Last week, the Moscow Times reported on eXile getting called for a meet and greet at Russia’s Federal Service for Mass Media, Telecommunications and the Protection of Cultural Heritage.
Now Mark gives us the lowdown in “A Troublesome Visitor” on Radar Online. Sounds like the end . . .
Thursday morning, Moscow time, four Russian government officials came to the office of my English-language newspaper, the Exile, and conducted an “unplanned audit” of our editorial content. They are carrying out an inspection of my paper’s articles to see, in their words, if we have committed “violations.” And they specifically asked to question me, since I’m officially listed as the founding editor-in-chief.
I started up the Exile 11 years ago with a Russian publisher, and it grew into a kind of cult phenomenon, with an online readership of 200,000 visitors per month, launching the careers of Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi and the “War Nerd,” Gary Brecher, but ensuring that anyone who sticks with the paper is condemned to a life of poverty and paranoia.
In all my years I’d never heard of an “unplanned audit” of editorial content. The insiders whom I contacted all said, “It’s … strange.” That’s how my Russian lawyer reacted, it’s how an American official reacted, and it’s even how the head of the Glasnost Defense Fund reacted, even though his NGO focuses on problems between the Russian media and the Kremlin.
“As far as I know, there has never been a single Moscow-based media outlet which has been audited like this,” Glasnost’s lawyer told me. “We’ve seen a few of these in the far regions, but never Moscow. But really, don’t worry about it, Mark, I don’t think you’re in any personal danger at this point.”
Whenever a Russian tells me, “Don’t worry, Mark,” or, “It’s no problem,” I start to sweat.
I first learned of the government audit last week while I was out in California dealing with a family illness. I was already in a heightened state of paranoia at the time—one week in my native suburbia is all it takes to trigger panic attacks—so when the government sent notice of the “unplanned audit” to our office, my first thought was, “Can an American get political asylum in his own country?” Then I remembered some of the articles I’d written from Moscow—for example, my post–2004 U.S. presidential election editorial titled “Gas Middle America,” and how former U.S. congressman Henry Bonilla (R-TX) once used his office to pressure the Russian authorities into arresting me because of a prank I’d played—and the next thing I knew, I was rifling through my mother’s medicine cabinet looking for something strong to steal.
Eventually I calmed down and flew back to Moscow in time for the audit. At 11 a.m., four officials from the Federal Service for Mass Media, Telecommunications, and the Protection of Cultural Heritage arrived—the men in shabby Bolsheviki suits, and a squat middle-age woman with pudgy arms and hands that pinched the seams of her wrists. On the advice of a Russian attorney, we greeted them with a box of dark chocolates. It was solid advice, and probably did more to protect us than a hundred attorneys’ briefs could have.
Read on . . .