The Russians drop a propaganda bomb with their Washington Post ad supplement.

Media criticism.
Aug. 30 2007 6:24 PM

Hail to the Return of Motherland-Protecting Propaganda!

The Russians and their unintentionally hilarious Washington Post ad supplement.

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Anonymous letters, personal attacks, letters advocating extremism, letters to other people, mass mailings and commercial appeals are not published.

The new comrades want your phone number, too, but only for verification purposes. I'll bet that's what they told the parasite Sakharov.


As journalism—even state-sponsored journalism—"Russia: Behind the Headlines" presents more questions than it answers. A feature about Russian Railways notes that the president of the state-owned firm, Vladimir Yakunin, earned a degree as a mechanical engineer in 1972 before laboring at the USSR's United Nations office between 1985 and 1991. Did the comrade's work between 1972 and 1985 get tossed down the memory hole? Shouldn't readers know—as a quick Web search reveals—that Yakunin may become president of Russia after Putin steps down? Earlier this year in a piece handicapping the potential successors, the International Herald Tribune called Yakunin a former KGB agent.

Back in the 1990s, Regardie's magazine attempted to parody the foreign-nation advertising supplements that occasionally run in the Post,albeit to little success, because you can't parody state propaganda. The only way to slog through the stilted, typo-marred copy of "Russia: Behind the Headlines" is to impose a Boris Badenov-style Russian accent on the stories and edit out the articles the and a as you read along. Sentences such as "Russia's Central Bank has declared the necessity of a symbol for the ruble, one that would eventually be in league with the $ dollar and € euro signs on the world market" suddenly become bearable. Sentences such as "President Putin promised to create the National Russian Language Foundation, which would promote Russian language and culture all over the world" become delightful.

Who is this supplement for? Obviously, the section's intended customers are American businessmen and Washington diplomats who may have gotten a chuckle or a groan out of it before feeding it into their recycling pile. As bad as Soviet propaganda was, it was always good enough that you could hum along to the strains of its martial music, but the amateurism of this supplement carries no tune. It's a bad sign for the Putin regime if it thinks this expensive PR exercise will elicit anything but laughter from the West.

Speaking for propaganda lovers everywhere, I hope that once Putin sees "Russia: Behind the Headlines" as the abomination it is, he'll reopen the gulag and send the supplement's editors and writers into exile.


Is "Russia: Behind the Headlines" a sign of Putin's fall? Can the Russian government really be that clueless about the English language? Send propaganda tips for the Russian government to, and I'll forward them to the country's maximum leader. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum, in a future article, or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at