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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The View From America

For the typical American in Moscow, hardly a week goes by that he or she doesn't wonder how life in Russia is playing on the tube or in the papers back home. It's a legitimate concern given the fact that more than one Yank considers "Entertainment Tonight" to be a news program.

Additionally, USA Today, like Dan Rather's weary face on 2X2 at 8 A. M. , just doesn't cut it.

As a statesider who until recently lived in Russia, I can state with conviction that any American worried about said coverage should be. Media coverage of the Commonwealth of Independent States is as frenetic as the subject matter, as inconsistent as the coffee at the Amadeus Cafe in the Slavyanskaya. Case in point: The May Day press.

This past Sunday morning, millions of Americans bent down over the front lawn to pick up their local paper and were greeted with pictures from the bloody battles on the streets of Moscow the day before. Most weren't shocked, for the previous evening's newscast had carried a minute-long piece from Russia featuring chaos, water cannons and dire predictions. All in all, with one notable exception, it was surface coverage of Communists and a skirmish that played like Moscow in ruins.

The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post, Dallas Morning News, Philadelphia Inquirer and The New York Times all carried photos of street fighting above the fold, with similar overheads (May Day Brawl, May Day Melee), lending a dramatic flair.

The Time's front-page piece jumped to page 3, with another four-column photo and Serge Schmemann's substantial copy block broken up with a large, bordered sentence that read "A growing confrontation in Moscow".

The Post ran a total of three photos, two of them four-column, supplementing an article by Michael Dobbs that began like many others did: "In the worst outbreak of street violence in the Russian heartland since the August 1991 hardline coup attempt. . ".

Smaller dailies, relying exclusively on wire reports, did their best to stir the blood of the Sunday morning doughnut-and-coffee crowd with what they had to work with, namely headlines.

The Syracuse Herald-American ran a Scripps Howard News Service dispatch with the headline "Communists Use Holiday as Lenin Once Did -- for Protests". Also in New York state, Canandaigua's tiny Daily Messenger crowed "Hardline May Day Protest Leaves 1 dead, 140 injured", though the fatality was not substantiated in The Associated Press article.

In fact, of a dozen or so papers checked on the Sunday after May Day, the most low-key on the events in Moscow was, surprisingly, the New York Daily News. Topping the front page was the chummy headline "Bill Decides on Military Steps in Bosnia", while two major inside pieces were entitled "DA Forced to Deal with Gambinos" and "Lettuce Celebrate 25 Years of Big Mac". The troubled tabloid's Russia piece was tucked away on Page 14, a scant few inches with the Daily Newsesque topper, "Dis-May Day: 147 Hurt as Boris Bashers Riot".

Much more annoying than the newspapers this past weekend was television coverage, a virtual best-of-the-violence film festival with little explanation of the protest's meaning or scope. This ex-Muscovite could only scoff at the cut-and-paste job done by most of the major networks, which seemed more interested in "trend" pieces on subjects like dangerous baby strollers.

The exception was Steve Hurst and the CNN team, who provided a balanced picture of the Moscow scene on the first of May. Given more than a few seconds to sum up the city on that sunny Saturday, Hurst showed the fighting but concluded his report with scenes from Gorky Park and a fashion show, indicating that life was going on as always, a few thousand Communists aside.

His report was not overly glamorous; it was factual and balanced. For an American-based company reporting on Russia, it was informative and solid and complete. This happens all too rarely, much to our Dis-May.

Gary Stewart is the former managing editor of The Moscow Times.