Who is covering Vladimir Putin's Animal Farm?

We are in 1934 and Gareth Jones (James Norton), journalist and foreign affairs adviser to British Prime Minister Lloyd George, is trying to convince a room full of extravagant government titles that Adolf Hitler is about to start a war in Europe to build the Reich.

Jones knows what he’s talking about. Famous for having interviewed the Führer, Jones also heard it from Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels himself. The men in the room laugh at the silly idea. The Germans, after all, have their own problems. “Herr Hitler will soon learn that there is a big difference between holding a rally and running a country.”

Jones soon finds himself unemployed due to budget cuts. After all, it’s the Great Depression. But history won’t let him go anytime soon. Glued to a radio broadcast in which Stalin sings of the achievements of the Soviet Union – “We didn’t have a tractor industry. Now we have. We didn’t have an auto industry. Now we have. We didn’t have a tank industry. Now we have it” — Jones can’t help but wonder where Stalin is getting all this money. After all, the ruble is worth nothing. “Meanwhile, the Soviets are having a spending spree.”

Jones manages to get a visa to go to Moscow, where he hopes to interview Josef Stalin, as he did with Hitler. Arriving there, Jones immediately seeks out Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard), the man from The New York Times in Moscow, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on the incredible advances the USSR has made in lead history towards an egalitarian utopia.

Duranty informs Jones that his journalist friend Paul Kleb, whom Jones had hoped to meet, was murdered in a robbery. Shaken but unimpressed, Jones informs Duranty that he is in Moscow for a reason: to interview Stalin and find out where he is getting the money to build everything he is building. “The numbers just don’t add up.”

“Grain is Stalin’s gold,” Duranty blurts out.


Jones confirms his suspicions that Kleb was murdered after meeting with a German journalist, Ada Brooks (Vanessa Kirby), who knew Kleb. Brooks, while suspicious of Stalin, nevertheless sees the Soviet experiment as great, especially in relation to the chaos Hitler is causing in his homeland. It soon becomes clear to Jones that the big story is in Ukraine, it is in Ukraine where Stalin is getting his “gold”, which Kleb discovered and paid dearly for this knowledge.

Playing with the Soviet pride, Jones convinces a Soviet diplomat to authorize his trip to Ukraine. The journalist flatters the man by mentioning a British-Soviet alliance in the inevitable looming war with Germany, but questions the Soviet readiness to fight Hitler on an eastern front. Enraged, the diplomat invites Jones to see for himself the superiority of Soviet engineering by visiting the factories… in Ukraine. But Jones eludes his Soviet-approved guide, determined to delve into Ukraine’s history without any museum docent making sure he doesn’t walk down the wrong aisle or miss the necessary “facts.”

Once free of his guardian, Jones sees sacks and more sacks of wheat being loaded onto carts by hungry villagers. He sees the graves of dead Ukrainians being pushed through the snow by peasants who look like the undead. He watches the children eat tree bark as their family’s land is uprooted. Jones then realizes how Stalin is getting his “gold”: he is stealing and starving millions of Ukrainians along the way. “Men came and thought they could override natural laws,” a hollow-cheeked Ukrainian told Jones. thrown in prison, along with six British engineers accused of spying on Soviet factories. Duranty manages to interfere and release Jones, on condition that, once back in Britain, Jones informs a curious public that there is no famine in Ukraine and that the great Soviet collectivist experiment is being carried out with remarkable efficiency and success. Otherwise, the six British engineers, still held in a Soviet prison, will be killed.

Once home, Jones is invited to lunch with Mr. Eric Blair aka George Orwell. He tells the future author of 1984 that if he reveals to the world what he knows, British engineers will be killed, but also millions of lives will be saved. What should he do? Orwell is quick to respond: “Speak the truth, regardless of the consequences.”

And so he does. But a contrary narrative is quickly invented in Moscow, under the care of Mr. Duranty, and Jones soon finds himself talking to himself again. Nobody believes his accounts of the famine. He is painted as a delusional fiction writer by reports coming in from Moscow from supposedly reliable sources.

With his career in shambles, Jones returns to Wales and moves in with his father. While working at a small Welsh newspaper for the “Culture” section (his editor won’t let him get close to politics or foreign affairs), he sees an opportunity to redeem his reputation. Jones discovers that William Randoph Hearst, the American publishing giant (and inspiration for George Foster Kane of Citizen Kane fame) is vacationing nearby. He breaks into Hearst’s summer estate and gets 30 seconds to tell his story.

