Catherine Fitzpatrick: Hero Blogger

Everyone enjoys reading about himself. This wretched egomania fuels the celebrity phenomenon that is the lifeblood of modern society, and why not! So you can imagine my delight to awake this morning to Catherine Fitzpatrick’s latest four-thousand-word-long masterpiece — an attack on me, my sinister Kremlin sympathies, and the outfit (Global Voices) where I recently signed on as a project editor. Her post, “Global Voices’ ‘Nuanced’ Coverage of the Troubling New Russian Internet Law,” targets a GV piece I published yesterday on Russian draft Law 89417-6, the legislation that many describe as a “Great Firewall” clone.

Catherine Fitzpatrick, an hero of our tiem. (Twitter avatar.)

Upon actually reading Fitzpatrick’s opus, I was less than thrilled to learn that she picked all the wrong reasons to assault my work. In less than 4,000 words, let’s right those wrongs and explore some actually justified assassinations of my stuff!

First, as I pointed out in a probably-a-bad-idea comment on Fitzpatrick’s blog, I’m not the one who compared Russian Law 89417-6 and SOPA. The Russian Presidential Council on Human Rights drew this comparison in a public statement that was signed by none other than Ludmila Alexeyeva, a woman Fitzpatrick lists as her “political grandparent.”

Second, I am said to have “bashed” Duma deputy Ilya Ponomarev, who supports the Internet legislation. Fitzpatrick, who openly opposes the law, writes that “Ponomarev in fact has comported himself entirely honorably in the last year.” She is, of course, referring to his recent protest activities (oddly, this anti-Soviet crusader singles out Ponomarev’s support for the rabidly leftist and Stalin-adoring Sergei Udaltsov), but most importantly Fitzpatrick misinterprets a particular quote I inserted into my GV post. I noted that Ponomarev defended Law 89417-6 by citing the fact that its first blueprint was drafted by an online society. That group, The League for a Safe Internet, first proposed a more limited blacklist than the one now being considered by the Duma, to be managed by an NGO, though the parliament now wants to delegate that authority to Roskomnadzor. What Fitzpatrick misunderstands is that Ponomarev’s statement was on July 6, the day that the deputies approved the new, harsher version of the law. In other words, Ponomarev was endorsing not the original “soft” blacklist, but the revised legislation! You know, the one with “no judicial oversight” (a mischaracterization, as blacklisted sites can appeal the decision in court) and “concepts antithetical to human rights” (such as “anti-extremism,” like racist hate speech).

Third, fourth, and umpteenth, this steaming pile of lazy reading-and-research fails to scratch the surface of perfectly legitimate criticisms of my own work. For instance, I suggest that a new office in the Presidential Administration, “For the Application of Information Technology and the Development of e-Democracy,” was created as a counterweight to Deputy PM Surkov and Communications Minister Nikiforov. But where’s the proof? Just because I couldn’t find a public statement about the Internet law doesn’t mean that the presidency hasn’t signaled a more defined position on the issue, perhaps also ambivalent about the law’s current wording.

Meanwhile, I cite an article by journalist Andrei Babitskii, who (a day before the RuWikipedia blackout) lambasted Russia’s Internet companies for remaining ‘unforgivably silent’ about the looming RuNet blacklist. Babitskii has been kidnapped, interviewed terrorists, and battled Putin’s ‘bloody regime’ for years, but there is plenty of contrary evidence to his claim that Russian tech companies kept silent about the Duma’s draft law. While LiveJournal and VKontakte publicly endorsed RuWikipedia’s stunt, the executives of Yandex, Russian Google, Mail.ru, and others have been dishing out condemnations to the media for weeks. Why not assail me for burying this story? Wasn’t it unfair of me to downplay the heroics (or the honesty, or whatever one wishes to call it) of the RuNet giants?

All this is to say that my delight this morning was short-lived. I like a good trolling as much as the next guy. In this age of video and doodads, it’s always nice to know that somebody out there is reading — even if she’s doing so through clenched teeth and cracked spectacles. But when criticisms miss their mark, and fall instead upon misunderstandings and misreadings, my excitement slips into disappointment, and any service to readers transforms into a boring misrepresentation of a thing that wasn’t ever really read in the first place.

