How the Kremlin Covered Up Watergate

ZINNER, PAUL E.

A STUDY IN SELF-PROTECTION How the Kremlin Covered Up Watergate BY PAUL E ZINNER Soviet Party Chief Leonid Brezhnev is reportedly eager for a visit from Gerald Ford this fall, so that the two can...

...A press free to expose official chicanery'' A popularly elected legislature vested with real powers...
...A STUDY IN SELF-PROTECTION How the Kremlin Covered Up Watergate BY PAUL E ZINNER Soviet Party Chief Leonid Brezhnev is reportedly eager for a visit from Gerald Ford this fall, so that the two can get to know each other better, but vast numbers of his countrymen are probably still trying to figure out what happened to Richard Nixon They certainly have reason to be confused, for at the same time the former President and his associates were covering up the Watergate affair in this country, the mass media in the USSR, especially the press, were engaging in a masterful cover-up of their own Throughout Nixon's long nightmare, Soviet newspapers reframed from editorializing about his plight, and, by restricting themselves to brief summaries of White House press releases, inevitably shaded their stories in his favor This deliberate playing down ot events adverse to Nixon or, worse, ignoring them entirely, resulted in neither the Supreme Court's unanimous ruling on the tapes nor the televising of the House Judiciary Committee's proceedings being considered newsworthy Moreover, Soviet readers learned about the adoption of the first article of impeachment only indirectly, from an item reporting that the President was certain he would be exonerated of any wrongdoing The word "impeachment" itself was not mentioned in the USSR until the end of July, and even then only the government daily Izveitia eventually bothered to explain what it meant A one-sentence inquiry on August 8, attributed to S Lyagina from Minsk, elicited a long, pedantic reply from M Sturua, an editorial commentator, who carefully pointed out that impeachment is often mistakenly identified with removal from office, whereas it merely signifies an indictment Following Nixon's August 9 resignation and Gerald Ford's swearing-in, the Soviet Party organ, Pravda, acting perhaps in the belief that it is better to emphasize good news, ran a front-page article under the headline "G FordóNew President ol the US" A story about Nixon's departure appeared on page 5 with other international pieces Izvestia was more even-handed It devoted almost two full front-page columns to three separate items on the succession "Address by R Nixon,' "Statement by G Ford" and "Changes in the White House " But the issues that made up what came to be known as Watergate were never explained to the Russian public On the evening of August 10, television viewers were treated to a fanciful interpretation of the constitutional crisis by Leonid Za-myatin, director general of the Soviet news agency Tass, and an authoritative government spokesman (he served, for example, as the briefing officer for Western newsmen during last June's summit) According to Zamyatin, the Democrats, lusting for vengeance because of their 1972 electoral defeat, conPaul E Zinner is a professor of political science at the University of California's Davis campus spired with the media to bring down Richard Nixon New Times, the Soviet foreign affairs weekly, later embraced this same theme After August 10, Soviet attention centered on the new President For a few days his statements and acts attracted a respectable amount of coverage, as well as considerable editorial comment Interest focused, of course, on the Administration's foreign policy, with the press seizing upon every scrap of evidence suggesting continuity Ford's announced intention to follow his predecessor in detente won particular approval, and his words were reinforced in the dailies both by appropriate quotations from Congressional leaders and references to a recent Gallup poll showing popular support for improved Soviet-American relations For its part, the Kremlin hastened to reaffirm its stand On August 11, Pravda printed a major unsigned editorial, "For the Development of Soviet-American Relations," whose message was that the Soviet Union remained ready and eager to pursue detente, regardless of the change in U S leadership The very speed with which the editorial was producedóit was published just 48 hours after the Nixon resignation became known m Moscowóbespoke Moscow's urgency to clarify its position, and the importance of the document was apparent to any regular Pravda reader Unsigned editorials (other than those routinely appearing on the left hand side of page 1) come directly from the highest quarters of the Communist Party They far outrank editorials signed "Alexandrov," a pseudonym picked some years ago to indicate collective authorship by the paper's editorial board On August 15, Zamyatm, writing m Sovetskaya Rossiya under the heading "A Change of President," confidently declared that "normalcy is returning to the political life of America after some hectic days " With that, reporting on American domestic politics again dropped to the vanishing point Nelson Rockefeller's nomination to the Vice Presidency received casual notice as an accomplished fact (the need for Congressional approval was cited, but accepted as a foregone conclusion) The Nixon pardon and the controversy it stirred up in the U S raised hardly a ripple in Soviet newspapers Pravda gave the story exactly 15 lines, under the headline "G Ford on R Nixon," and buried the piece on page 3 In Izvesha, mention of the pardon appeared on page 4 Neither paper made further reference to the issue One can think of a time, not too long ago, when Communist propagandists would have had a field day with an occurrence like Watergate, attributing U S corruption and abuse of power in high places to the decay of our society And just imagine what would have been done with the Rockefeller storm Now, however, Soviet media are determined to maintain a conspiracy of silence about such matters They proclaim that Presidential succession is strictly America's business, and imply that writing about it at length would constitute interfering in another country s internal affairs This singular treatment of our protracted national trauma is probably a further indication of the Kremlin's desire to preserve both the substance and the semblance of detente, of its concern lest the Nixon-Kissinger policy become a casualty of the scandal Although the Soviet media reject the idea, harping instead on the peace theme, improved ties with the United States are essential to bolstering the USSR's ailing economy An article on "USSR-USA Businesslike Cooperation" in the August issue of International Affairs gets to the heart of the matter "In developing new forms of economic cooperation with the USA, the Soviet Union is guided by Lenin's view that it is necessary to make use of economic ties with the capitalist countries m the interests of Socialist construction That is why the USSR now suggests that economic relations with the USA should not be temporary or short-term but should be based on a sound and long-term basis ranging over key sectors of the economy " Now that Nixon is gone, the Soviet leaders clearly see no need to elaborate on Watergate post factum Nothing could be gained from it, and a great deal could be lostóby jeopardizing the credibility of arrangements entered into with a corrupt politician driven from office by his own countrymen To be sure, the effort to reduce the Nixon Administration's misdeeds to a nonevent may also be based on other considerations The Kremlin may simply be incapable of understanding the fundamental principles of politics and ethics involved in the affair This would not be surprising, nothing in the political philosophy, historical tradition or practical experience of the Soviet leaders predisposes them to such understanding On the other hand, the men in Moscow may be determined to suppress the story of Richard Nixon's downfall because they fully understand how it finally came about An independent court rendering an opinion against the man who appointed many of its members...
...A special prosecutor, subordinate to the chief of state, with the right to investigate and, if need be, indict the highest officeholder in the land...
...Government bureaucracies refusing to abet the executive branch in covert and illegal operations...
...These are seditious things in the Soviet Union, and to acquaint the populace with them might initiate ideas and actions that, in the end, could rock the USSR's system tar more than the Watergate scandal jolted America's...
...Ethical standards invoked and adhered to in political deliberations...

Vol. 57 • October 1974 • No. 21


 
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