Baltimore Sun has fun with Russia’s school massacre

By Les Kinsolving

Page one of the Sept. 4 Baltimore Sun had many of the details of what it headlined: “BLOODY END TO RUSSIAN SCHOOL SIEGE.”

There was the Associated Press photograph of the young girl crouching and weeping at the side of her wounded mother.

There was the Agence France Press picture of the young father, racing out of the school carrying his son – whose face showed the effects of the three days of imprisoned agony.

But inside, on the Baltimore Sun’s editorial page, they decided to have some fun, with the Sun’s cartoonist KAL providing the following cartoon – titled: “PRESIDENT PUTIN HUNTS FOR ANSWERS TO THE CHECHEN PROBLEM” – with Russia’s president sitting on the head of a huge, angry Russian bear. He is holding a smoking bazooka as he says, “DANG, MISSED AGAIN.” The angry bear has four wounds – as a small terrorist in a black hood hides behind one of the bear’s rear legs.

Is this supposed to be amusing?

And how horrendously inappropriate is this sick humor when, if it were not for Putin’s Russian commandos, who charged when the explosions began, the murder rate could have exceeded 1,000 instead of 340 dead – including 156 children.

How, within hours of this terrorist horror – with the merciless slaughter of so many innocents, especially the children – could cartoonist KAL create such a monstrous cartoon? And was there no Sun editor or publisher with enough of a sense of decency to reject it?

In London’s Daily Mirror, Mike Eckel, in a story headlined: “IF A CHILD MAKES A NOISE WE WILL KILL THEM,” reported:

His pockets stuffed with grenades, the rebel held up a man shot dead in front of the captives and warned: “If a child utters even a sound, we’ll kill another one.”

When children fainted from lack of sleep, food and water, their masked captors simply sneered. In the intolerable heat of the gym, adults urged the youngsters to drink their own urine.

The 24-year-old told of their three days of unspeakable horror – of children so scared they couldn’t sleep, of captors coolly threatening to kill off hostages one by one, of a gymnasium so cramped there was hardly room to move.

As she lay on a stretcher outside the hospital, Alla said: “We were in fear. People were praying all the time and those that didn’t know how to pray, we taught them.” She and her mum Irina were seeing off son Zaur for his first day of school when they heard sounds like “balloons popping.” She thought it was school festivities.

Five rebels burst into the courtyard, shooting in the air and ordering people to get inside the school. Children, parents and teachers – Alla estimated there were about 1,000 in all – were corralled into a corner and pushed into the gym.

Children whimpered in terror, and all around there was screaming and crying. The hostages were forced to crouch, their hands folded over their heads.

“On day one,” said Alla, “people got a tiny bit of water, but no food.” From day two, nothing. When she asked the rebels for water for Irina, they laughed at her. She said: “When I saw my son, my mother … go unconscious, so tired, so thirsty, I wanted it all to come to an end.”

And within hours of this, the Baltimore Sun published KAL’s cartoon.

That is right up there with the Sun’s Berlin correspondent, who, in 1934, compared Saint Ignatius Loyola to Adolph Hitler. And the Sun’s Washington bureau chief, who sponsored Benito Mussolini for membership in the National Press Club (from which this one-time journalist dictator was later voted out).

From one of my e-mailers came descriptions of a similar outrage, which they titled, “The dead imagination of the New York times.”

Once you understand the Pravadaesque mindset that marks a New York Times lifer, the paper’s capacity to irritate usually subsides into wry amusement. But every so often, the paper describes its own limited mindset so well it is hard to just let it slide.

This morning’s lead editorial on Russia is a textbook example of denial, incapacity and intellectual insanity – “DEADLY STALEMATE IN CHECHNYA,” leads with: “A staggering series of recent terrorist attacks rooted in the Chechen conflict have been both horrific and remote to most Americans.” [and] “It’s hard to imagine what the public reaction would have been here if terrorists had seized a school full of children, blown up two passenger planes and set off a deadly suicide bomb outside a subway station in Western Europe or Canada.”

Actually is it hard to imagine that there breathes an imagination so dead that it thinks the Chechen atrocity is hard to imagine at all. Imagining it doesn’t take more than three brain cells. If, lacking those three brain cells, you still struggle to imagine it, the media is chock full of aids to your imagination in the form of pictures, first-hand accounts and video. Pick up any newspaper or turn on any news station on the radio and television … The Russian outrage is many things, but “hard to imagine” doesn’t make the list.

What is hard to imagine is that a newspaper … could write about such a thing happening and not reflect on what would happen if the events actually took place in America. But that’s what the Times does in the same sentence. Notice how the hypothetical “happening” takes place “outside a subway station in Western Europe or Canada.” A curious bit of localization for a newspaper whose offices are over a subway in New York City and only a few blocks from several schools.

Somehow the terrorist killings at Russian schools cannot be imagined by the Times to happen in America, in New York City, where 3,000 died. No, they have to be moved off, placed at a politically correct distance. With that, I suppose, no avid reader of the New York Times will imagine that what was done to the children of Russians will ever, could ever, happen to their own children in the city of New York.

If the readers could imagine such a thing, then they certainly might not support the forthright Times editorial board in the one thing it wants out of the entire episode: “Unless Vladimir Putin opens up negotiations with legitimate Chechen leaders, Russia will not be the only nation to suffer more terrorist attacks.”

Ah, the New York Times wants – after the slaughter of hundreds of children – appeasement and negotiation. On a certain level, it is comforting to known that in a world awash in fear and fascism, the New York Times remains true to the obsessions of its publisher and editors. What would it take for this to change? It is hard to imagine, but at some future dark day the sight of dozens of children of New York’s media elite lying shot and burned in body bags on the sidewalk outside their private schools in New York City might do the trick.

I wonder, whether, if that terrible day should ever come, the editorial staff of the New York Times will use copies of today’s editorial to cover the faces of their own dead.