Ocnus.Net

Dark Side
The Journalist and the Murderers
By Charles Digges, Mother Jones 18/10/06
Oct 24, 2006 - 7:39:00 AM

In the days following the brutal and senseless assassination of Anna Politkovskaya last Saturday, my phone and email were abuzz with the shock and outrage of my former colleagues in the Moscow foreign press corps. Many of them were already busily typing away, collecting theories and interviewing one another about our recollections of the iron lady of Russian journalism. "It could have been any one of us," we told one another.

But I have been mulling that over, asking myself: could it really?

I concluded that, except for special cases, I don't really think so. Such an assertion is really more a statement of solidarity by western journalists with Politkovskaya, as none of us restricted by our particular journalistic vows to not draw our own conclusions ever went as far as Politkovskaya did. None of us ever stated outright, in our own copy, that President Vladimir Putin is a cynical, racist liar who is directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people. Instead, we would draw on our collection of dial-a-quotes that could be ventriloquated to state the obvious unpleasant truth for us.

The difference between her and the rest of us went beyond that, though. Politkovskaya didn't just report. She was on the front lines demanding the government put a stop to the horror she witnessed on a daily basis. She gave lie to the old adage that we western journalists seek refuge in when we are confronted first hand by atrocities and do nothing to respond but take out cameras and notebooks: We are here, we tell ourselves, only to get the story, not become part of it.

Politkovskaya disdained such perceived safeguards. She constantly crossed the chalk-drawn line between reporter and subject by shuttling messages between Chechens and their relatives in Moscow; by being one of the few Russians and certainly the only reporter who tried to negotiate with the Chechen rebels who stormed Moscow's Dubrovka Theater in 2002, taking the audience hostage; and by negotiating with Russian troops who were busy bombing Grozny back into the Pleistocene for a safe passage out of the Chechen capital for elderly residents who were pinned down by the mortar fire.

In other words, she took the ideal that had pushed us all into reporting in the first place to make the world a better place one step further, relying not only on the eloquence of her words, but getting her hands dirty in the trenches with her subjects.

By so doing, she challenged the myth of objectivity that we are taught to hold so dear: the canon a reporter should live by, she would have said, is not objectivity, but responsibility. The moral obligation of reporting, regardless of the dangers, is to bear witness.

I have come to believe that in every story there are not always two separate but equally reasonable points of view, especially in Russia, where there are clear villains and thugs and clear victims who have been unremittingly brutalized. Politkovskaya believed that too, and she put her principles into practice every day, and against all odds, in a country that is now so pervaded by racism, corruption, xenophobia, official hatred of the press and cruelty that it has become a perfect reflection of President Vladimir Putin himself.

She knew this, she wrote about it, and she was shot dead.

Yet she had the last word in her posthumous article of Thursday, October 12th, when her newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, published the story she had been completing on the day she was murdered. The story documents, with letters and photos, the sanctioned torture of civilians under the regime of Kremlin-backed Chechen Premier Razman Kadyrov. One possible motive for her killing was to prevent that story from seeing the light of day.

But only someone of Politkovskaya's stature could have leveled these dark, disturbing and thoroughly documented accusations against Russian officialdom giving the lie, from beyond the grave, to Putin's assertion to a German newspaper that this muckraker's role in Russia's political life had been "insignificant



Source: Ocnus.net 2007