September 12, 2013
 YURI KADOBNOV / Getty Images
(Yuri Kadobnov/Getty Images

In an already-famous op-ed in the New York Times, Russian President Vladimir  Putin scolds President Obama over rhetoric:

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy.

Putin’s elbow makes sense on a certain level. Most parenting experts will tell you, for instance, that it’s a mistake to inform your children that they’re exceptional. It can prompt big-headism and complacency. Perhaps the same dynamic applies to a country.

Yet, as they say, it ain’t bragging if you can back it up. And if there’s one area of American exceptionalism that Putin can well appreciate at this point, it’s freedom of expression in the United States. Dial back to April 2012, when rocker Ted Nugent, at an NRA gathering, decided he’d say some threatening things about his country’s leadership: “I’ll tell you this right now: If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year. We need to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off in November. Any questions?”

What might become of a Fyodor Nugenteyev who decided to pop off in similar fashion about Putin? Hard to say, but consider one of the stories bubbling up in Russia these days: “Russian journalists face charges over ‘negative’ Winter Olympics stories.” According to Human Rights Watch, outlets covering preparations for the Sochi games have “faced threats and harassment after publicizing violations or concerns about the Olympics. Some said they believed the local authorities sought to control negative or critical information about Sochi by pressuring editors of outlets that publish Olympics-related materials.” Reporters Without Borders places Russia among the world’s worst countries on press freedom (148 of 179 countries for 2013), on the following rationale: “[S]ince Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency, repression has been stepped up in response to an unprecedented wave of opposition protests. The country also continues to be marked by the unacceptable failure to punish all those who have murdered or attacked journalists.”

As for media repression in the United States, well, recent months have seen a plume of public concern over government incursions. In May, we learned that the feds had secretly subpoenaed phone records of the Associated Press, and that the Justice Department had named Fox News reporter James Rosen as a “co-conspirator” in a violation of the Espionage Act, though it never brought such charges against him. Over the summer, several news outlets published information revealing some of the biggest operational secrets of the National Security Agency (NSA). Authorities have gone after the leaker, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, but not the journalists, who have faced harassment and intimidation… from other journalists!

Nugent, meanwhile, triggered some interest from the Secret Service, and then went back to spreading his views all over the place. Exceptional.

 

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.