6 Comments

  1. Oh, but you *did* compare it to SOPA, you put it in your piece and accentuated it. That’s *you* doing that, Kevin. You can’t evade responsibility for that by letting your usual moral equivalency trick hide behind some other persona you quote.

    I’ve called Ludmila Alexeyeva the “conscience of Russia” and indeed among my “political grandparents” and I happily stand by that. So what? That doesn’t mean I agree with every single thing she says. What a cunning and manipulative little trick to try to take some affiliation I have and then try to make it seem like that person is in fact antithetical to what I believe — it’s such a classic Bolshevik maneuver!

    I haven’t discussed SOPA with Ludmila Mikhailovna — what a silly thing it would be to waste time on a long-distance phone call on such a trivial topic when there are life and death matters like the handling of the Kuban floods and jailing of demonstrators!

    But I’m quite confident that her concern expressed about this has more to do with the Russian context of lawlessness and lack of independent judiciary than it is about worrying whether kids can download their Lost episodes and Call Me Maybe videos, yanno? Alexeyeva is not a copyleftist and hasn’t pronounced on these issues — this text was drafted by Fedorov or someone else and she signed it not because of its SOPA reference but due to the larger issues.

    Of course I oppose a law like this in the Russian context, and I’ve explained it very thoroughly. You’re up to no good, as I pointed out, by singling out Ponomaryev as the problem, when he isn’t. He works within the system — not everybody finds that to their liking. Alexeyeva is another one who tries to cooperates with the authorities for the sake of moving the needle (she was on the presidential human rights council but recently said she would resign, then said she’d wait to see who was appointed or “elected” in some fake Internet election scheme). It’s good some people do this constructively. It’s important to have others who oppose the regime more explicitly. You’re not about such diversity of tactics or tolerance, you’re about whitewashing what is the problem here: Putin.

    I didn’t “misunderstand” anything — a frequent tactic you use to try to pretend that the problem of your critics is stupidity or negligence, not valid disagreement with you. I totally “got it” what Ponomaryev had done as I follow him on Facebook and read other articles *gasp* beside your blog. But again, it’s the context. He decided to cooperate and work for a better solution, until it was not possible, but then he decided — with the exact same pragmatism YOU exhibit toward the Kremlin !!! — to go along to get along — for the next battle. Not what I would do, but I respect that he did it, and I certainly don’t see that it means he is now endorsing racist hate speech, that’s preposterous and tendentious to even claim.

    To imply that parliament “delegates” to Roskomnadzor — an executive branch agency — is to enter into the folly of the Duma, which takes instruction from the executive authority — it’s merely conceding executive agency control whatever the technical figleaf is.

    As for Udaltsov, you really don’t understand principles or human rights or how a civil society has to work. I certainly don’t care for Udaltov’s neo (paleo?) communist views and his notions of keeping Putin as prime minister only until the communist revolution succeeds, etc. But if he is arrested merely for speech, and merely for peaceful assembly, he is a prisoner of conscience whether we like that conscience or not. I don’t know how much Ponomaryev cares for Udaltsov’s views, but I’ve heard some democrats in Russia expression admiration for Udaltsov merely because he is principled and perceived as unencumbered with moral or political scandal, a rare thing. That’s all. To try to imply that I’m somehow endorsing Stalinist views is scurrilous.

    I really want to see how that works *in the Russian judicial system* with those appeals of the blacklisting of sites. I’m sure that’s going to be just fabulous, Kevin.

    There’s nothing “lazy” about my research — I’ve called out the moral issues quite simply. You’ve run a pro-Putin blog for ages, you then lay low during the elections, you then grabbed this job at Global Voices which you use to very cunningly continue the pro-Putinism, trash the opposition, and morally equate Russia with the United States, all of which are despicable.

    I do have to chuckle at you dreaming of ways you could be “legitimately and constructive criticized” Kevin. Is that like having an invisible friend when you’re a child?

    But the issue isn’t the “new office” but promotion of the fantasy and fiction that Medvedev, previously head of Gazprom and previously president, represents some “liberal, technologically innovative fellow” who contrasts and opposes the stolid regressive former KGB officer Putin. Baloney.

    Babitsky’s claim about the silence of the tech giants may have a context, and that context may be that they did not pre-empt this effort in its cradle vocally, and that they may be doing too little, too late. I don’t accept you as a valid interpreter of what he intended there.

