Mark Ames: Kathy Lally Was Caught Trying To Censor Journalism In Russia and Now Deceitfully Claims She’s a Victim

Yves here. It is unfortunate that it is necessary to run this post. Matt Taibbi and Mark Ames, who were the mainstays of the 1990s Russian tabloid The eXile, are regularly lambasted for their writings from that period. The most caustic vitriol is based on assertions that transgressive pieces that both of Ames and Taibbi have insisted were satire were in fact truthful self-reports of abuse of women.

Curiously, despite Taibbi and Ames having been regularly savaged for their alleged misconduct in Russia for over a decade, it was only in the last month that anyone bothered to determine the truth of the matter. A December 11, 2017 article in Paste Magazine, in which the reporter interviewed former female employees of The eXile, fully exonerates Taibbi and Ames.

So what exactly are they supposedly guilty of? Saying derogatory things about women over more than 15 years ago, and then in a foreign country with different norms, not just among Russians but in the US expat community whose preoccupations seemed to be looting, drugs, getting laid, and drinking, not necessarily in that order? As Ames points out below, The eXile was offensive to everyone, and by design.

Now let’s look at some contemporary material from the Washington Post. First, this video, from Episode One of Season One of Game of Thrones:

This sort of thing is vastly more our faces than anything Ames or Taibbi ever wrote. The Washington Post, which ran the hit piece on Ames, regularly runs — and profits from — recaps of the Game of Thrones.1

In GoT, women are chattel. The supposedly powerful Danerys is regularly and gratuitously naked. Sansa is terrorized and humiliated repeatedly by her fiancé, the mad Joffrey. She’s later effectively sold to and raped by the sadistic Roose Bolton. Walder Frey is a creepy geriatric letch. And on top of that, most of the women who attempt to exercise power are twisted (Cersei, Melissandre before she largely renounces it, the child assassin Arya) or not very good at it, another negative message.

The fulmination about Taibbi and Ames is rank hypocrisy and selective enforcement. The Post’s real message is that if you “demean” women in print or on screen, it’s OK if you have a big budget and a mass following, and can say it’s just entertainment and you make a small fortune from it in the process, but not if you did it to get attention while taking on corruption. I’ll take the complaints about fictionalized mistreatment of women much more seriously when the vigilantes exhibit a better sense of proportion.

Oh, and an advance warning for newbies to this site: read our comments policy under the Policies tab. We have rules and we enforce them. One of them is effectively, “No commenting if you haven’t read the post in full.” So any “ZOMG Ames” comments will be deleted.

By Mark Ames, founding editor of the Moscow satirical paper The eXile and co-host of the Radio War Nerd podcast with Gary Brecher (aka John Dolan). Subscribe here. Originally published at The Exiled

I finally read Kathy Lally’s rambling screed [in the Washington Post]. How do you respond to something so blatantly dishonest? A number of media contacts have told me that Lally shopped this hit piece around to multiple publications, but it was rejected for this very reason. According to JPMorgan whistleblower Alayne Fleischmann, the Huffington Post is one such publication that rejected the piece, but I have been told that there were more. It waits to be seen why Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post ran such a deliberately deceptive smear piece.

For one thing, Lally claims that The eXile’s satire “terrorized women correspondents in Moscow” — without mentioning a single male “victim” of our vicious satire and pranks, even though most of The eXile’s “victims” or targets were male (as were most foreign correspondents in Moscow at that time). Compared to what The eXile did to male western hacks, Lally got off light. Just ask the New York Times’ Michael Wines, who got a horse sperm pie tossed in his face after The eXile awarded him the worst Moscow hack for his series of articles whitewashing Vladimir Putin and his KGB past. Mention the fact that most of The eXile’s targets were male, and Lally’s grossly opportunistic thesis falls apart. No wonder she omitted it.

Lally was never a major concern of ours, apart from her effort to get us censored (and worse). Before Lally tried to get the entire eXile publication censored from the all-important and influential Johnsons Russia List email list, described in a 1997 New York Times article as the one centralized space where “Russia Watchers Watch Each Other”, she barely registered on our radar, and hadn’t appeared in our publication. The eXile published a lot of deliberately offensive satire, and a lot of embarrassing stupid and juvenile satire. It also published a lot of brilliant satire, investigative journalism, and criticism. We were trying to create a genuinely transgressive left that spared no one and nothing, and we deliberately took it too far, sometimes with great results, sometimes not. But the idea that, just a few years after the fall of the Soviet Union, an American journalist — a veritable missionary for democracy, as every American in Moscow pretended to be in the 1990s — would post an open letter in the JRL asking for the moderator to censor everything from an American publication, even the non-satirical/non-offensive criticism and investigative journalism about Russia, simply because other eXile material not posted in the JRL offended Lally, was outrageously hypocritical and unprincipled. No American journalist should want to censor journalism in a place like Russia, with its history.

The moderator of the Russia list held an open poll/discussion about running Taibbi’s press review columns, and nearly all of Lally’s media colleagues openly opposed her position—both female and male. One of the most persuasive voices defending The eXile from censorship came from Masha Gessen. That’s despite the fact that our paper had savagely mocked and heckled Gessen, the sort of mockery that Kathy Lally now claims puts her on par with #MeToo victims of rape and sexual assault. Ever since then, I’ve always admired Gessen for her principled positions and her willingness to stick her neck out, even though I often disagree with her.

In the end, after dozens of reporters, academics, ex-diplomats and other Russia watchers weighed in, Lally’s attempts to have us censored failed.

Like I said, I hadn’t heard of Lally before she tried to have us censored. Her reporting differed little from the rest of the foreign hack herd — mostly a smug clique of pampered cheerleaders for Yeltsin’s corrupt “young reformers” and whatever toxic neoliberal medicine the Clinton Administration force-fed Russia.

