No, not every Western journalist fell for North Korean propaganda efforts at the Pyeongchang Olympics, though there were more than plenty. Some of it, no doubt, is driven by animosity for Donald Trump. Many people live a reactive existence that demands they show admiration for anyone perceived as standing in opposition to the president. The number of liberals asking “are we any better?” than North Korea on social media is horrifying, but, at this point, predictable.
But we also shouldn’t act as if embrace of Communism deception is something new or rare. The Left, and really we have no choice but to treat most big media outlets as functionaries of the Left, has a long tradition of falling (or worse) for this kind of propaganda — from Stalin to the Vietcong to Castro to Sandinistas to Hugo Chavez to fetching DPRK henchwomen.
Most famously there was the Pulitzer-Prize winning Walter Duranty, The New York Times Moscow correspondent whose dispatches covered up Stalin’s worst abominations during the 1930s. It should be remembered that many on the Left only turned away from the Soviet strongman when he allied himself with Hitler. By that time, the Soviets, who gained widespread popularity on the American left, had perpetrated their own Holocaust. To this day, the Pulitzer board won’t revoke Duranty’s prize, finding that “there was not clear and convincing evidence of deliberate deception.”
Many years later, the same newspaper would treat America to a series of cutesy essays diminishing the horrors of Communism called “The Red Century.” Did you know women in the Soviet Union had full voting rights by 1917? Did you know they had no-fault divorce? Guaranteed health care and job? A free education? Women in Eastern bloc countries even had better sex than Americans!
What’s more important than free health care and income equality in a “democracy?” One wonders why millions of people risked their lives to escape such utopias. “Although the Communists never fully reformed domestic patriarchy,” noted Kristen Ghodsee in The New York Times, who teaches what I imagine is advanced gibberish at the University of Pennsylvania, “Communist women enjoyed a degree of self-sufficiency that few Western women could have imagined.”
Communist women were free to vote for the Communist candidates and then free to go to a job provided by the Communist state and then they were free to stand on long lines for food or shoes at the Communist-run shop. Self-sufficiency, indeed.
In another essay, Vivian Gornick explains the appeal of this collectivist ideology among Americans: “The Communist Party induced in the most ordinary of men and women a sense of one’s own humanity that ran deep, made life feel large; large and clarified.”
Unfortunately, leftism still inspires. But imagine writing glowingly of the Nazi regime’s “strong sense of community and salubrious living?” Or imagine a professor who openly identifies with Nazis teaching at a public university. Imagine people arguing that, “Hey, you know, Nazism has never really been done right, but it deserves another shot.” While my twitter feed will often be polluted by accounts featuring little Hammers and Sickles, no one treats them as they should be, as swastikas. Rolling Stone has yet to run a piece by a Nazi explaining how we should contemplate the good things about the German recovery of the late 1930s. Despite concerns over the rise of new fascism, no one wears a Himmler t-shirt on campus.
And no one in their right mind would celebrate a candidate who regularly praised Nazis. “Vermont could set an example to the rest of the nation similar to the type of example Nicaragua is setting for the rest of Latin America,” noted Bernie Sanders years ago. Sanders, now a democratic Socialist — all socialists are democratic when when they have no other choice — unsurprisingly, never saw a Communist nation he didn’t feel a need to admire. Twenty years after my parents risked everything to escape the Eastern Bloc, Sanders would visit industrial, poverty-ridden Yaroslavl for his honeymoon.
The “Soviet Union now is such a receding memory that Bernie Sanders’s moral obtuseness — the obverse of Conquest’s character — is considered an amusing eccentricity,” wrote George Will not that long ago in a wonderful column about the historian Robert Conquest. In truth, however, Sanders is not an amusing eccentricity, he is one of the most popular politicians in the United States. The Democratic Party sounds more and more like him every day.
So why should we be surprised by the asymmetrical understanding of history? Those who were obsessed with Contras were always rationalizing the actions of the Sandinistas, and those who were critical of the US “imperialism” regularly deployed moral relativism when it came to the Soviet Union. Over the past decade it was Venezuela. Why can’t we just get along?
And Cuba, oh, Cuba. The New York Times’ Herbert Matthews, Castro’s Walter Duranty, set the tone for fawning coverage of the Communist tyrant that the many in the media would never be able shake off. For the approximately 25 years I’ve been paying attention to politics, I can’t recount how many times Cuba’s Stalin has been portrayed as a complex character trying to do right by his people. You could write exhaustive book on this trend, and some have.
Let’s just say when Maria Shriver of the Today show was telling America that Cuba’s “level of public services was remarkable: free education, medicine and heavily subsidized housing,” or ABC’s Peter Jenning was claiming that “Cuba is actually a model of development,” they were just two of many.
All of this history manifested in our progressive Barack Obama not only allowing himself to be used in propaganda efforts by the Cuban regime, but also inhibiting himself from castigating Castro when he — belatedly — croaked. “History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him,” is the kind of thing we say about a musician, not a man who creates gulags.
Today’s apologists are worse, because they have a vivid history behind them. The North Koreans, like every other collectivist state, rely heavily on propaganda efforts to conceal their crimes. Everyone who’s read anything about the 20th century understands this. So, “[W]ithout a word, only flashing smiles, Kim Jong Un’s sister outflanked Vice President Mike Pence in diplomacy,” is not something we write about those who starve their own people. “North Korea’s 200-plus cheerleaders command spotlight at 2018 Winter Olympics with synchronized chants,” are not words a person with a working moral compass strings together. Not in the 1930s. And not now.