News­pa­pers de­liver un­pleas­ant truths

Kyiv Post - - Opinion - BRIAN BONNER BRI­BON­[email protected] Kyiv Post chief edi­tor Brian Bonner can be reached at [email protected]

“Why did you print the ar­ti­cle?” “This is pure Krem­lin pro­pa­ganda!” “What is this trash do­ing on the Kyiv Post web­site?” “You guys are shame­ful!” “Why are you harm­ing the rep­u­ta­tion of a great or­ga­ni­za­tion?”

“I would cancel my sub­scrip­tion to the Kyiv Post, but I don’t have one, so I can’t, but I will never sub­scribe now.”

Th­ese were some of the com­ments we re­ceived af­ter pub­lish­ing an op-ed by Amer­i­can Bernard Casey on March 22 on­line. In the opin­ion piece “Last chance for peace in Ukraine,” Casey ex­pressed views that were out of sync with most peo­ple in Ukraine and the West. They did, in fact, mimic the Krem­lin script.

Casey, a Rus­sian Or­tho­dox Chris­tian, be­lieves that Crimea be­longs to Rus­sia, that Ukraine is en­gaged in a civil war and that the West staged a coup d’etat that forced Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych to flee on Feb. 22, 2014. He went on to mis­state his­tor­i­cal and mod­ern facts in form­ing his opin­ion.

I was sur­prised. But I went ahead and pub­lished the opin­ion any­way. Why?

Casey served as the pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Cham­ber of Com­merce in Ukraine for most of 2014 be­fore de­part­ing with no ex­pla­na­tion – ei­ther from him or the or­ga­ni­za­tion. He was no Krem­lin troll off the street. Af­ter the U.S. am­bas­sador­ship, the cham­ber pres­i­dency -- rep­re­sent­ing more than 600 com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing the Kyiv Post -- is ar­guably the sec­ond most pres­ti­gious and public po­si­tion that an Amer­i­can can hold in Ukraine.

Some read­ers post­ing in the Kyiv Post Face­book group un­der­stood.

Pa­trick Sul­li­van: “Pity this Amer­i­can’s opin­ions were not ad­dressed ear­lier, so now it is news. I am thank­ful the ar­ti­cle is pub­lished.”

To­mas Siverts­son: “I think that I and other read­ers have a good knowl­edge about the sit­u­a­tion in Ukraine thanks to the Kyiv Post. If this guy wants to make a fool of him­self, that’s okay.”

Stu­art McKen­zie: “I would like to thank the Kyiv Post for giv­ing Casey enough rope to hang him­self. He’ll never work in this town again.”

Other read­ers said that Casey should be sanc­tioned by the West or in­ves­ti­gated. At the same time, they con­demned the Kyiv Post for pub­lish­ing – obliv­i­ous to the con­tra­dic­tion that they would not know about Casey’s opin­ions if they had not been pub­lished. While ev­ery jour­nal­ist un­der­stands the “blame-themes­sen­ger” tra­di­tion, it is hyp­o­crit­i­cal for crit­ics to be out­raged at the Kyiv Post for pub­lish­ing Casey’s views yet un­both­ered that Am­Cham hired him. So how did the Casey op-ed come about? For sev­eral years, I had known Casey only as a Face­book friend in­ter­ested in this part of the world. I met him for the first time af­ter he got the Am­Cham job, when I in­ter­viewed him for a story about the tran­si­tion in lead­er­ship from 15-year pres­i­dent Jorge Zukoski, also an Amer­i­can. I met with Casey two other times over lunch and saw him at a cou­ple of events. My im­pres­sion: De­cent man, but so­cially awk­ward and not very ef­fec­tive in his role. I heard rum­blings of dis­sat­is­fac­tion about his per­for­mance be­fore Am­Cham in Oc­to­ber is­sued a vague state­ment that he would stop work­ing there at the end of 2014.

The next time I heard from him was this year, when he re-friended me on Face­book. He had de­ac­ti­vated his ac­count dur­ing his ten­ure as Am­Cham pres­i­dent, but was now ea­ger to en­gage on the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in Ukraine. Some peo­ple soon told me to read his posts, which they thought were out­ra­geous. Some even thought he was still at Am­Cham, be­cause his fir­ing was done so qui­etly and no re­place­ment has been named.