At the time, our satirical fire was trained on the biggest and most insidious Yeltsin-apologist hacks—Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post (who failed up to the WaPo’s editorial page, where he famously published 27 WaPo editorials promoting Bush’s invasion of Iraq and the deaths of a million Iraqis), Michael Gordon of the New York Times (who published fake Iraq WMD articles co-bylined with Judith Miller, articles used to justify the invasion of Iraq), Geoff Winestock of the Moscow Times, Carol Williams of the Los Angeles Times, Steve Liesman of the Wall Street Journal. And of course Michael McFaul, the Clinton Administration’s neoliberal kommissar in Moscow, whose job was to cheer on and whitewash Yeltsin’s catastrophic Washington-backed policies and make sure the foreign hacks kept in line with his bosses in Washington, despite the fact that these policies so profoundly destroyed Russia’s economy and its people’s lives that they made the nationalist Putin backlash a certainty. (Today McFaul is partnered with neocons like William Kristol running a paranoid Russiagate boondoggle—a fitting career choice.)

It seemed so strange to us that an American journalist in post-Soviet Russia would publicly call for a total ban on an American publication. Something wasn’t right with Lally. So we concocted a prank that would test how far she’d be willing to betray basic American journalism principles — commitment to free speech, protection of offensive free speech, journalists and authors. An American friend in Moscow, a student from a top American university, agreed to call up Lally and see if she’d support a boycott of The eXile. We also wanted to see if she’d agree to something so completely outrageous that there was no possible way she would fall for it — agree to assisting a former branch of the KGB known as FAPSI in opening a criminal investigation against The eXile, me and Taibbi, for incitement to hatred. (Nine years later, another Kremlin agency now known as Roskomnadzor shut The eXile down and chased me out for real based on almost identical charges that we used in our Lally prank. You can read the Committee To Protect Journalism’s report on the Kremlin attack against The eXile here. This was a big international news story at the time. But by some amazing journalism feat Lally managed to write thousands of words on The eXile without mentioning the most famous and widely-reported episode of all—the Kremlin shutting us down in 2008, for the same reasons that Lally wanted us censored. Hard to play the victim of “terror” when you’re aligned with Putin’s media crackdown goons, so like so much else in her deceptive screed, Lally simply deleted this rather important episode.)

To understand the type of reporting Lally was doing at that time, you need to get a bit more context, because it’s still wildly underreported and little understood (thanks largely to the foreign press corps). At that time, Russia had already suffered a roughly 50% collapse in its GDP and was now on the verge of falling over the final cliff into total insolvency. Russia in the 1990s suffered the deepest and deadliest peacetime economic depression of the century. An estimated three to six million Russians met what are called “excess deaths”. Paul Klebnikov — the American Forbes editor who was assassinated in Moscow in 2005 — described Russia’s rampant poverty and social collapse from 1992-98 as “a catastrophe without precedent in modern history—the only parallel was with countries destroyed by war, genocide, or famine.” Klebnikov continued:

“Each month thousands of Russians were dying prematurely. Such a drop in life expectancy, labeled ‘excess deaths,’ has always been a standard algorithm in demographers’ calculations of the death toll of the great disasters—whether Stalin’s collectivization in the 1930s, Pol Pot’s rule in Cambodia in the 1970s, or the famine in Ethiopia in the 1980s. American demographer Nicholas Eberstadt estimated that the number of ‘excess deaths’ in Russia between 1992 and 1998 was as high as 3 million. By contrast, Eberstadt observed, Russia’s losses in World War 1 were 1.7 million deaths.”

It was this atrocity, fully organized, advised and funded by the Clinton Administration, and whitewashed by western hacks like Lally, that The eXile covered in all its savagery, which we met with literary savagery.

The same week that I ran an article in The eXile correctly predicting the total collapse of Russia’s economy — the first such English-language article laying out the full inevitable scenario of Russia’s neoliberal collapse —Lally came out with an article with this lede:

“With the ruble strengthening and stock prices rising yesterday, the latest Russian economic crisis began to subside. Ordinary citizens returned to what they do best — persevering and hoping for the best.”

As Taibbi wrote at the time, Lally’s article also came out just as a nationwide miner’s strike ended over months or years worth of unpaid wages and appallingly deadly workplace conditions: “That was Lally’s take on the miners—that ‘what they do best’ is ‘persevering and hoping for the best’ had already won them a year of unpaid labor in the world’s most treacherous hellholes. The article might as well have been headlined, ‘Hey Miners: Eat Shit and Like It!’”

For decades now I’ve been hearing about Walter Duranty’s whitewashing of the Stalin-era famine as the ultimate in journalism malpractice—but those same people who sanctimoniously trash Duranty are oddly silent about the dozens of contemporary Durantys who whitewashed the millions of Russian “excess deaths” that went on right before their eyes during Yeltsin’s reign. If Lally had her way, my article on Russia’s imminent collapse, the only such article at its time, would’ve been censored from Johnsons Russia list and the thousands of narrative-shaping subscribers—in favor of the sort of callous propaganda Lally and her clique were producing.

Getting back to the eXile prank—as it turned out, we were actually shocked by what Lally was willing to do. We figured she might be loathsome enough to agree to the boycott, as bad as that was, but that she’d surely hang up the phone as soon as our caller proposed to Lally a meeting with the former KGB surveillance agency. Here is the transcript of the call made by the American woman who worked with us.

eXile: May I speak to Kathy Lally please?

Lally: This is she.

eXile: Hi, Mrs. Lally, my name is Wendy Helleman, an I’m calling because I’m part of a group that is working to close down the eXile newspaper. I read your name on the Johnson’s List, where my husband published a critique of the eXile, and I thought I’d try to enlist your support.

Lally: I completely sympathize with you. Frankly, I wish they’d just go away. That…the newspaper is an awful thing, they give the Western press a bad name. What they publish is just dreadful!

eXile: Well, that’s why we’re working to get them closed down. We’re sort of working on doing a two-front approach. One is that we’re try9ing to organize a boycott, and the other is that I’m working with some officials from FAPSI [the ex-KGB surveillance agency that snoops on everyone’s communications, equivalent to the NSA] and they said that they could go ahead and press charges against the editors under article 117 of the criminal code, but that they’d need three experts for what they call ‘independent opinions.’ Since I saw your piece on the Johnson’s List, I thought you might be willing to help us out and appear as an expert witness for FAPSI’s case.

