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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

MEDIA WATCH: When Own Voice Offends




Why exactly does the State Duma want to strip reporters for Russia's three main television channels of their parliamentary accreditations? Why do Russian legislators generally waste so much of their time on protesting against the way they are covered by the media?


The simple answer, of course, is that the Communists who control the Duma are a bunch of crazy, anti-Semitic dinosaurs who hate and fear the media.


I think, however, that there is more to it than animal fear and hatred. Rather, the deputies have succumbed to a psychological problem that transcends political, ideological and intellectual barriers.


Reading your own words in a newspaper and hearing them on radio or television is an experience akin to the first time you hear your own voice on tape. "Can this really be me?" is the question that occurs to you most readily.


Journalists know what I am talking about. Many a reporter has gotten angry calls from yesterday's interview subject who had talked to the press for the first time in his life. "You misquoted me!" the interviewee fumes. "I didn't say it the way you wrote!"


The reporter proceeds to explain that he or she has a tape of the interview and the quotes are accurate. "Well, then they are out of context!" the person on the other end of the line screams. More often than not, the quotes are not out of context, however. It's just the sheer befuddlement of hearing your own voice through, well, a medium.


By Russian law, a journalist has to submit interviews for approval to subjects. This is a tedious practice, but most journalists do it to avoid lawsuits. In a court case, even a tape of the interview may not always be admissible as evidence.


In my brief career as editor of a Russian-language weekly, I had one interview subject actually weep over the phone from sheer frustration of being quoted exactly as she had said things on tape. And I had a guy who, on reading our interview with him, showed up at our office with a completely different text that he wrote himself. The interview questions were his, too.


I've actually experienced the syndrome myself on the only, but memorable, occasion when I was quoted in The New York Times. One of that venerable newspaper's Moscow correspondents interviewed me for a story on young, upwardly mobile Russians. I knew no good would come of talking to a journalist for such a story, but vanity got the better of me.


When the story was published, I felt angry and ashamed. My own quotes, which the New York Times man had down quite accurately, made me look like a heartless yuppie with no compassion for thousands of people in the Russian provinces who go unpaid for months. I said what I thought - namely that these people should try harder to change their lives for the better instead of appealing to the government for help - but on paper, I sounded like an arrogant brat born with a silver spoon in his mouth.


Here, I've vented my frustration two years after the story came out in The New York Times. This just shows how dangerous the Interview Subject's Disease can be.


My point is that when someone like Communist Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin hears himself on television attacking Jews as instigators of genocide against Russians, he thinks: "This guy is not me. I cannot be saying this harsh stuff. I am smarter than that."


And whom does he blame? Television, of course. Take away these swines' accreditations!


Many politicians, important businessmen, athletes and actors, despite their rich experience in talking to the press, have never actually tried to learn to talk to reporters.


It is an art that requires an almost instinctive ability to understand what you will sound like just as you are talking.


Hence the enormous number of press bashers among members of the political and economic and cultural elite throughout the world. Many of these people have retained the naivete of a first-time interviewee. Or it may be that they cannot help it and a camera or a tape recorder in the hands of a journalist always brings it back.


But of course, let us not discount the fact that the Russian legislators who are trying to keep reporters out of the State Duma are crazy, anti-Semitic dinosaurs who hate and fear the media.