Putin Scares Pants Off Condé Nast, Gawker Saves Day

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Did you know that GQ recently published a groundbreaking story which questions “the official line” on the 1999 bombings — supposedly committed by Chechen rebels — that Vladimir Putin used as a springboard to put himself in charge of Russia for the last decade? Did you know that the article uses an on-the-record source to suggest complicity in the bombings by the intelligence services that Putin himself was once a part of?

Until recently, neither did I.

That might have something to do with the fact that Condé Nast, the owner of GQ, has done everything possible to bury their own story deep within the pages of GQ‘s American September print edition, sending a memo ordering that it never sees the light of day on the Internet or in Russia.

Thankfully, some folks at GQ were so upset they went to NPR, and as soon as Gawker got wind of this ethical disaster, they scanned a copy of the English article and crowdsourced a Russian translation, both of which are here.  As for concerns by Gawker over copyright infringement, owner Nick Denton says, “We’ll deal with that issue when we come to it.”

But Gawker’s admirable actions aside, why is Condé Nast running with its tail between its legs from one of the biggest stories GQ has seen in recent years (no disrespect, of course, to all those Pulitzer-level stories about Michael Jackson, cheap jeans, supermodels and douchebags)?

The short answer: They want to make money from their Russian publications. Putin is a bigscary meanie who doesn’t seem to mind too much when journalists who disagree with him die under mysterious circumstances. Oh, and according to the NPR article, his government also likes to put media outlets who disagree with him out of business.

Does anyone else see how weird this all is? Is Putin going to start sending plutonium pills to Gawker? Is the bravest journalism going to now come from people who spend most of their time covering Lindsey Lohan, Bjork and Jay-Z? What will that do to journalism? Can a single tyrant find a way to put down an American-based rebellion in support of an act of integrity on behalf of the journalist and his source in Moscow? Will any of it end up mattering at all in Russia? Would it have mattered at all if Condé Nast had published it and publicized it as they should have? Will the burying of the story make it bigger than it was in the first place?

My head hurts.


Seth Fischer’s writing has twice been listed as notable in The Best American Essays and has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize by several publications, including Guernica. He was the founding Sunday editor at The Rumpus and is the current nonfiction editor at The Nervous Breakdown. He’s been awarded fellowships and residencies by Ucross, Lambda Literary, Jentel, Ragdale, and elsewhere, and he teaches at the UCLA-Extension Writer’s Program and Antioch University, where he received his MFA. More from this author →