Lally: H’m. I’ll have to think about it. I’m not sure how my newspaper would feel about it if I acted in such a role, but I certainly do sympathize with you.

eXile: Well, if not, would you be willing to participate in an organized boycott of the newspaper? We’re going to start by boycotting the eXile’s advertisers and distribution points to force people not to carry or sponsor the newspaper.

Lally: You know, I’ve spoken to someone about that—I’ve personally thought about calling advertisers myself. Although I don’t read the newspaper myself [!], I have heard that they used my name as a phony byline in an article last week. I’m outraged…As for participating in the FAPSI investigation, what exactly would one need to become an ‘expert’ or offer an ‘independent opinion’? What do I need to do, exactly?

eXile: They just need an independent opinion, you know, to get another Western journalist to testify on the language, since it’s in English. We’re trying to convince them that the eXile broke the criminal code which bans literature that incites hatred or violence. [Note: this is roughly the same law later used by the Putin regime to close The eXile and chase me out of the country.]

Lally: Well, I’ll think about it. Please call me tomorrow.

After we published this in The eXile, Lally went after us like a corrupt and vengeful cop. She contacted several American journalists asking bizarre questions about us, claiming it was all information she planned to use in an article about us. That would be fine, but the information she was fishing for was cop-menacing. The editor of the St. Petersburg Times (and soon to be editor of the Moscow Times) frantically got in touch with Taibbi to tell him that Lally had asked him such bizarre menacing questions as “what type of visas eXile employees use” to stay in Russia, and “which of the anti-Chubais oligarchs do you think might be financing them?” [The eXile was the only English-language media critical of Chubais, the most hated figure in Russia, for overseeing Russia’s catastrophic privatization program that created the oligarchy and impoverished nearly everyone else—for this, Chubais was the darling of the western press corps and the Clinton Administration]. Asking about our visas was particularly menacing — it’d be like threatening to report unruly foreign journalists to Trump’s ICE.

In her WaPo hit piece, Lally describes her grotesquely threatening actions this way:

“Taibbi had accused a friend of mine of being paid by Russian oligarchs to write favorable stories, so I thought it was worth asking about the eXile’s connections.”

It’s interesting that Lally and her WaPo editors chose not to disclose the name of “this friend of mine” because that “friend” happens to be Fred Hiatt—the Washington Post’s powerful editorial page editor. Now you start to see why the Washington Post agreed to run a story that was rejected in so many other venues. The vengeful sleaze runs deep.

Back in 1998, Hiatt worked as a WaPo correspondent in Moscow, where he published a shameless PR fluff piece on the billionaire oligarch closest to the former KGB, Vladimir Potanin — one of the only Yeltsin oligarchs to survive through the Vladimir Putin years. Hiatt’s Washington Post article lovingly described Potanin as a “baby billionaire” who “metamorphosed” by some magical process “into one of world’s most influential businessmen” — without mentioning that Potanin got rich by concocting the notorious “loans-for-shares” privatization program, appointing himself Yeltsin’s Finance Minister, then arranging rigged auctions for hugely valuable assets, turning him into a “baby billionaire”—and everyone else in Russia into a dying pauper. So Taibbi asked Hiatt if he had been paid to write that, because there was no other rational explanation we could find. We accompanied that with a prank in which we posed as Potanin calling the Washington Wizards for courtside seats, Harvard University business school to purchase a degree, and the Augusta National Golf Club—brandishing Hiatt’s article for access:


eXile: I am Russian banker, so-called robber baron capitalist, am interested in purchasing your degree.

Harvard: (pause) Uh, sir, you can’t buy the degree, but you can enroll in our program. It’s an intensive 9 week program, and you receive a certificate, not a degree.

eXile: No, this is no good. Do you realize who I am? Fred Hiatt wrote about me in today Washington Post, that I am not typical robber baron. I am ze baby billionaire.

Harvard: We read a lot about Russia and it sounds very exciting.

eXile: Of course it exciting. Now I vant Harvard degree.

Harvard: You can’t buy a degree.

eXile: Maybe instead I build nice cafe for you on campus. Or I can donate small nightclub for Harvard degree.

Harvard: Sir, Harvard is a 350-year-old institution. It’s not all just about money. We’ve turned down princes.


By Lally’s own account, it was to avenge WaPo editor Fred Hiatt’s honor that she investigated our visa status and “which anti-Chubais oligarch” allegedly funded us — not to avenge her own shame for trying to get us censored and potentially locked up. But she (and her Washington Post editors) made a strategic decision not to mention Fred’s name—because he’s male and that would undermine the thesis of her smear; and because he’s a senior Washington Post editor, and this would suggest to readers something sleazier about the WaPo’s motive for running this hit piece. Omitting this is just another in a series of Lally’s deceptions. This also begins to answer the question: “Why did the Washington Post run an obviously fraudulent hit piece that other media outlets rejected?”

Returning to what happened that weird week of Lally’s cop-vengeance, she did something even more shocking. She got her reporter-husband, Will Englund—who had been jailed by the Russian ex-KGB security services just a few years earlier for reporting on Russia’s chemical weapons program — call Taibbi’s dad in New York, where he worked for NBC. Lally’s husband left a message on Taibbi’s dad’s answering machine that began, “Mike, hi, this is Will Englund. I just thought I’d give you a call… I’m in town to pick up my Pulitzer Prize. I just thought I’d let you know that your son has been harassing my wife to a degree that borders on stalking. I’d like to speak with you about it . . .”

You can’t exaggerate how much pedigree means to these people, but there it is. Pedigree, and proper manners: The twin pillars of the Establishment media faith.

Taibbi’s father eventually called Lally’s husband back. He told Lally’s husband that it was “ironic, to say the least, that his wife would talk about working with something like FAPSI to close [The eXile] down,” and advised him to call Matt himself. “I asked him—what the hell did he want me to do, take away [Matt’s] lunch money?”

