Monday, August 01, 2005

Yuschenko and the press

There has been a lot of hostility toward Yuschenko from the press for the past few days here because of comments he made--accusations really-- at a July 25th press conference. This article is representative and goes into a bit of the whys--Them's fightin' words...Mr. President.

The problem occurred when a reporter asked a question about Yuschenko's son. His son, according to news reports, drives an expensive BMW, has a large upper story flat here, owns a platinum cell phone worth around $25,000, frequents expensive nightclubs and bars and has bodyguards to accompany him. All of this at the age of 19 and with no apparent means of support to maintain him in that kind of life style.

Yuschenko responded accusing the reporter of being a hitman. He then made the defense that his son had the cell phone from a rich friend, that the car was a rental and that he was able to afford his lifestyle and the bodyguards because of a consulting contract.

The response by Yuschenko hit the press here like a ton of bricks, they feel, from the blind side. A lot of them supported the Orange revolution and considered themselves to be a part of the family. 300 of them have asked Yuschenko to apologize, a thing interesting in itself.

What about the question? Was it out of bounds? I don't think so. The basis of Yuschenko's whole appeal is to end corruption. Yet his son is able to get a consulting contract that allows him to rent an expensive car, live in a flat that is about 5 times the size of our fairly sizable apartment, and to live an expensive nightlife--all at the age of 19. The only kind of contract that would pay that amount of money would be one that is politically indefensible for Yuschenko, at least to my mind. All of this was the elephant in the room in some circles so it was legitimate to ask.

Did Yuschenko have to answer it? No and he shouldn't have. He should have deflected it by saying something about it being his son's own life or that he, like any parent, had only so much influence with a son who no longer lives at home. Something like that. To antagonize the press like he did was not a good thing to have done. And by answering the way he did, he takes the problem on himself. Maybe that is the way of a good parent, I haven't thought that one through. (And I think Yuschenko is a good man and an honest one.) But it isn't wise for someone needing to change a government and in many ways a whole culture.

The problem is that after the initial shock wears off, a shock, by the way, that wouldn't have been felt in the US or Britain, the press are going to not only investigate the son and that won't come out good--too many questions that seem like they cannot be answered with anything politically viable--but they will also not be giving Yuschenko a pass on anything. This is particularly bad because there is no real attempt by the government to make its case. If it has to overcome a negative by the press, this will not be a helpful thing, especially if things begin to turn south with the economy.

And it is Yuschenko that is the liberalizing force in the government just about the only one. If he is dogged at every step and has to make his case over the press, that will just set reform and liberalization all that much further behind, especially again since there has been no attempt to make any semblance of a case for ,much of anything in public.

Why pick a fight with the press on such a peripheral matter and such a small matter? Maybe Yuschenko is frustrated and that frustration just came out at that conference. If that is what happened, he would lose nothing by apologizing and probably gain a whole lot by doing it.

I support Yuschenko and have since the revolution. I think he's an honest man and a good one. And I think the task he has at hand is one that borders near the impossible, at least in the time frames that are there for him to do it. But I want to see him succeed. He deserves it and the people do too, especially them. Ukrainians have had to endure decades of hardships and still endure them. They deserve to have something better than what it is they have now.

45 comments:

Anonymous said...

Personally, I agree with you and am frustrated that this occured at this time. I think that Pres. Yushchenko Yushchenko should have been ready for these questions. Why wasn't he? Jet lag from Japan? Who dropped the ball in preparation - him or his team? or was it because the question related to his son and he answered from emotion and/or it also touched upon morality -is it moral to use things like these in such a country - meaning Ukraine? Whereas, I am happy that journalists are pushing the cause of free speech and testing its boundaries, I am concerned that in this still very fragile and perilous stage in what I hope will result in Ukraine's transformation into a prosperous member of EU, a tabloid press mentality can lead to its stillborn death. Often, Yushchenko is faulted for top down management, but the press may be at fault for attempting to clean up the attic of a house whose foundation is yet to be poured.

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