    I’m certainly hugely unimpressed with Durov of Vkontakte.ru — he recently posted a manifesto of strange political notions which he asked to be publicly critiqued — in English — and so I did, saying I found some of the “direct democracy” stuff phony and even ominous and Bolshevik-like in the Russian context. He didn’t like that, nor did he like me pointing out the fact that he should answer for the fact that his company deleted the supporter group (8,000 members) of Andrei Sannikov, an opposition presidential candidate in Belarus, right after he was arrested. He had no answer — except to delete me from his “friendship” list.

    (Sannikov, BTW, whom Global Voices left being called falsely a KGB agent for months on end after he was arrested, in a comment in the Belarus section of GV — shame on you — I called that out repeatedly until finally it was removed. A disgrace.)

    I don’t have any “clenched teeth” or “cracked spectacles” — what a silly notion. I call out things that I find morally disgraceful — like pretending there could be some back story or “good excuse” for the horrendous threat Bastrykin made to the Novaya gazeta journalist, an issue you’re silent about here.

    Shame, shame, on your Kevin Rothrock, for pretending the issue isn’t moral and political, and pretending that it’s about “misreadings”. Preposterous.

  2. “But the issue isn’t the “new office” but promotion of the fantasy and fiction that Medvedev, previously head of Gazprom and previously president, represents some “liberal, technologically innovative fellow” who contrasts and opposes the stolid regressive former KGB officer Putin. Baloney.”

    Ms Fitzpatrick –
    You cannot know this, because you aren’t a Kremlin insider. Maybe your interpretation (because you can only engage in interpretations) is fantasy and fiction. You should take that into account and not treat us, the readers, like idiots or children who need to have the *correct* view promoted to them. If I’m reading Kevin’s blog (either here or on GV) clearly he writes stuff that that resonates with me,

  3. What I find most baffling about Fitzpatrick’s condemnation (besides the liberal use of ad hominem attacks) is the accusation that Rothrock is a “pro-Kremlin blogger.” Are we still trapped in the outmoded worldview that journalism about politics and society in Russia has to serve a moral function, either upholding or criticizing the government, and nothing in between? What I enjoy about AGT is that it sheds the monolithic depiction of politics and avoids the moralism (and that includes faith-based belief in either the benevolence or maliciousness of the Kremlin), while actually giving a more nuanced look at what’s going on.

  4. You know as someone who was banned for allegedly writing more in the comments than the host of a blog where the Russophobic hive gathered (a lie) at Streetwise Professor, I find this amusing. The banning actually had more to do with me pointing out the host Craig Pirrong’s tendency to justify and rationalize all manner of creepy surveillance Statism while posing as a libertarian and his shrill, hysterically pro-Establishment comparison of Ron Paul and the Texas Congressman’s supporters to the genocidal Khmer Rouge of Cambodia. In other words, Professor, you broke Godwin’s law.

    “and morally equate Russia with the United States, all of which are despicable.” Dear Catherine how many grannies and toddlers are being groped by the TSA-iski goons in Sheremetyevo and Domodedovo as we speak? How many known criminals are the Russian equivalents to the TSA hiring? Why is it despicable to suggest that the line between good and evil runs not between nations but through every human heart, as Alexandr Solzhenitysn said? And do you think God (if you happen to believe in the God of the Bible) is going to give America a pass for 60 million unborn carved up? The million dead in Iraq and the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians who had to flee their ancient homeland? The Syrian Christians who may soon join them in exile because of the policies cheered on in the name of removing a Russian ally in Damascus?

    No one in the Russophobic hive could ever imagine someone questioning their moral authority to judge Russia from the American paleo-Right, nor could they argue their way out of a paper bag from their own alleged libertarian, free market premises. Nor that they live on subsidies, hand outs, the Demintern and prance around more aggressively about Russia (in the case of Pirrong) after his own industry of commodities is exposed as a haven of lawlessness, in the person of Jon the Don Corzine walking free after stealing 1.2 billion of customer funds and Forbes reporting that he wired the money to JP Morgan. The money we are told by the New York Times simply ‘disappeared’ in a flurry of trades. Poof.

    So no Catherine, until I see you out marching with a sign calling for Corzine’s arrest — you’re in NYC and he’s not far — spare us the outrage over moral equivalence. The oligarchs have taken over the U.S.

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