Lally’s 2017 article tries hard to obfuscate and dissemble her shameful behavior in her efforts to censor us, and how she responded to that prank. Whereas Lally omits crucial details to build a false case — that most of our targets were male reporters, that the Putin regime eventually shuttered The eXile for the very satire she objected to — her attempts to explain why she agreed to help the ex-KGB agency FAPSI against two American journalists, and why she agreed to a boycott, read like a ten-car pileup of contradictions, half-confessions and non sequiturs. Lally claims she doesn’t remember what happened 20 years ago, but she reports remembering a crackling Russian phone line. She owns up to admitting that she’d never heard of the largest of all the ex-KGB agencies, FAPSI, at the time with an estimated 120,000 employees involved in snooping on journalists like Lally, who it now appears was blissfully unaware of that fact. She says the transcript “didn’t sound at all like me” but then contradicts herself, saying, “I don’t remember my words 20 years ago.” In other words, she doesn’t remember saying anything, but she remembers the “crackling Russian phone line” as well as the “tone” of her voice in that conversation. She’d’ve been better off just taking the Fifth on this.

The most stunning part of her explanation, and again I can’t believe an editor wouldn’t flag this, was when she tried excusing her failure to know what FAPSI was or to make out what our eXile caller was asking because, “We got so many odd calls as the [Moscow] bureau, some from the mentally ill, some from those with serious grievances, some from people with mysterious motives.” In other words, Lally wants her readers to believe that all sorts of homeless, mentally ill American women called the Baltimore Sun’s Moscow bureau office all hours of the day, so often that Lally could no longer tell the crazies from articulate educated American women identifying themselves as members of the Johnsons Russia List community.

Lally concludes: “I don’t remember my words of 20 years ago — I made an effort to forget the eXile and its editors — but I never had any intention of organizing a boycott.”

She doesn’t remember, she forgot all about us, but if she did agree to organize a boycott, she certainly didn’t intend to.

Something tells me that Lally wanted to flatly deny it and thereby lie, but she wasn’t able to convince even her own editors, whose necks are on the line if they let her get away with lying. Whatever the case, Lally owes us and all journalists here and in Russia a giant apology for betraying the most basic principles of the profession.

But it’s the larger point that Lally tries to make which is so problematic. There are a lot of things the eXile can and rightly should be trashed for today. People don’t live in the context of the 1990s Yeltsin catastrophe — except in the sense that we’re still dealing with the blowback from our role in ruling over Russia’s national tragedy, especially if you believe that our shitlord Trump was installed by vengeful Russians — so it’s hard to fault people encountering eXile’s gross, aggressive and transgressive satire for the first time in 2017, in America, for being offended. You’ll never understand the way we wrote unless you understand the indifference, amounting in many cases to outright gloating, with which American mainstream journalists reacted to the horrors of 1990s Russia.

But Lally’s article goes much further: She equates having her feelings hurt by a satirical rag that she tried to censor and even set up for a Russian cop arrest — to #MeToo victims of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment. That is, to put it mildly, quite an opportunistic stretch. Lally admits she forgot about us “for years.” She writes that although the heckling satire made her “angry and upset” at the time (as vicious satire tends to), nevertheless “my self-esteem remained intact and my life moved along.” This is the very opposite of the sorts of permanent, raw emotional wounds and life scars that #MeToo victims have been airing out since the Weinstein story broke. By admitting this, Lally reveals herself as a vengeful and unprincipled hack who wants belated payback for being publicly embarrassed about her willingness to censor journalists and subject them to a Russian state goon stomping.

I was wondering if I’d written anything about Lally myself—most if not all the Lally material had been written by Taibbi, most of it great and funny, some of it —especially the “fat ankles” stuff — deeply embarrasing. Not that I didn’t write far more offensive shit myself, it’s just a matter of taste. I’m a black humor/offensive-satire snob, and those “fat ankles” descriptions come off as lazy jock jokes, and shift sympathy back to the real perpetrator of this ugly episode for no good literary reason. Lally had all the power in that dynamic — a credentialed pedigreed member of the official American journalism guild — and she crudely wielded that power to have us completely excluded. That is the story, and that’s the one point where the satirical approach to that story was weakened.

Anders Aslund was the top western advisor on Yeltsin’s catastrophic “shock therapy” program and a frequent eXile target. His McCarthyist tweet sums up their sleazy alliance

Anyway, I’d forgotten that I did write a critical piece on Lally’s hack journalism back in early 1999 — nearly a year after the censorship/FAPSI scandal. This was the very nadir of the Yeltsin decade, post-collapse, when Russia declared itself bankrupt and unable to meet its obligations. Mass unemployment followed, and for the first time in perhaps a century, some one-third of the population had to survive on subsistence farming to eat, growing potatoes and cucumbers and whatever else would grow in their dacha plots or on their balconies.

Here I’ll quote from Lally’s article, then my response.

First, Lally’s stunning display of crude orientalism towards Russians at their lowest point, falsely describing their flu remedies in ways that made them look like backwards savages. This crude characterization of Russians became a necessary trope for an American audience that didn’t want to take responsibility for the horrors of the 1990s when Russia was essentially a colony of the Clinton White House. Rather than take blame ourselves for helping destroy and depopulate Russia, articles making Russians look like hopelessly primitive savages redirected that blame back onto the colonized. It’s their fault we couldn’t civilize them with our shock therapy medicine—they’re too hopelessly backwards, in spite of our wonderful intentions.

Headlined “Moscow’s flu war means breathtaking measures. There’s no holding back garlic, onions, dirty socks, cognac” — Lally’s absolutely non-satirical piece smugly describes Russians “hanging dirty socks around the neck…rubbing the soles of the feet with the juice of a raw onion every night” and other barbarian home remedies. Here’s a taste:

Sasha Fominikh, a driver at a Moscow factory, read a newspaper article the other day that suggested hanging a pair of dirty socks around the neck. He decided against that, but when he felt a cold coming on, he tried out a second method — rubbing the soles of the feet with the juice of a raw onion every night before going to bed.

“It makes the feet sweat a lot,” Fominikh says, “which helps get rid of the fever.” He also drinks a little cognac and some tea with jam to prevent a cold from developing into something worse.

At the first sign of a sore throat, housewife Lena Slivkina starts to rinse her throat with cognac at least three times a day. “I don’t swallow it, by the way” she says.

