Newspapers deliver unpleasant truths
“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...