On stage at Busboys and Poets in Washington, D.C. this past week was Princeton University Professor Emeritus Stephen Cohen, author of the new book, War with Russia: From Putin & Ukraine to Trump & Russiagate.
Cohen has largely been banished from mainstream media.
“I had been arguing for years — very much against the American political media grain — that a new US/Russian Cold War was unfolding — driven primarily by politics in Washington, not Moscow,” Cohen writes in War with Russia. “For this perspective, I had been largely excluded from influential print, broadcast and cable outlets where I had been previously welcomed.”
On the stage at Busboys and Poets with Cohen was Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor of The Nation magazine, and Robert Borosage, co-founder of the Campaign for America’s Future.
During question time, Cohen was asked about the extent of the censorship in the context of other Americans who had been banished from mainstream American media, including Ralph Nader, who the liberal Democratic establishment, including Borosage and Vanden Heuvel, stiff armed when he crashed the corporate political parties in the electoral arena in 2004 and 2008.
Cohen said the censorship that he has faced in recent years is similar to the censorship imposed on dissidents in the Soviet Union.
“Until some period of time before Trump, on the question of what America’s policy toward Putin’s Kremlin should be, there was a reasonable facsimile of a debate on those venues that had these discussions,” Cohen said. “Are we allowed to mention the former Charlie Rose for example? On the long interview form, Charlie would have on a person who would argue for a very hard policy toward Putin. And then somebody like myself who thought it wasn’t a good idea.”
“Occasionally that got on CNN too. MSNBC not so much. And you could get an op-ed piece published, with effort, in the New York Times or Washington Post.”
“Katrina and I had a joint signed op-ed piece in the New York Times six or seven years ago. But then it stopped. And to me, that’s the fundamental difference between this Cold War and the preceding Cold War.”
“I will tell you off the record – no, I’m not going to do it,” Cohen said. “Two exceedingly imminent Americans, who most op-ed pages would die to get a piece by, just to say they were on the page, submitted such articles to the New York Times, and they were rejected the same day. They didn’t even debate it. They didn’t even come back and say – could you tone it down? They just didn’t want it.”
“Now is that censorship? In Italy, where each political party has its own newspaper, you would say – okay fair enough. I will go to a newspaper that wants me. But here, we are used to these newspapers.”
“Remember how it works. I was in TV for 18 years being paid by CBS. So, I know how these things work. TV doesn’t generate its own news anymore. Their actual reporting has been de-budgeted. They do video versions of what is in the newspapers.”
“Look at the cable talk shows. You see it in the New York Times and Washington Post in the morning, you turn on the TV at night and there is the video version. That’s just the way the news business works now.”
“The alternatives have been excluded from both. I would welcome an opportunity to debate these issues in the mainstream media, where you can reach more people. And remember, being in these pages, for better or for worse, makes you Kosher. This is the way it works. If you have been on these pages, you are cited approvingly. You are legitimate. You are within the parameters of the debate.”
“If you are not, then you struggle to create your own alternative media. It’s new in my lifetime. I know these imminent Americans I mentioned were shocked when they were just told no. It’s a lockdown. And it is a form of censorship.”
“When I lived off and on in the Soviet Union, I saw how Soviet media treated dissident voices. And they didn’t have to arrest them. They just wouldn’t ever mention them. Sometimes they did that (arrest them). But they just wouldn’t ever mention them in the media.”
“Dissidents created what is known as samizdat – that’s typescript that you circulate by hand. Gorbachev, before he came to power, did read some samizdat. But it’s no match for newspapers published with five, six, seven million copies a day. Or the three television networks which were the only television networks Soviet citizens had access to.”
“And something like that has descended here. And it’s really alarming, along with some other Soviet-style practices in this country that nobody seems to care about – like keeping people in prison until they break, that is plea, without right to bail, even though they haven’t been convicted of anything.”
“That’s what they did in the Soviet Union. They kept people in prison until people said – I want to go home. Tell me what to say – and I’ll go home. That’s what we are doing here. And we shouldn’t be doing that.”
Cohen appears periodically on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News. And that rankled one person in the audience at Busboys and Poets, who said he worried that Cohen’s perspective on Russia can be “appropriated by the right.”
“Trump can take that and run on a nationalistic platform – to hell with NATO, to hell with fighting these endless wars, to do what he did in 2016 and get the votes of people who are very concerned about the deteriorating relations between the U.S. and Russia,” the man said.
Cohen says that on a personal level, he likes Tucker Carlson “and I don’t find him to be a racist or a nationalist.”
“Nationalism is on the rise around the world everywhere,” Cohen said. “There are different kinds of nationalism. We always called it patriotism in this country, but we have always been a nationalistic country.”
“Fox has about three to four million viewers at that hour,” Cohen said. “If I am not permitted to give my take on American/Russian relations on any other mass media, and by the way, possibly talk directly to Trump, who seems to like his show, and say – Trump is making a mistake, he should do this or do that instead — I don’t get many opportunities – and I can’t see why I shouldn’t do it.”
“I get three and a half to four minutes,” Cohen said. “I don’t see it as consistent with my mission, if that’s the right word, to say no. These articles I write for The Nation, which ended up in my book, are posted on some of the most God awful websites in the world. I had to look them up to find out how bad they really are. But what can I do about it?”