“If I have a bad cough, I boil oats in milk for two hours and then drink it three times a day. Three days and no cough.”

Zina Basova, a street sweeper, eats garlic all year round. “If I still get the flu,” she says, “I use a lot of honey with tea.”

I responded to Lally’s journalistic atrocity by going to my local pharmacy in Moscow, asking the pharmacists if any of it was true, and then writing it up. Heres some of what I wrote at the time:

You almost wonder, after reading Lally’s article, whether Russians have yet developed a complex set of language skills or the ability to create fire. I for one decided to check.

So I went down to the closest Apteka, or pharmacy, on my street corner. I asked one of the pharmacists there, Lyubov Luskutova, if drinking cognac or smelling old socks or rubbing onions on your feet is the best way to overcome the flu epidemic that threatens all of us here. Surprisingly, the native spoke in an intelligible language, expressing a dazzling variety of emotions–such as bewilderment and confused laughter. She said she’d never in her life heard of rubbing onions on feet or snorting dirty socks in order to ward off the flu. She works in a pharmacy–yes, that’s right, Russians actually have pharmacies. And at pharmacies, they sell medicines.

So just to set Lally’s Baltimore-area readers straight, I’d like to note that the most common medicines to fight flus and colds sold here at my local apteka (and at the zillions of apteky in Moscow, including in nearly every metro station and every street block) are Tylenol flu medicine, Coldrex, Coldrex Nite, TheraFlu Tylenol for kids, and Lorane. For sore throats, most buy either Strepsils or Hall’s mints. The prices are high in ruble terms–Lorane costs 74 rubles a bottle, or about 3 dollars. But Luskutova assured me that sales aren’t noticeably down from last year’s flu season period. “People have to live,” she said just this morning. I’d personally doubt that sales are as stable as she thinks, but I will definitely take her word over Lally’s.

Other popular remedies for the flu are staying home from work and sleeping, drinking tea with honey, and drinking juice. Maybe these things weren’t wacky enough to fit into Lally’s “see how savage the Russians are” piece. Imagine the honest lead: “Russians are preparing for the onslaught of flu by buying Tylenol and Theraflu medicines from their local pharmacies.” Naw, it wouldn’t sell, as they say in Hollywood. Doesn’t make them seem savage enough.

Russians thankfully don’t stoop to mocking stories about how we Americans drop billions a year on totally useless vitamin supplements just because some quack named Linus Pauling told us to do so, and won a big ol’ award for it. Which gets to the point: THERE IS NO CURE FOR THE FLU! Duh!

I wrote this response because it seems that the old colonialist attitude is seeping back into the Western journalist narrative as never before. [Up until Russia’s 1998 financial collapse] at least you had two narratives: good reformers versus savage old commies; or, see how much better we are than the Russians. Now… readers back home are left with only one narrative: how many ways can you paint a Russian as a savage. . . . As Jean MacKenzie wrote in a November 24th, 1998 installment of her Moscow Times column, “Confessions of a Russophile”: “the last vestiges of the light [in] this dark, savage country are slowly dying out.”

That’s right: even Moscow’s self-proclaimed Russophile openly refers to Russia as “this dark, savage country.” …

You see? Lally’s gloating, smug colonialist triumphalism was the norm in expat circles. That was what we were fighting. And sometimes the outrage got out of control. But it’s beyond grotesque that our outrage should be picked over for language crimes by a sloppy, inept, conscience-free writer like Lally. When the crimes of Western journalists during the Yeltsin era are chronicled, I kinda think it’ll be the callous triumphalism with which she and her Clintonite buddies watched millions of Russians die that are condemned–not the tonal lapses of a low-budget dissident rag like eXile, shaking its puny fist at this corruption.


1 In fact, as far as Game of Thrones is concerned, the Post attempted to have it both ways, once acknowledging how it regularly featured mistreatment of women but saying it was OK because it’s not a secret that this is a big part of the HBO series. After all, how could you otherwise have enough “strong women” in a medieval story? By contrast, in the first in the sword, crowns, and magic genre, Lord of the Rings, women (Galandriel, Arwyn, Eowyn) are relegated to cameo appearances.

See this section of Alyssa Rosenberg’s article, ‘Game of Thrones’ has always been a show about rape:

If reading this litany has been exhausting, it’s testament to just how well “Game of Thrones” has done at leavening this grimness with humor, tenderness and moments of real human connection. But it also ought to suggest how odd it is to accuse the showrunners of adding a sexual assault to somehow up the stakes when, dragons aside, intimate violence is already at the core of so many of the series’ storylines.

There’s no requirement that anyone like any of these storylines or that anyone who feels exhausted from spending his or her days in a world marked by sexual violence retreat to a worse one for pleasure. But that’s not the same thing as proof that “Game of Thrones” is generally careless in its depiction of sexual assault or that rape doesn’t serve a purpose on the show. Sansa Stark isn’t ruined, as a character or as a person, because she was raped. She lives, and her story continues, even if you’re not tuning in to watch it.

First, as any reader of the books will tell you, the HBO version greatly amped up the emphasis on sex and violence. But second, and more important, the justification amounts to: “Everyone knows GoT has a lot of T&A and mistreatment of women. If that bothers you, you don’t need to watch the show. And if you do, it’s OK because characters like Sansa show you can be a survivor.”

Mind you, I actually don’t object to the justification. But again back to the hypocrisy: just as people who watch GoT know exactly what it is about, similarly The eXile made abundantly clear that it was an in-your-face, designed to offend rag both for its often juvenile antics and its relentless reporting. If you seek it out, particularly after all these years, you have no business being upset.

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  1. voteforno6

    Weren’t there a few other Russia-related stories shopped around, that finally landed in the Post? This seems to be a trend with that paper. Too bad…it has a really good sports section.

