The Washington Post’s Oct. 9 print edition included a paid supplement produced by a Kremlin-backed newspaper that lacked any references to the ongoing controversy over Russia’s LGBT rights record.
Rossiyskaya Gazetá produced the insert – Russia Beyond the Headlines – that contained, among other things, an op-ed from Jeffrey Mankoff of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in D.C. He cited portions of the speech that Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered during a meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club, a Russian think tank, that took place last month.
“Discussing his own view of Russian identity, Putin criticized the West for abandoning its Christian roots and ‘placing on the same level families with many children and single-sex partnerships, belief in God and belief in Satan,’” Putin said, according to Mankoff. “This cultural relativity, according to Putin, is ‘a direct path to degradation and primitivization, to a deep demographic and ethical crisis.’”
The Oct. 9 supplement is not the first time the Washington Post has published a Russia-specific insert.
The newspaper first published a Russia-themed supplement – Russia Now – in 2007.
Russia Beyond the Headlines said in a press release last month it decided earlier this year to redesign and revamp the supplement. It reappeared under the aforementioned name in the Washington Post’s Sept. 11 issue with a lead story that focused on the controversy surrounding the Russian law that bans gay propaganda to minors.
The article quoted Lyudmila Alexeyeva of the Moscow Helsinki Group, an organization that monitors human rights in Russia, as describing the statute that Putin signed in June as “a step toward the Middle Ages.” The Sept. 11 supplement reported Kirill Kobrin of Radio Free Europe’s Russia Service said he feels “it was unthinkable to even discuss these issues 20 years ago in Russia.”
“Under the Kremlin’s lead, LGBT rights are the focus of public attention and debate in Russia – albeit censored debate,” the Russia Beyond the Headlines article reads.
The New York Times on Sept. 18 published an eight-page Russia Beyond the Headlines supplement that contained articles about the gay propaganda law and coming out in the country. Putin reiterated his opposition to air strikes in Syria in an op-ed that ran in the newspaper less than a week earlier.
Ketchum PR, a public relations firm that represents Putin, placed it in the New York Times. Pro Publica reported the New York-based company received more than $1.9 million in fees and expense reimbursements from the Russian government from December 2012 through May.
The New York Times included another Russia supplement in its Oct. 16 print edition that contained an article on the arrest of 30 Greenpeace members last month who tried to board a Russian oil platform. The insert also contained a reference to the LGBT advocates who protested Russia’s gay rights record during the Metropolitan Opera’s opening night gala in New York last month.
Washington Post spokesperson Jennifer Lee declined to tell the Washington Blade how much the Russia Beyond the Headlines insert cost, but she confirmed it was a paid supplement and the advertiser provided the content. It contained a disclosure on the front page that said “it did not involve the news or editorial departments of the Washington Post.”
The top margin of each subsequent page contained a disclosure that stated the insert was “a paid supplement to the Washington Post.”
Observers and even journalists themselves have questioned the way Russian media outlets have covered the gay propaganda law, Russia’s LGBT rights record and the controversy surrounding it.
Gay American journalist Jamie Kirchick on Aug. 21 challenged Russia’s LGBT rights record during an interview with the Kremlin-backed television network RT on the sentencing of former U.S. Army private Chelsea Manning to 35 years in prison for leaking classified documents to Wikileaks.
“Being here on a Kremlin-funded propaganda network I’m going to wear my gay pride suspenders and I’m going to speak out against the horrific anti-gay legislation that Vladimir Putin has signed into law, that passed unanimously by the Russian Duma that criminalizes homosexual propaganda,” Kirchick told anchor Yulia Shapovalova. “It effectively makes it illegal to talk about homosexuality in public. We’ve seen a spate of violent attacks on gay people in Russia.”
RT aired a segment on calls to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in response to the country’s LGBT rights record less than two weeks before Kirchick appeared on the network to discuss Manning. The journalist further criticized Shapovalova and her colleagues before RT took him off the air.
Anton Krasovsky, the former editor-in-chief of the pro-Kremlin Kontr TV, said the television station fired him in January after he came out as gay during a segment on the gay propaganda law.
The Washington Post in recent weeks has published a number of stories on the controversy over Russia’s LGBT rights record and how it threatens to overshadow the Sochi games. These include a Sept. 26 article on the International Olympic Committee’s position that it has no authority to challenge the gay propaganda law and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals’ response to a question about it during the lighting of the Olympic torch in Greece late last month.
Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, who bought the Washington Post in August and contributed $2.5 million to a group that backed a successful 2012 ballot measure that secured marriage rights for same-sex couples in Washington State, did not return the Blade’s request for comment.
Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute, a media ethics watchdog, told the Blade that paid supplements and advertorials have become common in newspapers. She noted the Washington Post’s use of different fonts throughout the Russia Beyond the Headlines supplement is “common practice” and “is amazingly effective at cueing regular readers to advertising content.”
“Combined with the disclosures, it looks to me the [Washington Post] is within the standard practice of the industry,” McBride said.