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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Press Gets Back to Critical Coverage

After several months of treating Boris Yeltsin with kid gloves, or openly supporting his re-election bid on their pages, Russia's liberal press served notice Friday that they would now return to what they once so liberally did -- criticize the president.


"We are not going over to the other side of the barricades," the liberal daily Segodnya announced in a front-page commentary. "The 'fourth estate' should not be quickly counted as enemies, but from today it will go where it belongs -- in opposition to Power."


Izvestia pointedly reminded Yeltsin that many of those who voted for him did not, in fact, support his policies. "Their choice was not so much an approval of the real state of reforms as a protest against the very recent, very memorable 'socialist' past and the possibility of going back," the newspaper opined.


As the polls neared, the liberal press abandoned its often critical coverage of the president, and began to support him directly, calling on their readers to vote for Yeltsin and slanting stories in his favor.


Moskovsky Komsomolets, for example, which had made its name exposing state corruption, ran a banner headline before the runoff vote that read, "On Wednesday we will vote for Yeltsin!"


This slanted coverage aroused the wrath of the Communist Party, which charged the press, and especially the television networks, with sabotaging challenger Gennady Zyuganov's campaign. At the same time, the communists controlled their own newspapers -- Pravda, Sovietskaya Rossia and Zavtra -- which consistently savaged Yeltsin.


International observers of the presidential election singled out press support of the president as the grossest violation in an otherwise fair election.


"The free and independent media turned out to be not so free and independent," Michael McFaul, senior analyst at the Carnegie Center in Moscow, said Friday. "It will have to re-earn its credentials, and I think it will, and that they will come back."


But McFaul sided with those observers who considered the media's pro-Yeltsin bias understandable. "We have to remember, the media was operating under extraordinary circumstances," he said. "We are not in a consolidated democracy here."


Izvestia made no excuses for its pro-Yeltsin line in recent months. "We tried to be upstanding in this fight, but we did not promise to be impartial. To stop the party of revanche was the most important question of our lives," wrote political observer Otto Latsis.


Moskovsky Komsomolets in a front-page editorial Friday said while it had its grievances against Yeltsin, "When the question was whether to return to the crap we lived in for 70 years or not, unfortunately there could be no colors for us but red and white."