Two prominent Americans Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Frand Cohen lost to cancer on the same day (September 18) is a great downer – at least for me. Of the two, Justice Ginsburg’s stature, relative to the U.S. Supreme Court and her prior background, has understandably received the greater media coverage. Notwithstanding, Dr. Cohen’s relevance to the coverage of Russia in the U.S. and his scholarly pursuits are nothing to gloss over.
An accomplished academic, Cohen was the leading English language mass media TV talking head on Russia. Over the past several months, I suspected that something ominous was up with him. He wasn’t appearing anywhere, as news items like the situation in Belarus and Alexei Navalny’s health cropped up. Belarusian presidential election
I first became aware of Cohen in the 1980s, via his Nation articles and appearances on New York Pacifica Foundation affiliate WBAI. In the pre-internet era, I had the pleasure of corresponding with him. He was the first person who cautioned me on how Russia was restructuring during the Yeltsin era. In more recent times, Cohen and yours truly communicated via email on some Russia related media and historical areas of interest.
The U.S. establishment’s treatment of Cohen’s death has been mixed. Johnson’s Russia List and The New York Times have provided a detailed and respectful accounting. Mind you, that these are two venues which I’ve been reasonably critical of. I’m willing to give credit where it’s due. The same can’t be said of some others, which concerns why the coverage of Russia (and for that matter other issues) has been lacking from what it otherwise could be.
It’s not surprising to see that the anti-Russian leaning and largely U.S. government funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) ignored Cohen’s death, unlike its coverage of Richard Pipes’ passing, which I commented on as well. A colleague of Cohen’s, Gilbert Doctorow, noted that Cohen wasn’t well liked among anti-Russian elements with a central and east European origin. Without a doubt, that grouping has had the upper hand at RFE/RL.
Former New York Times editor, Carla Robbins, who is now involved with the Council on Foreign Relations and the City University of New York, matched the RFE/RL route in ignoring Cohen’s passing. At her Twitter account, Robbins regretfully noted the passing of Brent Scowcroft and wished Julia Ioffe a get well from a Covid-19 bout. Concerning this comparative matter, it’s somewhat surprising to see The National Interest (as of this writing) take the same stance as RFE/RL and Robbins. Like RFE/RL, The National Interest ran a piece relating to Pipes’ death.
Via Aaron Mate’s Twitter account, I became aware of tributes to Cohen from media hosts John Batchelor and Chris Hayes. The respectful honoring of Cohen from Batchelor and Hayes should be followed up on. As an MSNBC host, one senses that Hayes has restrictions on who he can comfortably (from the vantage point of his position) have on. Keep that thought in mind when the subject of Russia comes up on his show. Batchelor seems like he has more leeway on who he can have on his show.
A recent Mate exchange with Fred Weir expressed a view that I’ve previously noted. On matters pertaining to Russia’s relations with the West, post-Soviet Russia (Putin era included) sees greater media diversity than U.S. mass media, which has slid into a very restricted coverage of Russia.
This observation very well relates to the “New Cold War” term, utilized by Cohen and some others. Concisely put, the neocon-neolib, to flat out anti-Russian view is quite flawed. There’s no reason for the mainstream Russian position to feel intellectually threatened by it.
The issues at hand aren’t always so east to accurately categorize. I generally tended to agree more with Cohen than Pipes. In some instances, I found myself more in agreement with Pipes than Cohen. The eclectic mindset is different from the five minute and under TV and radio segments, given to some guests who’ve stated questionable to out rightly false statements, with little and at times no challenge.
The goal for a mutually beneficial improved U.S.-Russian relationship lives on. This desire continues to face an uphill battle. Pro-American sentiment in Russia has declined. To a considerable extent, this occurrence has been the result of faulty biases against Russia which continue to get an upper hand in Anglo-American mass media and body politic, as well as those venues influenced by them. Frustrating as it has been, the only viable option is to continue communicating as effectively as possible. Throwing in the towel is a win for the neocons, neolibs and flat out Russia haters.