  2. Tom

    I lived in Moscow in the Nineties as well. I hugely enjoyed the Exile and read it whenever I had a chance to pick it up in some restaurant or night club.
    Let us put is like that: in 1992 CNN was so scared that they actually paid an East German female friend of mine with tolerable Russian and less English to travel the subway!!!! Maybe in the US the subway tends to get even more dangerous when it is getting dangerous above ground. Well possible. In Moscow though the metro was always the safest place you could be. That is because the subway in Moscow is not just an ordinary means of getting from place to place. It is the marvel of the city, the pride of every citizen (rightly so) and the very last thing that would turn chaotic.
    CNN insanely decided to not let their US employees check out the metro. And their employees didn´t object !!! Not surprisingly US journalism was bullshit. They had no idea of how ordinary people lived.
    The Exile was the exact opposite. They lived like ordinary Muscovites and they knew what was really going on.
    Mark Ames was referring to the default of 1998. I was earning money then a travelling engineer for a German tool machine factory. . How anybody in his right mind could believe that the then merry go round of paying for maturing bonds by issuing ever higher interest bonds (insanely high interest) could go on forever is beyond me. Everybody and his granny knew that this baby would go bust. In the German paper of record – the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung – their Moscow economic correspondet openly wrote about the coming default.
    Why didn´t their US colleagues? The exception being the exile? Because they believed their own propaganda. And the reason they could believe it is because they lived in a secure, insulated bubble and as a rule had no or atrocious Russian.
    Same like today. Nothing has changed. If you want to know what goes on in Russia don´t read the US press.

      1. Tom

        Unbelievable. Fantastic! Thanks very much for this link. I travelled a lot in Moscow and SPB and naturally never saw an empty metro. What great pictures!

  3. Michael Olenick

    Great piece, Mark! I wrote a comment on the Washington Post piece I suspect nobody read. Even from Lally’s hit job, and a little background research, I picked up that Lally was working to call out the censors. You shouldn’t be so modest about your prior paper: the eXile did great work now and, I’m told by friends in the Moscow expat community, you remain the talk of the town, even if the town has settled down a lot lately. The WaPo should feel ashamed running that piece but, after deciding to, they should have approached you and Matt for a fact-check if not a rebuttal. That seems to be the way with a lot of older media though; the quality control hasn’t just gone in the tank – it’s been long since flushed – and they don’t admit they’re wrong even when the mistakes are blatant. It’s why I’m pleased to write for and read NC (and thank you, Yves, for publishing this).

    On the “sexism” related to her original allegations she’s ignoring the context of Russia, especially back then. Even today Russia is not a quiet, politically correct kind of place. The choices available to American expat reporters during the Yeltsin and early Putin era was either try to sterilize, treat it like a zoo with the Russians starring as the animals, or contextualize and explain. Choosing that last option produced the most accurate reporting while infuriating the highfalutin our-shit-don’t-stink “professional” American press corps. The gall of you and Matt to suggest the Russians aren’t any worse obviously still stings, a decade after you last drank vodka while watching the river in Moscow.

    1. rusti

      Great piece, Mark! I wrote a comment on the Washington Post piece I suspect nobody read.

      I don’t think anyone is going to that comment section for critical analysis of the article, I suspect that like most Washington Post articles it’s something of a support forum for traumatized Hillary true-believers:

      Althea2: Now I look back at all those pro-Sanders articles he did and wonder. I look back at all those anti-Clinton articles and wonder. It seems the Bernie-Bros were a lot like I suspected, all tangled up in misogyny.

      MN USA: Thank you for writing this. How can women like Hillary Clinton be judged fairly for their experience and merits when men like this are in journalism? It’s sickening.

      1. El Chicano Loco

        “I suspect that like most Washington Post articles it’s something of a support forum for traumatized Hillary true-believers”

        To those true-believers WAPO screeds like these are like manna from heaven, sacred words preached by the high priests of The Church of Hillary. They are a godsend to the hungry masses of Hill-Bots desperately yearning for proof of their assertion that their precious Hillary only lost the election because of Bernie Sanders, James Comey, the Russians, misogynists, yadda, yadda, yadda.

        After reading the article comments in WAPO I felt my IQ dropping a few points afterward. Nevertheless I persisted because occasionally some kind soul will provide a link to an article like this one giving the proper context needed to truly understand the original article.

        It is a shame that WAPO chose to print Lally’s piece, which is nothing but a cynical attempt at hopping on the #metoo bandwagon. #metoo is an important movement, far too many women have suffered from harassment perpetuated by powerful men. By comparing being the subject of satirical articles to the actual abuse suffered by women in the #metoo movement Lally has done the movement a major disservice.

  4. ennui

    the eXile’s greatest crime will always be inventing the format which Vice Media exploited to fame and fortune. but i think the defining quality of the age is the way in which satire is now just anticipating what’s about to happen. even the ‘war nerd’, which existed in the eXile as a running attack on the use of analysis and “knowledge” to displace the weakness and fear of a certain eponysterical male white western media consumer has now embraced it’s audience.

    but, after reading the eXile in university libraries in the 90’s, what only became clear to me later is how much what the US did to the former-USSR wasn’t just about exploiting the savages or humiliating a former adversary, but an expression of what US elites would do back home, if they ever got the opportunity…

    1. visitor

      Let us not forget Yasha Levine.

      I do not remember how I stumbled on the eXiledOnline, but the vitriolic humour of its muckraking articles kept me coming back to it (yeah, I remember that horse sperm cake, and that it was cooked with sperm from a fourth-rate horse because it was cheaper). After returning to the USA, its founders have dispersed, the eXiled has become largely quiescent, and I only read articles by Taibbi, Ames or Levine infrequently (such as when referred to by NC).

      This polemic has an odd feeling to me. As if a small flame burst from a huge heap of ashes that was a big bonfire a really long time ago. Is Kathy Lally really motivated by long-simmering grievances, or is she (as a cat’s paw) trying to silence and ostracize the eXiled veterans because of some recent reporting that is proving too disquieting?

  5. Sutter Cane

    It’s been the biggest disappointment watching lefties pounce on Ames and Taibbi, overshadowing the release of Taibbi’s excellent I Can’t Breathe, by totally taking the smears of the likes of Mike Cernovich (for chrissakes!) at face value. Seeing the work of the eXile derided with thoughtful comments like “They claim this is satire, but it’s not even FUNNY!” As if the only known form of satire was of the milquetoast liberal Daily Show and Jon Oliver variety.

