About three months ago, I got a call from a producer at NTV's "Strana I Mir" program, Sergei Kashkadalov. He told me that NTV's correspondent from New York, Vasily Arkanov, was coming to Moscow and he wanted to do a feature on me and the eXile.
I hesitantly agreed, and soon regretted it. About a week later, in the depths of a torrential flea powder binge, I got a call from Kashkadalov asking me to meet him and Arkanov and someone else whose name I didn't catch for a pre-interview chat. That "someone else" turned out to be Leonid Parfyonov, the famous grouper-eyed Sunday night NTV news magazine host who replaced Yevgeny Kiselyov after Gusinsky was thrown out of the country. Parfyonov made headlines about six months earlier for taking an "extended vacation," essentially quitting, over the Kremlin-backed firing of Boris Jordan from NTV due to its controversial coverage of the Dubrovka hostage crisis.
"I thought you left NTV," I said to Parfyonov. I'd taken him for some kind of freedom-of-speech martyr, and was disappointed that he'd caved.
"I've been back for several months!" he boasted. "I never left."
I won't go into the details of my meeting with the three NTV heavyweights, except to say that I was shocked by how much they giggled when they talked about sex. In fact, sex seemed to be all they wanted to discuss; Parfyonov tried to convince me to allow NTV to film me going to a whore tochka, making a purchase and bringing one home. I was starting to get the feeling that I was being set up, but since I was on flea powder and hyper-aware of its effects, I thought this could be chemical paranoia rather than reality-induced paranoia.
Near the end of our conversation, I was blindsided by a question from Arkanov, who, after nearly a decade in New York (including a stint at Columbia's School of Journalism), speaks perfect American English. In fact, he even looked like a specific type of American: a yuppie do-gooder, a healthy Christian with a closet full of Gore-Tex and a portfolio of socially-responsible mutual funds.
He asked me, in a caring yet inoffensive tone, "Doesn't it bother you that the prostitutes you have sex with are doing it only because they're economically desperate? That you're taking advantage of victims?"
I was too wired to switch gears and counter-attack -- it took me hours to understand that he'd plied me all along with giggly sex-talk just to set me up for that one question. My answer to Arkanov at the time was, "No, I don't feel bad, because whores tell great stories, and I want their stories to get out. Besides, I don't beat them like most of their clients."
What I wanted to answer, when I thought about it hours later, after my heart-rate calmed down, was, "Don't you feel bad, Arkanov, for playing the role of scab in a government takeover of a once-independent television station? Don't you feel bad for helping Putin destroy Free Speech, for disseminating propaganda, raping the citizenry's gullible minds, in order to cover up for the theft and economic deprivation that your bosses are responsible for, the very deprivation that created so many hundreds of thousands of prostitutes? Don't you feel bad for playing the role of propaganda stooge, just because you want a good income and career? You're the propaganda whore, and the Kremlin is your john. How does that make you feel? What have you ever done to make a prostitute's life better besides simply ignoring them?"
The next day, when my heart calmed down, I canceled the NTV interview and told their crew to leave our office. Later, I agreed to meet Arkanov for a much less formal interview-chat. It was a brief, calm interview, and afterwards, in a private conversation, Arkanov admitted to me that NTV, his employer, had not only been stomped once by Putin when it was taken away from Gusinsky, but that the firing of Jordan after Dubrovka represented an even tighter government clampdown. He expected NTV's coverage to become increasingly pro-government, and while this apparently "bothered" him, he wasn't about to quit. He was bothered to the point that his voice took on a concerned tone.