Reviewing: Keep Rootin’ for Putin, get a copy from the Free Barrett Brown people HERE.
Today, Barrett Brown is in court for – hopefully – the last time. As we wait for news from his sentencing, I urge everyone to spend some time reading this persecuted journalists’ work.
I picked up Keep Rootin’ for Putin in December (during his 1st sentencing hearing) as a sort of defiance against the attempts to silence it’s author. You can read more about Barrett Brown’s case here and in his own words to the court here. Brown is a great writer – even in jail – and I’ve enjoyed his literary eviscerations of the foolish before. But reading his latest book, published while he himself was locked away, was definitely, partly my quiet FUCK YOU to those who would have a journalist silenced.
Keep Rootin’ for Putin tears apart the so-called “experts” on everything from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to the drug war to American evangelicalism to the racism of popular media moguls. It’s written in the clear, methodological style that Brown does best: juxtaposing the “experts” own words with their actions and fact-based analysis exposing their hypocrisy with incisive, irrefutable (and often hilarious) clarity. The title of this book, for instance, comes from the 2001 period in which Thomas Friedman was busy heaping high praise on Vladimir Putin and his vision for Russia (emphasis mine)…
“sushi bars are opening all over (yes, from borscht to Big Macs to California-Kremlin rolls in one decade!), and so many people have cars now that traffic is permanently snarled…. [Putin] is Russia’s first Deng Xiaoping—Mao’s pragmatic successor who first told the Chinese that ‘to get rich is glorious’ and put in place the modernizing reforms to do it…. So keep rootin’ for Putin—and hope that he makes it to the front of Russia’s last line.”
…a period which Thomas Friedman himself forgot a few years later when he openly mocked those who “fueled” Putin’s rise to power, writing a column entitled What did we expect? “We” presumably meaning all those OTHER idiots who’d written about Moscow’s sushi bars and Putin’s pragmatic efforts to modernize the Russian economy, because Friedman for all appearances doesn’t include himself in their number.
Brown’s point in Keep Rootin’ for Putin is not that people’s views evolve. It is rather the lack of self-awareness with which they do it and the free pass the media – and in turn we, the public – give them in their selective memory. Friedman’s change of heart, for instance, is not a thoughtful reassessment of his views, but a cover-up of his past proclamations and an eschewal of any responsibility for his role in shaping such views.
Another pundit called out in the book, Richard Cohen, laments the very fact: that, in the modern age, columnists can actually be held accountable for their columns and are expected to take responsibility for the views they’ve espoused (even where those views are a matter of life and death in war):
“I yearn for the freedom to be what I want to be. I don’t want to lie, but I want to be comforted by my own version of the truth. I want to own my life, all of it, and not have it banked at Google or some such thing. The trove of letters that some biographer is always discovering, the one that unmasks our hero and all his pretensions, has been moved from the musty attic to sleek cyberspace. I am imprisoned by the truth, a record of what I wrote and the public’s silly insistence on consistency—a life sentence without hope of parole. For me, the future is the present. It’s not that I cannot die. It’s rather that I cannot lie.”
To which Brown responds:
“Any individual who decries the arrival of the communications age on the grounds that the truth has become more accessible is an enemy of truth and of man’s ability to discover it.”
He rightly calls out the arrogance of these pundits, their lack of accountability, and the dangers inherent in empowering those who are so frequently, so obliviously wrong to shape public opinion. Keep Rootin for Putin is his attempt to bring this accountability to the sphere of so-called experts. This is does quite effectively.
And what a coincidence that today he is to be sentenced for harnessing that essential “bug” of the internet age: discovering and sharing truth.
I recommend this book wholeheartedly. Brown’s style is entertaining, but his humor brings a particular poignancy and clarity to grave warnings: warnings about media idolatry, trust, and uncritical acceptance of those with just enough star power to have tenure on the talking-head circuit, warnings of abdicating our own reason and responsibility to the truth in the face of unquestioned “authority.” In his efforts to counter these dangers, Barrett Brown himself leads by exemplary example. We could all stand to take inspiration from him.