Ever since Russian authorities arrested Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on charges of having violated Russia’s espionage laws, the Journal has steadfastly maintained his innocence. The Journal claims that Gershkovich is being held as a “political hostage.”
That might well be true, but a question naturally arises: Are officials at the Wall Street Journal partially responsible for the plight in which Gershkovich finds himself?
After all, it’s one thing for a 32-year-old reporter to innocently and naively think that Russian authorities were going to respect his “free-speech” rights by permitting him to live in Russia while writing critical articles about Russian president Vladimir Putin and Putin’s war in Ukraine.
But it’s quite another thing for the the older, more crusted members of the Journal management staff to have such innocence and naïveté. Given the longtime conservative bent of the Journal, I’ll bet that a few them might even be unreconstructed, dyed-in-the-wool, anti-communist Cold Warriors.
Given such, the Journal management had to be fully aware of the dangers that Gershkovich faced in a country whose government is at war, especially one that U.S. officials have labeled an “enemy” of the United States and, more important, has lost tens of thousands of Russian soldiers in Ukraine, many of whom have been killed by U.S. weapons of war that U.S. officials have given to Ukrainian officials.
The Journal also had to know that Russian officials were not likely to look kindly on a critical reporter who was working for a U.S. newspaper that has been a big cheerleader for U.S. support for Ukraine.
Thus, other questions naturally arise: Why didn’t Journal officials pull Gershkovich out of the country before he fell into the plight in which he now finds himself? Did they even discuss this possibility among themselves? If so, how was it decided to leave him there? Was it by majority vote among Journal management? What factors went into deciding to leave him in Russia, knowing that he would continue to write critical articles that the Journal would be publishing? Why haven’t Journal reporters reported on the deliberations within Journal management that left Gershkovich in Russia, where he obviously faced grave risks?
On April 14, 2023, the Journal published an article entitled ”Putin’s Rogue State.” Let’s pull some excerpts from it:
Mr. Gershkovich’s arrest attests to two long-term trends in Russia. The first is Mr. Putin’s arrival at unmitigated dictatorship….
The Russian word for arbitrary rule, proizvol, has a long history. Its origins lie in czarist Russia, where autocratic rule was entrenched….
When Mr. Putin was reelected president in 2012, the outlines of today’s autocracy started to become visible….
In today’s Russia, lawlessness in domestic politics and in foreign affairs are mutually reinforcing. Dictatorship legitimizes war, and war legitimizes dictatorship. Since invading Ukraine in February 2022, Mr. Putin has extended state control over speech.…
Even the pettiest statement of opposition to the war can be punished. In one striking case, a man named Alexei Moskalev was sentenced to two years in prison for defaming the Russian military after his 12-year-old daughter drew an antiwar picture in school.
None of this could have been news to Journal officials when they decided to leave Evan Gershkovich in Russia writing critical articles about Putin and his war in Ukraine. In fact, while Gershkovich perhaps can be excused for being innocent and naive about what governments do to critics in wartime given he is only 32 years old, the same certainly cannot be said about management at the Journal. Undoubtedly, Journal officials are fully aware that during the U.S. intervention into World War I, U.S. officials did to hundreds of Americans exactly what Russian officials are doing to Russian citizens today. They used the U.S. government’s Espionage Act to jail them for simply questioning the war.
Knowing what governments do to critics during wartime, why didn’t Journal officials pull Evan Gershkovich out of Russia before he fell into this plight? It seems to me that the Wall Street Journal has some explaining to do.