Jones insists to Hearst that he’s safe. what he saw in Ukraine and what Paul Kleb also knew about the famine. Hearst had been trying to get Jones’ friend Kleb to work for his newspapers for some time and had always suspected the “theft” story was a fabrication, encouraging suspicions that the Soviet Union miracle might be more legend than fact. . Hearst quite likes the idea of ​​taking on the Times and the newspaper man in Moscow, Duranty, spreading the famine story.

So Hearst goes ahead and keeps Jones despite the outrage of both Moscow and the prime minister, who was always wary of angering the Soviets at a time of great economic hardship.

Jones’ tenacity did more than reveal the truth about Stalin’s genocide . It also inspired George Orwell’s classic Animal Farm, whose composition serves as a frame for the film. “I wanted to tell a story that could be easily understood by anyone,” says Orwell in narration as he types. “A story so simple that even a child could understand it. The truth was too strange to be told otherwise.” The truth of Russian devastation in Ukraine.

So, yes, the truth has finally come out, but only because a wealthy and ambitious journalist was eager to fight with the “official sources”. It also cost the reporter a heavy price. While working in the Mongolian countryside the following year, Jones was kidnapped by “bandits”, according to the official story. But, as it turned out, Jones’ guide was linked to the Soviet police, and the Welsh reporter was murdered shortly afterwards, the day before his birthday, according to the final titles of the film. Duranty, on the other hand, died in 1957, at 73 years old, in Florida. Oh, and your Pulitzer was never rescinded. (It was “investigated” a few times, but the committee always decided to leave things as they are, Duranty’s work was celebrated “at a different time and under different circumstances”, whatever that means.)

Lords of truth like the Pulitzer Committee cannot admit fallibility after all, or who would trust their judgment in the future? In fact, in its 105 years of history, the committee has never revoked an award. The closest it came was in 1981, when Janet Cooke turned it down by admitting that she made up her heartbreaking story about an 8-year-old heroin addict. Not all frauds are done without conscience.

“Stalin’s Shadow” was directed by Oscar winner Agnieszka Holland, who guarantees from the opening to the end credits that there is no “zone gray” for the truth. We know who the good guys and the bad guys are. In this haunting tale (challenged, it’s worth remembering, by Gareth Jones’ family in real life for alleged inaccuracies and for capitalizing on his own original research), Duranty is portrayed as decaying scum, worthy of Weimar, regardless of his supposed “true faith” communism. , pledged money from Stalin to inject pro-Soviet propaganda into the US and encourage Franklin Delano Roosevelt to decree an end to the economic boycott and invest in the USSR. And he succeeds, because Roosevelt was many things, but experienced when it came to Stalin was never one of them.

What about Jones? Jones is portrayed as part realist, part idealist. He knew what he had seen with his own eyes, things neither contradictions nor threats of professional suicide would make him deny, just as he knew what he had heard from Goebbels—war was coming. But he also harbored high professional ideals. “Journalism is a noble profession,” he tells Ada Brooks. “We don’t take sides”.

Different times, different world. Nowadays, journalists are unemployed if they don’t take sides, suspected of any kind of -ism or -phobia. And this president has no illusions about the man in Moscow or his intentions or his crimes. (What he thinks, however, about the regimes in Iran and Venezuela is anyone’s guess.) And we all know what happens to China, with the Chinese Communist Party’s murderous campaign to reprogram and enslave all who do not embody the dogma. of the Party.

The problem today is not the lack of a true picture of what is happening in these dictatorships. At the very least, that’s what we can do about it in a truly global economy. The answer, apparently, is to write mean tweets, fire Russian opera singers, close McDonald’s and hope for the best.

At a meeting last week, Alexander Lukashenko from Belarus said to Putin that both were from Soviet generations that had suffered sanctions and that the Soviet Union had developed well.

“You are right,” Putin said. “The Soviet Union lived under sanctions all the time, but it developed and achieved colossal achievements.” It is implied, of course, that Russia does too.

I hope some intrepid reporter out there will dive into the story and find out where, after all, Putin gets the money to do it.

©2022 Acton Institute. Published with permission. Original in English.

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