    Ames and Taibbi were (accurately) satirizing the mindset and behaviours of the kind of people who destroyed an entire goddamn country. For profit. And it is ugly, misogynistic, and crude, as it should be, because that’s what the people they were satirzing were like. It ain’t pretty. And today people are angry about the ugly fictional portrayal but not about the very real neoliberal consequences of the actions of those so disgustingly portrayed.

    1. Fool

      It’s been the biggest disappointment watching lefties pounce on Ames and Taibbi…

      I feel the same way. It’s so bizarre to me how leftists whom I otherwise thought better of would piggyback on the charges of the types of sleazes whose names would come up in Podesta’s inbox — over the word of a journalist with no actual history of sexual misconduct and who’s spent his career advocating for those whom mainstream press would never advocate for, much less pay attention to. I wish someone could prescribe what exactly is at the root of our contemporary incapacity for nuance and judgement. (Social media? neoliberalism…?)

      Anyway, it’s unfortunate that Ames has had to go through this libel. Thanks for publishing, Yves!

      1. Sutter Cane

        Driving it, no, but I definitely saw the charges against Ames and Taibbi embraced uncritically by leftists who should have know better.

      2. skippy

        Concur Lambert…

        I cringe every time someone uses the term leftie, its akin to anyone not on the alt right or right [neoliberal] spectrum is leftish, ID neoliberals being called left.

        disheveled… not to mention Curtis pointing out it became an arts and crafts movment where the lucky ones become monetized…. sigh…

  6. tommy strange

    Wow thanks so much Yves and Matt. NC is just essential. Two days ago I posted the article on FB where the guy actually did research!!! Even called the women he worked with. Imagine that! ..anyway a very good, but a bit too centrist FB friend said, ‘yes’ this is not right but she THEN posted that wapo stuff . I looked at that person’s past articles and went….’uhhh those ukraine articles look slanted,” don’t trust anything in the Times or Post that has to do with russia, or the domestic targets that question all the crap….and sure enough, look what NC give to me today! This is great……And look at Matt’s twitter. Everyday now people are calling him a rapist!!! Jeez…this is getting down right stranger then any fiction……

    1. flora

      Mobs in action. From Mark Twain:

      “The pitifulest thing out is a mob; that’s what an army is–a mob; they don’t fight with courage that’s born in them, but with courage that’s borrowed from their mass, and from their officers. But a mob without any man at the head of it is beneath pitifulness.”

      – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

  7. masson

    Lally complains about Taibbi being mean to her after she wrote a report in 1999 unironically starting a paragraph with “The latest affirmation of the anarchy that lies deep in the Russian soul…” This just after shock therapy has killed millions of Russians. In this new screed she has the audacity to link to it.

    I think she deserved every bit of scorn.

    1. Lambert Strether

      > The latest affirmation of the anarchy that lies deep in the Russian soul

      Or, alternatively: “Ba ba bom ba ba bom ba ba dang a dang dang ba ba ding a dong ding,” about as meaningful.

  8. Craig H.

    Thank you. Ames and Taibbi may be the only consistently reliable anglo writers on the topic of Russia and if we purge them we are shooting ourselves in the foot. When Bruce Schneier gave his talk at google (it’s on youtube) he made the claims: (1.) google knows what types of porn everybody watches and (2.) everybody watches game of thrones. Since I look at the internet I can see that it is indeed true that large numbers of my fellow humans do this, but I am highly skeptical that includes everybody. I bet quite a few of us do neither, even people that work at google and who were sitting in Schneier’s real time audience.

    I was a fan of eXile, miss it, and love war nerd who deprecates a lot of classes of people but is far harder on himself than anybody else. Truly a self-hating hater.

    1. HotFlash

      Dunno how many counterexamples you need for proof, but I have never watched even one episode of GoT.

  9. rusti

    You see? Lally’s gloating, smug colonialist triumphalism was the norm in expat circles. That was what we were fighting. And sometimes the outrage got out of control. But it’s beyond grotesque that our outrage should be picked over for language crimes by a sloppy, inept, conscience-free writer like Lally. When the crimes of Western journalists during the Yeltsin era are chronicled, I kinda think it’ll be the callous triumphalism with which she and her Clintonite buddies watched millions of Russians die that are condemned–not the tonal lapses of a low-budget dissident rag like eXile, shaking its puny fist at this corruption.

    I’m a bit underwhelmed by the explanation that many of the outrageous antics of eXile’s authors could be classified as “fighting smug colonialist triumphalism” or “shaking its puny fist”, but I can agree with the fundamental point that it is absolutely shocking that someone who lived through this:

    “Each month thousands of Russians were dying prematurely. Such a drop in life expectancy, labeled ‘excess deaths,’ has always been a standard algorithm in demographers’ calculations of the death toll of the great disasters—whether Stalin’s collectivization in the 1930s, Pol Pot’s rule in Cambodia in the 1970s, or the famine in Ethiopia in the 1980s. American demographer Nicholas Eberstadt estimated that the number of ‘excess deaths’ in Russia between 1992 and 1998 was as high as 3 million. By contrast, Eberstadt observed, Russia’s losses in World War 1 were 1.7 million deaths.”

    … could walk away thinking that THEY were unfairly victimized. Ames and Brecher/Dolan are providing an extremely important service in highlighting similarly terrifying and shocking dynamics at work today with hacks like Michael Weiss broadcasting toxic garbage with a big megaphone that helps provide an intellectual veneer for the mass starvation of Yemeni children or sectarian death squads in Syria or a possible catastrophic war with Iran, so I hope people will continue to listen to them. The same goes for Taibbi in highlighting systematic racism and abuse of power by banks and lobbyists.

  10. lollipop lally says sean bean

    the one good thing to come out of this campaign of coal, muck and soot is the enjoyable and hopefully not short-lived reunification of the ames/taibbi journalistic superhero alliance. all we need now is for the war nerd to march in with his bugle and his skewering tongue and we have the trifecta, the holy trinity, the ames/dolan/taibbi alliance out of retirement for one last job… take no prisoners lads!!!

