Somebody’s Getting Fired: McCain’s Op-Ed and the Power of Names

pravda

Having worked in tech support during a very painful period of my life, it’s very difficult for me to not drop some snark about old people and computers right here, but I restrain myself out of both good taste and the fact that my 80 year old grandmother mastered the Internet better than most teenagers. And the easy joke is never the best one anyway. Of course, it’s not like McCain is really the one to blame anyway for this fiasco, as he has an entire team of people whose job descriptions include the paraphrase “catch the clusterfucks before they’re out the door”. Yeah, they didn’t.

In the wake of ol’ Vladimir Vladimirovich’s opinion piece in the New York Times lambasting American policy and such, John McCain decided that a good stunt would be to publish a retort in Russia’s biggest paper. Not a terrible idea, except for the fact that apparently his staff assigned the task of picking the newspaper to the slacker intern whose sole research into the matter was conducted by watching “Spies Like Us”.

See, they published McCain’s article on the website Pravda.ru. This might at face value seem reasonable, if there was one Soviet newspaper that a Westerner could have named during the Cold War, it would have been Pravda. There are several problems though.

First, there was the failure to understand that Pravda has only a fraction of the circulation that it did during the Cold War. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, very few people felt a need to read the official newspaper of the Communist Party. There are at least a few dozen newspapers that would make more sense to publish a nationally aimed op-ed piece in. It is hardly impressive that a sitting American senator lambasted a foreign country without even knowing enough about that country to find out which newspaper the population reads.

But there was a second even more embarrassing failure here. His staff did not even manage to submit the article to the right Pravda. See, there’s a website set up in the late nineties by disgruntled former Pravda reporters. They managed to land the URL pravda.ru at which location they host what can only politely be termed an online tabloid. The actual newspaper is hosted at gazeta-pravda.ru. So on top of failing to understand that no one reads Pravda, the McCain team did not even manage to send it to Pravda. They sent it to a website that makes the New York Post look like the Economist.

An innocent mistake? Here are a selection of headlines from Pravda.ru’s current homepage. They have an English version, which makes the mistake even more egregious:

Physics, a culture of criminality

Putin overshadows blood-hungry, ‘exceptional’ Obama

No Russian feels any respect for Pussy Riot

Homosexual shadow of the Vatican

Why Conservative Americans Admire Putin

Western bankers poised to enslave Russia

McCain believes that God left people his will in America’s national documents

And my personal favorite:

Russia saves the world

You stay classy Russia.