FROM THE ARCHIVES — The Dying Men
Russian propagandists try to sue their way out of their shame
Originally published November 6, 2023
“If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die.”—Casablanca, 1942
“When a man becomes weak enough to accept a bribe, he’s already a dying man.”—Gilda, 1946
The Dying Men
I was watching a Glenn Ford-Rita Hayworth film noir last night, and a mobster explained that when a man becomes weak enough to commit his first criminal act, he’s already dead inside.
What shame they bear from the first time they said ‘yes’, rather than ‘no’, to easy criminal money. Imagine being a once proud military man, who starts taking money from the mafia state of Russia or the corrupt regime of Erdogan — how dirty that must feel, what shame they bring on their family.
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And then to have to lie and lie and lie some more to cover their tracks, only to have to increase the deal with these devils, because by then they’re wholly owned by a crime syndicate and have to deliver. That’s why so many US traitors look like they’re starring in their own hostage videos.
They look around at their criminal peers, who are now facing judges in courtrooms, some already behind bars, others flying out of windows or shot out of the sky. And instead of surrendering to a higher power and beginning the road to redemption, they double down on their criming misery.
Maybe they’ve convinced themselves that aligning with Putin is what Jesus wants. Or maybe they’re just drunk — high on their own supply.
While I welcome a future of truth and reconciliation, until then, I examine history to see the parallels and to learn how to fight back with words chosen wisely.
Writers are dangerous to autocrats and their dying men.
Writers — the good ones, anyway — have a way of cutting through the unreality to yank out the truth, to use words like blunt instruments that cut through lies.
Imagine living in a country where you can’t call a war a war without risk of imprisonment.
As my podcast partner continues fighting lawfare brought by disgraced lt. general Mike Flynn, and my reporting colleague fights lawfare brought by disgraced reality TV flop Donald Trump, I see patterns in recent history.
Kremlin dwellers went after independent media two decades ago with a barrage of legal assaults — the intent, to silence Putin critics.
In a Washington Post report from December 16, 2000, Russia Hits Tycoon With a New Lawsuit, a media mogul was locked up in a Spanish jail while Russian prosecutors sought his extradition to Moscow as they pounded him with charges:
The embattled Media-Most news empire of tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky was hit with a fresh legal assault by Russian authorities today as tax inspectors filed suit seeking to close the company, including NTV, Russia's lone major private television channel.
The attack came as Gusinsky remained in a Spanish jail while Russian prosecutors sought his extradition to Moscow; lawyers for Gusinsky described the action as another chapter in the eight-month Kremlin campaign to silence criticism from his media empire.
President Vladimir Putin said he approved of the prosecutors' actions.
The new pressure on Gusinsky's media holdings came in the disclosure by Interfax news agency that a Moscow district tax inspector's office had filed a suit with a local court seeking liquidation of companies in Gusinsky's conglomerate…
Media-Most officials said taxes were paid, and denounced the move as part of the Kremlin-directed campaign of harassment…
The Kremlin pressure on Gusinsky began after Putin's inauguration in May…
"The masks are off," Media-Most said in a statement. "For the first time, the ultimate goal of the present Kremlin dwellers has been declared, openly and unabashedly--any media outlets which dare to criticize the authorities and tell about their mistakes, errors of officials and corruption should be liquidated. Any remaining doubts regarding political motivation underlying the pseudo-legal prosecution of our companies has been dispelled."
Boris Nemtsov, leader of the reformist Union of Right Forces faction in parliament, warned that the authorities were closing in on NTV, which has been critical of the government. "I have an absolutely clear understanding--there is a wish to nationalize NTV."
This was 15 years before Nemtsov — the man who would have been President of Russia if Putin didn’t fake his elections — was assasinated in front of the Kremlin.
‘America Is Now In Fascism’s Legal Phase’
Two years ago, in a report for the Guardian, Jason Stanley wrote America Is Now In Fascism’s Legal Phase:
There comes a tipping point, where rhetoric becomes policy. Donald Trump and the party that is now in thrall to him have long been exploiting fascist propaganda. They are now inscribing it into fascist policy.
How to topple a democracy
We are now in fascism’s legal phase. According to the International Center for Not for Profit Law, 45 states have considered 230 bills criminalizing protest, with the threat of violent leftist and Black rebellion being used to justify them. That this is happening at the same time that multiple electoral bills enabling a Republican state legislature majority to overturn their state’s election have been enacted suggests that the true aim of bills criminalizing protest is to have a response in place to expected protests against the stealing of a future election (as a reminder of fascism’s historical connection to big business, some of these laws criminalize protest near gas and oil lines).
Defending a fictional glorious and virtuous national past, and presenting its enemies as deviously maligning the nation to its children, is a classic fascist strategy to stoke fury and resentment.
If you want to topple a democracy, you take over the courts.
Donald Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton in 2016 by almost 3m votes, and yet has appointed one-third of supreme court, three youthful far-right judges who will be spending decades there. The Roberts court has for more than a decade consistently enabled an attack on democracy, by hollowing out the Voting Rights Act over time, unleashing unlimited corporate money into elections, and allowing clearly partisan gerrymanders of elections. There is every reason to believe that the court will allow even the semblance of democracy to crumble, as long as laws are passed by gerrymandered Republican statehouses that make anti-democratic practices, including stealing elections, legal.
In my report Unmusked — in which I instinctively knew Musk was put in place to destroy communication, I documented the historic precedents of fascists targeting truth.
To understand why the purchase of Twitter by a Kremlin-friendly billionaire matters, one need only to look how other autocrats and oligarchs around the world have abused their powers.
