Twenty Years After the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Recalling the Liberal Media's Blindness to the Evils of Communism
Perhaps the most amazing piece of pro-Soviet propaganda produced in the 1980s was Ted Turner’s seven-hour Portrait of the Soviet Union
, shown in the United States on the CNN founder’s TBS Superstation. Even the New York Times
, in a March 20, 1988 review, deemed it an embarrassment, saying that the three-part series “is possessed by the same spirit that once led George Bernard Shaw to throw his dinner out the window of a Soviet train — because food was redundant amid socialist milk and honey.”
Narrator Roy Scheider (Jaws
, The French Connection
) read a script that would make the editors at Pravda blush: “The Soviet Union, draped in history, born in a bloody revolution, bound together by a dream that is still being dreamt. The dream of a socialist nation marching toward the world’s first communist state....Once the Kremlin was the home of czars. Today it belongs to the people....Atheist though the state may be, freedom to worship as you believe is enshrined in the Soviet Constitution....Modernization on a grand scale. A great success.” [Audio/video (0:43): Windows Media
| MP3 audio
When Turner’s Portrait made it to the U.S.S.R. later that spring, Financial Times
Moscow correspondent Quentin Peel reported that Soviet television “introduced [it] with the apology that the film gave an excessively glamorous portrait of the country.” Somehow, Turner managed to create a piece of propaganda that even its communist subjects couldn’t swallow.
While the rest of the media elite would not go as far as the sycophantic Turner, some reporters did push an embarrassingly pro-communist spin that would soon be undermined by events.
“If suddenly a true, two-party or multi-party system were to be formed in the Soviet Union, the Communist Party would still win in a real free election. Except for certain small pockets of resistance to the Communist regime, the people have been truly converted in the last 68 years.”— CNN Moscow bureau chief Stuart Loory in a letter to the Wall Street Journal, Feb. 3, 1986.
“Despite what many Americans think, most Soviets do not yearn for capitalism or Western-style democracy.”— Anchor Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News, June 17, 1987.
“The reality is that even if the communist state were to protect individual rights aggressively, many of its people are not prepared to tolerate diversity.”— Dan Rather on the May 27, 1988 CBS Evening News.
“East Germany is the Communist world’s vaunted economic success story, hailed as proof that hard work, discipline and thrift can translate Karl Marx’s theories into reality.”— New York Times reporter Ferdinand Protzman in the May 15, 1989 “Business Day” section.
“Communism got to be a terrible word here in the United States, but our attitude toward it may have been unfair. Communism got in with a bad crowd when it was young and never had a fair chance....The Communist ideas of creating a society in which everyone does his best for the good of everyone is appealing and fundamentally a more uplifting idea than capitalism. Communism’s only real weakness seems to be that it doesn’t work.”— 60 Minutes commentator Andy Rooney in the New York Times, June 26, 1989.
“Like Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev before him, [Vladimir] Kryuchkov has taken the personal route, talking of his fondness for Bellini’s opera ‘Norma.’ He swoons over the piano mastery of Van Cliburn, and hints that he would arrange a Moscow apartment for the pianist if he would only come here more often. Then he sighs over his exhausting workday at Dzerzhinsky Square: ‘The KGB chairman’s life is no bed of roses.’”— Reporter David Remnick in The Washington Post, September 8, 1989. Two years later, Kryuchkov was part of the hardline “Gang of Eight” that attempted to overthrow Gorbachev.
“Marx and Lenin are still revered heroes. Never mind that communism as they conceived it didn’t work. Most Soviets don’t want to dump it, just improve on it.”— USA Today founder Al Neuharth, February 9, 1990 column.Previous: IntroductionNext: The Liberation of Eastern Europe: Missing the “Safety” of Communism