  11. Mahatma Water

    Thank you for this post, Yves. I was beginning to question if NC had succumb to the one-sided, left-of-center McCarthyism hypocrisy that’s brown-shirting their way around the fourth estate in their “eye for an eye” campaign, creating a nation of cyclopes who have no bias depth perception whatsoever. And I hate to say it but the commentariate on NC is long overdue for some shaming in this regard. There is no excuse for marginalizing those with centrist or conservative views just because they differ from one’s own established beliefs instead of differing on the merits of the evidence, lest you yourself want to be marginalized.

    1. Synoia

      Hypocrisy is not a privilege of the left nor of the right.

      NC punctures hypocrisy frequently. Most on the right because there is little left left, and the pickings on the right are enough for a feast.

      Twas ever thus, Private Eye in the UK had and has a good run.

      Yves does not sharpen her skewers quite as much as Private Eye, which is probably a testament to US culture.

      1. Mahatma Water

        Way to prove my point with your vacuous twaddle.

        Would the moderators care to explain how such commentators are considered beneficial to erudite readers of this website and how such comments add value to this website? This person obviously has put little thought or effort in his/her comments.

          1. Emorej a Hong Kong

            Indeed: “digging” precisely characterizes MW’s followup.

            But MW’s original comment, although wrong on the facts, did introduce me to the nice phrase “cyclops who have no bias depth perception”. (Has this been used elsewhere?).

            … we may now need to know whether “cyclops” are best described as travelling in herds, gaggles, etc.

            There are numerous evocative options (link:

            a school of cyclops
            a congregation of cyclops
            a colony of cyclops
            an obstinancy of cyclops
            a clutch of cyclops

  12. Cozy Bear

    Thanks for posting Yves – great to see people standing by the eXile (of which I am a long time fan!).

    One of the things that really heckled me about many DSA online people was the consensus that Matt / Mark were ‘rapists’ or at least, vicious misogynists who must be expunged from the left.

    it’s bizzare how obsessed some on the left seem to be about satire they have made no effort to understand that was writen 15 years ago.

    And obviously it’s clinton people, libertarians, and dumber indentirians on the left leading the charge to attack.

    Shame Matt buckled and apologised..

  13. ChrisPacific

    I gave up on GoT after 1-2 seasons. That was partly down to time, partly because the local rights holder ran it on a separate channel and charged an extra monthly fee for it, but mostly because it just felt a lot nastier and more exploitative on TV than it did in the books. Then I re-read the books and found that the nastiness and exploitation had all been there all along and TV just made it harder to ignore. Then there was the fact that GRRM was obviously losing his passion for writing the books, even before he decided to change a whole lot of plot points in the TV series and thereby make the job of writing the later books at least ten times harder since he would have to keep all the separate plot points straight (if we charitably assume he is still doing so, or planning to). I realized that the books (which in any case I no longer liked as much as I used to) were very unlikely to ever be finished. All of that left me a bit sour on the TV series, and the plan to get it on DVD or Blu ray and watch it all 1-2 years in arrears ended up falling by the wayside.

    It’s a pity because parts of the books were very good. I remember hearing (from ‘The Supersizers’ of all sources) a theory that the knightly code may have been invented to try and mitigate against the sort of barbarity that forms such a large part of the GoT books, and they certainly do a good job of pointing out its inherent contradictions.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The books spent a lot more time on character development, so that diluted the nastiness. However, the books also made clear many of the characters weren’t anywhere as pretty as their TV versions are. Tyrion, for instance, has eyes that don’t match and is a dwarf (small and squat), not a midget (which is a limitation of casting). When he is injured, his face is horribly maimed; I recall he lost part of his nose, not mildly scarred as in the HBO version. Brienne is supposed to be very ugly on top of being super large. And so on.

  14. WJ

    To me, the whole thing seems quite obvious.

    Left/progressive critiques of neoliberal DNC agenda must be delegitimized by any means necessary, because there is a real threat that these will successfully destabilize the narrative preferred by the domestic and foreign policy powers that be (and that own and have big money contracts with the (owner of) the Wa Post).

    Accusations of sexual harassment and misogyny are likely to delegitimize these critiques given the current political and social environment.

    Therefore all left/progressive critics of the neoliberal DNC should be portrayed as sexual harassers and misogynists.

    It’s very simple, really.

  15. Harry

    I was in Moscow in 98 and 99.

    I am ashamed to say i wasnt 100% sure it was satire. I remember the “Whores R” series very clearly. I also remember the drug taking they described.

    Anyhoo, they were always very good about calling out the thievery and hypocricy that was on show, as well as the disgraceful behaviour of expats in Moscow. Both still do good work, unlike the Bezos rag.

    The only notable reformed character from that era is Jeff Sachs at Columbia. He learned some important lessons from his Moscow mistakes and now seems on the side of the angels.

  16. Sluggeaux

    I’m late to the dance as usual, but reading Kathy Lally’s loathsome attack on Taibbi and Ames in the WashPost troubles me deeply. Taibbi and Ames used the eXile to make over-the-top personal attacks on all of the players during the chaotic collapse of post-Soviet society, singling-out neoliberal vultures and their media enablers in particular. They were young (as many of us once were) and had probably read too much Hunter S Thompson. They admittedly were emulating Thompson by fueling themselves with the copious amounts of alcohol and drugs that a collapsing imperial capitol was awash with.

    However, I find it outrageous that an apologist for the neoliberal elites, who has made a career of spreading propaganda in praise of the piratical looting of a global empire undergoing a terrible economic collapse — while demeaning the struggles of its ordinary citizens — has carried this grudge against two important critics of the impending parallel collapse of the competing great power. This perpetrator of elite hatefulness toward ordinary people is now attempting to steal the mantle from women who have suffered real sexual abuse and assault, in order to salve her thin skin and try to take down two men who have, 20 years later, become important voices reporting the truth about the seriously unequal and discriminatory economic and political system of which elite sex abuse is part and parcel. If she had bothered to read Taibbi’s work over the past decade, it might have dawned on Lally that he is far from a mysoginist, and that she has been an enabler of that culture. Lally engages in pure doublethink.

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