IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Ukraine and freedom

Ukrainians deserve better in this new century

December 2, 2004 |

The Ukraine election crisis .  As writes:  "A Russian bid to return to super-power status is the truly big story behind Ukraine's rigged election."  Or as Newsweek :

The collapse of communism and the disintegration of the Soviet empire profoundly affected the psyche of Russians.  They simply cannot adjust to the fact that they have been so much reduced in size and influence....To deal with this problem, the government of President Vladimir Putin has quietly but steadfastly sought to restore Moscow's influence over what had once been the Soviet republics and now are sovereign states.

The Ukrainians -- having been the victims of one of history's worst at the hands of the Soviet Union under Stalin, a genocide that was actively by sympathizers in the press -- may feel differently.  And, apparently, quite a few of them do.

How things will play out is unclear at this point, but there are a number of English-language Weblogs following events, and many of them are Ukraine-based and offer firsthand reporting, photos, etc.   and are blogs by Americans in Kiev (they're married to each other, in fact).   is by journalist Veronica Khokhlova, who also had an this past weekend.  And at the blog, Prof. King Banaian, an international economist who spent a year working with the Ukrainian government after independence, collects a variety of information from all over.  And these blogs have links to still others.

Wish the people of Ukraine well.  Not everyone does.  As Anne Applebaum in the Washington Post yesterday:

At least a part of the Western left -- or rather the Western far left -- is now so anti-American, or so anti-Bush, that it actually prefers authoritarian or totalitarian leaders to any government that would be friendly to the United States.  Many of the same people who found it hard to say anything bad about Saddam Hussein find it equally difficult to say anything nice about pro-democracy demonstrators in Ukraine.  Many of the same people who would refuse to condemn a dictator who is anti-American cannot bring themselves to admire democrats who admire, or at least don't hate, the United States.  I certainly don't believe, as President Bush sometimes simplistically says, that everyone who disagrees with American policies in Iraq or elsewhere "hates freedom."  That's why it's so shocking to discover that some of them do.

I'm past being shocked at such things, I'm afraid.  But I hope things work out well for the Ukrainians, who have suffered rather a lot in the past century, and who deserve to do better in this one.

November 30, 2004 | 10:29 AM ET

The No-Weenie Zone

Bill O'Reilly still doesn't understand that the Internet is a no-weenie zone.  Apparently, even journalists who (at best) recklessly report stories based on unchecked fake documents are too important to be criticized by the "little people" on the Internet.  At least, that seems to be the gist of by O'Reilly defending Dan Rather:

All famous and successful Americans are now targets.  Unscrupulous people know that any accusation can be dumped on the Internet and within hours the mainstream media will pick it up.  It will be printed in the papers, discussed on radio and TV and become part of the unfortunate person's résumé whether he or she is guilty or not.  A click of the Internet mouse can wipe out a lifetime of honor and hard work.  Just the accusation or allegation can be ruinous.

There might be something to this -- except that it was Dan Rather making the unfounded accusation, with no help at all from the Internet.  And Bill O'Reilly is defending him, making me wonder about his own standards.  O'Reilly's hair-trigger temper about Internet accusations, which he's shown , makes me wonder if he's not worried about something a bit closer to home than Dan Rather's problems.  But points out the real issue:

It was that Rather took 12 days to even acknowledge that he could have made a mistake.  He refused to leave or look down from that pedestal he built for himself.  He hurt the credibility of the news business and its relationship with its public as a result.  I never thought or said he intentionally lied.  He intentionally ignored the truth, though.

Indeed.  And as Nick Gillespie :

Dan Rather was slimed?  How, exactly?  He was mocked and derided for putting out a phony story--a brilliant denouement to a career clogged with other sorts of laughable weirdnesses.  Nobody was accusing him of murder, or rape, or any sort of unsubstantiated ad hominem charges.  They said he was a dupe, witting or not, of the need for a big story that apparently supported his personal political view.  He got burned because he jettisoned his journalistic standards at the precise moment he needed to stand by them.  For that, he deserves to get beaten about the kidneys professionally.  In any case, he's not going to hell as a result--he's capping off a 1,000 year career as one of the most-underwatched newsbots in the history of TV.  That's pretty freaking good work if you can get it.

Once again, O'Reilly's defensiveness about the Internet is making him look like a weenie.  And once again, denizens of the Internet are pointing out that it's a no-weenie zone.  As Howard Kurtz the last time O'Reilly launched a hissy fit about the Internet, "O'Reilly loves to stir up trouble, of course, but many of his targets don't have a megaphone to shout back.  That's hardly the case online, where almost anyone can crank up the volume."  Indeed it isn't.  I thought O'Reilly had learned that the last time around.

November 29, 2004 | 1:21 PM ET

Kofi no, Vaclav yes

It's been a bad year for U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.  First, there are the involving U.N. peacekeeping troops, and the U.N.'s efforts to cover them up:

Linked in the past to sex crimes in East Timor, and prostitution in Cambodia and Kosovo, UN peacekeepers have now been accused of sexually abusing the very population they were deployed to protect in Congo.And while the 150 allegations of rape, pedophelia and solicitation in Congo may be the UN's worst sex scandal in years, chronic problems almost guarantee that few of the suspects will face serious punishment.

This sort of thing would be a huge international story if it involved, say, American troops, but it's reached the point at which it's causing trouble even for the United Nations, which has always benefited from a progressive image with the press.  (More .)

The U.N. Secretariat has even faced a , growing out of other sex scandals, which is surely embarrassing.  And yet these scandals are minor compared to the growing evidence that the U.N.-administered oil-for-food program was in fact a sink of corruption and evasion, as U.N. officials -- quite possibly in exchange for bribes -- allowed Saddam Hussein to divert money that was supposed to be spent on food and medicine for Iraqi children to fund palaces and illicit weapons programs -- and terrorism.  (There's a roundup of "UNScam" scandal stories ).

Kofi Annan's son even appears to have been , which leads the New York Times' William Safire to join the chorus calling for :

This marks the end of the beginning of the scandal.  Its end will not begin until Kofi Annan, even if personally innocent, resigns - having, through initial ineptitude and final obstructionism, brought dishonor on the Secretariat of the United Nations.

But who would replace him?  How about , Czech dissident and overturner of Communist dictatorship?

I have a column on this in today's Wall Street Journal:

But however you assess Mr. Havel's chances of becoming secretary general, for Mr. Annan the comparison is devastating.  Mr. Havel, after all, is a hero on behalf of freedom: A man who helped bring about the end of communist dominance in Eastern Europe, despite imprisonment and the threat of death -- a man who could write that "Evil must be confronted in its womb and, if it can't be done otherwise, then it has to be dealt with by the use of force."  Mr. Annan, by contrast, is a trimmer and temporizer who has stood up for tyrants far more than he has stood up to them.

The United Nations is desperately in need of a cleanup.  Whether Havel is the man to do it, it's clear that getting rid of Annan is a necessary first step.