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Last month's Kazakhstan/Russia coverage is a perfect example of what's so wrong with the magazine.
Just before Kazakhstan's sham elections, The Economist warned that an "ugly trade" might soon happen: Every country in the West, save two, had already agreed to overlook President Nazarbayev's out-of-the-closet authoritarianism, and give him the chair to the OSCE in 2009 no matter how disgraceful the elections turned out. The two holdouts were the U.S. (whose ambassador praised Nazarbayev's constitutional changes allowing him to be president-for-life as "a good step forward") and Great Britain, which was a bit more circumspect.
These two countries still haven't made up their minds about whether or not to allow Kazakhstan to take over the OSCE chair. Coincidentally, The Economist hasn't made its mind up either, a position manifested by its decision to allot a meager column-sized article tepidly condemning the elections. This was completely overshadowed by the multi-page lead article: Russia is "now" run by the KGB.
As mentioned above, this story is four fucking years old. There's no "now" to it. The Economist article relies on a report issued in 2003 by sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya. Back in 2003, The Economist's colleagues in the Western media covered the report as the news story it then was. The Christian Science Monitor, for example, ran a story called "KGB influence still felt in Russia" in its December 30, 2003 edition. It stated:
"Olga Kryshtanovskaya is a sociologist who dances with wolves. For more than a decade she's been Russia's premier expert on the political, business, and security elites.
"But even Ms. Kryshtanovskaya says she's alarmed by her own recent findings. Since Vladimir Putin came to power four years ago, she's been tracking a dramatic influx into government of siloviki - people from the military, the former Soviet KGB, and other security services - bringing with them statist ideology, authoritarian methods, and a drill-sergeant's contempt for civilian sensibilities."
For The Economist's brand of quantum journalism, time is relative, depending on the observer - or rather, the observer's agenda. A story like this is like a fine wine, meant to be stored in a cool place, to be popped open for their readers to help them forget all that other depressing, confusing news coming out of Kazakhstan or Iraq. Thus, four years after the Monitor's story, The Economist arrives to sound the alarm.
What's strange is how sloppy The Economist is about this, to the point where it reads like a classic case of four-years-late plagiarism.
But most readers would never know how dated the peg to the recent cover story really is. "Political power in Russia now lies with the FSB, the KGB's successor," declared the magazine. Note The Economist's sly insertion of the word "now" - giving the reader the impression that news about the siloviki's rise is hot out of the box. "Now" in the weekly news world literally means "now." It doesn't mean four years ago, or even four months ago. It means last week, or perhaps sometime in the last four weeks.