October 21, 2013 | by Kevin Naff
Putin’s unlikely American allies
Vladimir Putin, Russia, gay news, Washington Blade

Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo public domain)

Vladimir Putin has found some unlikely U.S. allies in his efforts at smearing lipstick on the pig that is his oppressive government.

MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts, who’s gay, released a self-important announcement last week that he plans to co-host the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, crowing that “courage is contagious.”

“I am not going to boycott,” Thomas writes. “Boycotting and vilifying from the outside is too easy. Rather, I choose to offer my support of the LGBT community in Russia by going to Moscow and hosting this event as a journalist, an anchor and a man who happens to be gay. Let people see I am no different than anyone else.”

Let’s unpack this fantastical statement. First, those who have assailed Putin’s anti-gay laws aren’t “vilifying” Putin or Russia. They are rightly condemning harsh laws that have led to violent attacks on Russian gays. That chorus has included figures from President Obama to Bravo’s Andy Cohen (who turned down the Miss Universe hosting job) to newly out actor Wentworth Miller. They have condemned Russia’s push to criminalize pro-gay “propaganda” and efforts to ban couples from countries where same-sex marriage is legal from adopting children.

Second, touting your journalistic credentials while accepting a cheesy gig from none other than Donald Trump, who owns the pageant, is downright laughable. Trump has been outspoken in his staunch opposition to marriage equality. Rather than take questions from actual journalists, Roberts interviewed Trump on his own show to discuss the controversy last week. The two talked a big game of taking on Putin’s anti-gay laws.

“The gay groups in Moscow are loving the fact that we are going over there,” Trump said. “ … So I think that you’re going to do something about it, and I think that I’m going to do something about it.”

They didn’t elaborate on what exactly they plan to do about it, nor did they name any Russian gay groups that are allegedly celebrating this tawdry pandering.

Finally, Roberts thinks that allowing viewers to see that he’s “no different from anyone else” will somehow improve life for Russian gays. The reality is that viewers won’t see anything that Russian censors don’t want to be shown. Viewers will see the photogenic Roberts dutifully reading his teleprompter, towing the line for his homophobic boss Trump.

Roberts’ ego knows no bounds as he compares his “courage” to that of Harvey Milk, writing, “I go to prove there’s hope.” Roberts’ actions — accepting a big fat paycheck from a homophobic Tea Party birther like Trump to host a beauty pageant — bare no resemblance to activism or journalism. Roberts is shilling for Trump’s corporate interests and, in the process, giving cover to an oppressive government. He should reconsider and drop out of this train wreck if he hopes to preserve whatever is left of his credibility.

And Roberts isn’t alone in giving cover and comfort to Putin. The Washington Post and New York Times continue to publish supplements, thinly disguised as “advertorials,” paid for by the Russian government. The special sections are inserted into the print editions of the newspapers and amount to nothing more than pro-Putin propaganda.

Publishers make decisions all the time about what kinds of advertising to accept and reject, including ads for alcohol, cigarettes and sexually oriented businesses, among others. The Post and Times cover Putin’s anti-gay efforts on their editorial pages but then, as readers turn the page, they are subjected to unchecked pro-Putin propaganda. Surely Jeff Bezos, the Post’s new owner and $21 billion man, doesn’t need Putin’s money. He’s talked of reinventing newspapers for the digital age. Let’s hope the industry’s future doesn’t lie in trading credibility for a quick buck from dictators, despots and killers like Putin.

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at knaff@washblade.com.

Kevin Naff is the editor and a co-owner of the Washington Blade, the nation’s oldest and most acclaimed LGBT news publication, founded in 1969.

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