“We in Russia have been doing it for 12 years now — with a short hiatus when our leader wasn’t technically our leader — so quite a few things during Donald Trump’s press conference rang my bells. Not just mine, in fact — read this excellent round-up in The Moscow Times,” he went on.
Putin’s press conferences, Kovalev said, are annual media spectacles at which “Putin always comes off as an omniscient and benevolent leader tending to a flock of unruly but adoring children.”
President-elect Donald Trump’s circus-like press conference on Wednesday, he said, showed that the former reality TV star is “apparently taking a page from Putin’s playbook.”
To his American counterparts, Kovalev said, “You’re in this for at least another four years, and you’ll be dealing with things Russian journalists have endured for almost two decades now. I’m talking about Putin here, but see if you can apply any of the below to your own leader.”
Welcome to the era of bullsh*t:
“Facts don’t matter,” said Kovalev. “You can’t hurt this man with facts or reason. He’ll always outmaneuver you. He’ll always wriggle out of whatever carefully crafted verbal trap you lay for him.”
Putin, he said, treats all interviews as a one-way conversation. When he’s handed questions he doesn’t like, he responds with “a bag of meaningless factoids (Putin likes to drown questions he doesn’t like in dull, unverifiable stats, figures and percentages), platitudes, false moral equivalences and straight, undiluted bullsh*t.”
“He’ll mock you for your nervous stuttering and if you’re raising a serious issue, respond with a vague, non-committal statement,” Kovalev warned.
Don’t expect any camaraderie:
If you’re hoping for support from your fellow journalists, you’re bound to be disappointed, Kovalev said.
“These people are not your partners or brothers in arms. They are your rivals in a fiercely competitive, crashing market and right now the only currency in this market is whatever that man on the stage says,” he warned. “It’s in this man’s best interests to pit you against each other, fighting over artificial scarcities like room space, mic time or, of course, his attention.”
Russian media agencies now arrive at Putin press conferences with “large, bright placards aimed at attracting the president’s attention.” The Russian president has made the press events into a game where reporters clamor like children for his attention.
Expect a lot of sycophancy and softballs from your “colleagues”:
“A mainstay of Putin’s press conferences is, of course, softball questions. Which also happen to be Putin’s favorites. Mr President, is there love in your heart? Who you will be celebrating New Year’s Eve with? What’s your favorite food?” Kovalev said.
Other times Putin will take questions of little importance so he can eat up time posturing and making himself look like an attentive, authoritative leader.
“There will be people from publications that exist for no other reason than heaping fawning praise on him and attacking his enemies,” Kovalev wrote. “But there will also be one token critic who will be allowed to ask a ‘sharp’ question, only to be drowned in a copious amount of bullshit, and the man on the stage will always be the winner (‘See? I respect the media and free speech’).”
You’re always losing
“This man owns you,” said Kovalev. “He understands perfectly well that he is the news. You can’t ignore him. You’re always playing by his rules — which he can change at any time without any notice. You can’t — in Putin’s case — campaign to vote him out of office. Your readership is dwindling because ad budgets are shrinking — while his ratings are soaring, and if you want to keep your publication afloat, you’ll have to report on everything that man says as soon as he says it, without any analysis or fact-checking, because 1) his fans will not care if he lies to their faces; 2) while you’re busy picking his lies apart, he’ll spit out another mountain of bullshit and you’ll be buried under it.”
He concluded, “I could go on and on, but I think at this point you see where this is heading. See if any of this rings any bells if you covered Trump’s presser or watched it online.”