In 2018, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban encouraged owners of hundreds of Hungarian media properties to ‘donate’ them to a Government allied foundation. The Central European Press and Media Foundation (CEMPF) began absorbing cable news channels, internet platforms, newspapers, radio stations, and magazines. The result was a centralized right-wing Government-controlled media syndicate.
Freedom of the press has been on a steady decline in Hungary ever since.
Orban’s attacks on the rule of law ramped up during the COVID-19 pandemic, when he declared a state of emergency and began seizing unlimited power to rule by decree. Among the targeted groups were the LGBTQ+ community, women, journalists, academia, and asylum seekers.
Russia itself has a similar history. Two decades ago in Russia, as Vladimir Putin came to power, the media tycoon Vladimir Gusinksy said he was pressured to relinquish his empire to the Government.
He had formed a media consortium during perestroika and his organization’s coverage of the first Chechen war was critical of Russia. In addition, he refused to back down from an investigation into a series of apartment bombings that independent journalists claimed were the work of the Russian intelligence service, the FSB. The Kremlin blamed the bombings on Chechen rebels.
In the mid-‘90s, Gazprom, the state owned gas company, became a 30% shareholder of his media holdings, and this investment was later weaponized against Gusinsky, according to a human rights court. Gusinksy alleged Russian operatives declared ‘open warfare’ against him, as he was hit with repeated charges that prompted him to flee to Spain. The European Court of Human Rights determined the charges violated Gusinky’s rights.
In modern times, autocratic leaders are increasingly seeing the value of controlling social media. Former Philippines leader Rodrigo Duterte had a rabid fan base online, with an army of bloggers who defended him, and who also went after journalists critical of his savage anti-drug policies, which often resulted in bloody public executions.
“If it’s drugs, you shoot and kill”, he famously said.
Before leaving office, Duterte used his presidential power to block the franchise extension of the country’s largest media conglomerate, ABS-CBN, silencing a network that had been critical of him and which he said refused to air his 2016 political ads.
Earlier this year, an ally of Duterte’s took control of the network, causing media watchdogs to decry the move as ‘shameless’ and ‘concerning’.
Shutting Down Critics
In his final column on August 22, 2016, Gawker managing editor Nick Denton wrote: “This is an act of destruction.”
He called it a “fitting conclusion to this experiment in what happens when you let journalists say what they really think”, and he called freedom “illusory”.
Twitter is now at risk of a similar ‘death by a thousand cuts’ except the threat comes from inside the organization, rather than outside.
Although always a wildly imperfect platform, Twitter broke news faster than any other site and the direct global communication it offered for journalists and activists was unparalleled. Now, that’s in danger of being replaced by a free-for-all for those with a darker agenda.
“What all of this means is not that ‘it’s a bummer that Twitter is dying,’ it’s that Musk is providing the largest on-ramp for brainwashing, for coercive propaganda in history”, Jim Stewartson, the cohost of RADICALIZED: Truth Survives, an investigative podcast about disinformation, told the Byline Supplement.
“That’s why this is so dangerous”, he said.
In my latest report for Byline Supplement, I note that Musk is suing the Center for Countering Digital Hate for exposing how hate speech doubled on Twitter since he took over.
As Mike Flynn widens the scope of his lawsuit against Jim, let’s take a look where he filed his lawfare — in Florida, where there’s been a movement to overturn the 1964 landmark US Supreme Court ruling, New York Times v. Sullivan, that established that a plaintiff must prove “actual malice” in defamation disputes.
The US Supreme Court has already overturned Roe, so why not zoom out and see the bigger play. Reality TV flop Donald Trump also filed in Florida to sue my reporting colleague. Both Flynn and Trump filed in Sarasota.
In an upcoming report I wrote for Byline Supplement, I explain that we must see this as a multi-front war, with legal battery a core component.
The threats I receive I turn over to the FBI, and I stay focused on the very important work of exposing monsters — US criminals accelerating global fascism.
If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die.”
When I’m not reporting, I get a lot of fortification from films.
Rewatching ‘Casablanca’ and being reminded of the power of Resistance, of knowing the enemy — and knowing right from wrong, buoyed me this week. Sharing the quote with Ruth Ben-Ghiat, who I spent time with in person this week, further buoyed my spirit.
“You might as well question why we breathe. If we stop breathing, we'll die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die.”—Viktor Lazlo, Casablanca
It is sad for me that the enemy often includes reporters — those who chose to look away from fascism, normalizing the criminals, or worse — covering for the criminals. But that is also part of the fight. Punching through their shitty or softball headlines, exposing them as accessories to democracy’s murder — their lying by omission and chronic obfuscation.
But whatever it takes to defeat these dying men — men whose souls decayed from the first bribe they took.
Things look different when criminals are prosecuted. They sing a different tune, which is why it’s so vitally important that we are still a country of laws and that lawfare is exposed as harassment and intimidation — criminals trying to silence the truth-tellers.
Truth has a way.
As I rewatched 1961’s Judgement At Nuremberg, a Nazi judge begged the US judge who headed his tribunal to believe him when he said, “Those people… those millions of people… I never knew it would come to that. You must believe it!”
To which the US judge responded, “It came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.”
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More info about Bette Dangerous - This magazine is written by Heidi Siegmund Cuda, an Emmy-award winning investigative reporter, author, and veteran music and nightlife columnist. She is the cohost of RADICALIZED Truth Survives, an investigative show about disinformation and is part of the Byline Media team. Thank you for your support of independent investigative journalism.
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