I read some alarm­ing posts from Casey. One grabbed my at­ten­tion: “One year af­ter the fact, it is still hard for me to fathom the in­tel­lec­tual dis­hon­esty and hypocrisy it takes for the West to rec­og­nize a regime in Kiev that came to power through an un­con­sti­tu­tional, vi­o­lent, for­eign-or­ches­trated coup d’état with only about 30% popular sup­port, and yet fail to rec­og­nize the right of self-de­ter­mi­na­tion of the peo­ples of Crimea to re­unify with their fa­ther­land Rus­sia, to whom they be­longed be­fore the United States came into ex­is­tence, with close to 90% popular sup­port.”

So I sent him a mes­sage, ask­ing him to write an op-ed on the topic. Some have ac­cused me of lur­ing him into a trap to ex­pose him. Not so. I do think, how­ever, that he was obliv­i­ous to how un­pop­u­lar his opin­ions would be among Kyiv Post read­ers.

While I strongly dis­agree with Casey, I pub­lished the op-ed for three key rea­sons:

1. If I were just a Kyiv Post sub­scriber and not the chief edi­tor, would I want to read this? Yes, of course. I would have been an­gry at the Kyiv Post if it hid the rad­i­cal anti-Ukrainian views of some­one who held such an in­flu­en­tial po­si­tion.

2. I be­lieve that Am­Cham should an­swer th­ese ques­tions: How did he get the job, given his views? Or weren’t his views known when he got hired? If not, then why not, given his long record of sim­i­lar state­ments? Or did ev­ery­one know and he sim­ply got hired any­way be­cause Yanukovych was still in power? Is there any ev­i­dence he was work­ing for the Krem­lin? Is that why he got fired? What is the board do­ing to en­sure that such a choice does not hap­pen again? I have many more ques­tions like that. Un­for­tu­nately, Am­Cham is cir­cling the wag­ons in dam­age con­trol. Some have said it’s in­ap­pro­pri­ate to com­ment; I think it’s in­ap­pro­pri­ate not to com­ment.

3. Casey’s opin­ion is not iso­lated. It is shared by many peo­ple in Rus­sia and, to a lesser ex­tent, out­side of Rus­sia. This is an un­pleas­ant, but in­dis­putable, truth. The Kyiv Post is not go­ing to pub­lish only “the party line.” This would make us no bet­ter than the Krem­lin. We can no more ig­nore the views of peo­ple like Casey than we can ig­nore the Rus­sian tanks and troops in­side Ukraine. I fear that more Ukraini­ans are be­com­ing like many Rus­sians and Amer­i­cans: They only want news out­lets that re­in­force their opin­ions of re­al­ity. I find it bet­ter to learn what peo­ple with whom I dis­agree are think­ing. This doesn’t mean we print any­thing. We have a Krem­lin black­list of or­ga­ni­za­tions that sim­ply spew Krem­lin PR and mis­in­for­ma­tion, night and day, but re­view ar­ti­cles for pub­li­ca­tion or ag­gre­ga­tion on a case-by-case ba­sis. But when peo­ple of Casey’s for­mer stature par­rot the Krem­lin line, I think it shows how much work is still needed to get the truth out and also shows how obliv­i­ous some of us are about dif­fer­ing views in our midst.

Af­ter the ar­ti­cle was pub­lished, Casey de­nied by email to me that he has ever worked for the Krem­lin. I be­lieve him. I also be­lieve that his views are sin­cere. How­ever in­ac­cu­rate and morally re­pug­nant those views, I don’t be­lieve that he de­serves per­sonal abuse for ex­press­ing them.

Af­ter all, you can be sin­cere and wrong at the same time – just ask the Am­Cham board of di­rec­tors who hired Casey. They’ll tell you, or then again maybe they won’t. If I were in­volved in hir­ing Casey, I would be em­bar­rassed as well.

My guess is that, con­sid­er­ing Zukoski was dis­dain­ful of the EuroMaidan Revo­lu­tion to the end, the cham­ber made a big mis­take by hir­ing some like Casey who they thought the old regime, one that many thought would be in power per­pet­u­ally, would like. This mis­take shows why it’s good to have com­peti­ing busi­ness as­so­ci­a­tions and also why those as­so­ci­a­tions should rank democ­racy, hu­man rights and rule of law as high as mak­ing money on their lists of pri­or­i­ties. The cham­ber’s si­lence is mak­ing a bad sit­u­a­tion worse. We will cer­tainly pay closer at­ten­tion to the next pres­i­dent’s views and ac­tions -- and we hope Am­Cham does as well.

Bernard Casey, sec­ond from left, served as pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Cham­ber of Com­merce in Ukraine for most of 2014. Casey is shown on May 12 in the photo. Casey’s pro-Krem­lin views in fa­vor of Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of Crimea, as well as his be­lief that...

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