Beware of Scorpion Fish! (And the F.S.B.)


I got to tell you, I’m more in love with the guy than ever,‘ gushes Gayne C. Young to the New York Times.  Young is the Outdoor Life reporter whose 4,500-word wildlife spread on hunting, fishing and ‘the coolest man in politics‘, Vladimir Putin, is generating exponential international column inches – apparently because, despite his notorious political reputation, the press just can’t keep their eyes off of Putin’s glowing pectorals.  Or something.  That’s what got Young into this mess in the first place, after all – the journalist’s regular blogs about his Putin ‘man crush‘ apparently won the attention of the Kremlin and led to the interview (which if you missed it, by the way, can be read in its full glory here, replete with top fishing tips, e.g., don’t touch scorpion fish):
In an interview from his home in Texas, Mr. Young said Outdoor Life was hoping to send him to Russia to go fishing with Mr. Putin, who is not a keen hunter. It seemed Mr. Young’s ardor does not extend to Mr. Medvedev, since a mention of the Russian president’s name was met with silence on the other end of the line.

“You’re going to have to remind me who that is,” Mr. Young said.
Meanwhile, let’s not forget the significantly less glamorous, less outdoorsy, less glowingly healthful stories about Putin’s Russia: Valery Panyushkin writes level-headedly, also in the New York Times today, about the various intimidations practised on him by the F.S.B. for his journalistic efforts, including losing the license plate from his car and unexplained police checks. 

I try to make out what might have aroused the government’s interest. Was it my article about the shortage of medicine for people with H.I.V., or the one on how the police protect a studio that produces child pornography? Was it my report that the F.S.B. has forbidden the export of blood samples from Russia to protect the profits it makes from the market in donated bone marrow? Could it be because I once juxtaposed Barack Obama at his inauguration, striding through a crowd of supporters lining Pennsylvania Avenue, with Dmitri Medvedev, riding toward his swearing-in in a bulletproof car through streets emptied for the occasion?

It must have been something I wrote a few years ago. I no longer write about politics because it increasingly feels pointless to do so in a country with no real public involvement in political life. But whatever it was that angered the government, as with many things in Russia, there is no way of knowing.
But worst of all, says Panyushkin, the intimidation of Russia’s journalists is not the worst thing: ‘the real problem is that journalists are ignored‘.  Unless they’re writing about the glorious manliness of Vladimir Putin, that is.