Undoubtedly, Boris Yeltsin’s finest moment was the courageous defiance he showed in the face of an old guard communist coup in August 1991. Yeltsin was the focal point of those who rallied to defeat the coup, triggering the chain of events that led to dissolution of the Soviet Union just a few months later.
Yet the establishment media in this country tended to sniff at Yeltsin as an unpolished buffoon. U.S. journalists could not conceal their lack of regard for the man who helped bury Soviet communism, favoring Mikhail Gorbachev, the failed leader who futilely attempted to reform communism.
Here are just a few quotes from the Media Research Center’s Notable Quotable archive, illustrating the media’s preference of the communist Gorbachev over the rebel Yeltsin, beginning with the defeat of the August 1991 coup attempt:
Still Pining for Gorby: “It seems that Gorbachev, although he's played a role, can't leave the stage quite yet. This country is going under too rapid a change for him to simply disappear right now. Although he's politically weakened, he has to stay on as President. To have a national election now would be to throw the country into a chaos that it doesn't need." — CBS Moscow reporter Jonathan Sanders, August 23, 1991 Evening News.
Boris Yeltsin, So-Called Democrat: “Yeah, one thing I don't like is he's shut down Pravda. Not that I'm any big fan of Pravda, but I think that is flirting with censorship." — Newsweek reporter Eleanor Clift on The McLaughlin Group, August 24, 1991.
"A purge is a purge, and even if it's Boris Yeltsin conducting the purge and the coup plotters who are purged, I think that's a setback for the Soviet Union because in a country where people can't walk out of office and into their own homes and expect not to be shot or arrested, that's not a country that's really free." — National Public Radio news anchor Linda Wertheimer on CNN's Capital Gang, August 24, 1991.
Fearing the End: “There is a danger that the forces of democracy, as they are called, will now go too far. There is a spirit of revenge in the air....They may get into witch hunts where they're actually having kangaroo courts. If you saw that scene last Friday when Gorbachev was called before the Russian Parliament, the way he was heckled, even Yeltsin...saying 'read these notes of the Cabinet out,' I mean he was really embarrassing Gorbachev." — Former New York Times reporter Hedrick Smith, August 26, 1991 Good Morning America.
"There is discussion that this is the last chance to prevent the crime of the Soviet Union breaking apart." — CBS reporter Jonathan Sanders, August 28, 1991 CBS This Morning.
Nostalgic for Good Old Days:
"Inefficient as the old communist economy was, it did provide jobs of a sort for everybody and a steady, if meager, supply of basic goods at low, subsidized prices; Soviet citizens for more than 70 years were conditioned to expect that from their government. Says a Moscow worker: 'We had everything during [Leonid] Brezhnev's times. There was sausage in the stores. We could buy vodka. Things were normal.'" — Time Associate Editor George J. Church, September 23, 1991.
Last Gasping Gorbasms: "Well let me say how I hope history will judge him. Perhaps in time with help and work, people here will improve their everyday lives and remember Gorbachev's accomplishments and that would seem to me fair. I remember not only the end but the beginning of the Cold War and the forty years of fear Gorbachev more than anyone else ended. He seems to me to have done more good in the world than any other national leader of my lifetime." — NBC News Moscow reporter Bob Abernethy, December 24, 1991 Nightly News.
"The Nobel Prize he received for ending the Cold War was well deserved. Every man, woman and child in this country should be eternally grateful. His statue should stand in the center of every east European capital....No Russian has done more to free his people from bondage since Alexander II who freed the serfs." — Boston Globe Senior Associate Editor H.D.S. Greenway, December 27, 1991 column.
Who's More Authoritarian? "Boris Yeltsin had unconstitutionally dissolved the parliament and he used a tank assault to enforce his decree....what Yeltsin has been doing is quickly moving his own people into the White House as a way of consolidating his now much more authoritarian power." — Dan Rather, January 13, 1994 CBS Evening News.
"In five years, Mikhail Gorbachev has transformed the Soviet Union from a rigid police state to what he describes as a freewheeling infant democracy." — Rather's introduction to a story on making criticism of Gorbachev illegal, May 15, 1990 Evening News.
Gorbachev, Impeccable Overachiever: "It mystifies Westerners that Mikhail Gorbachev is loathed and ridiculed in his own country. This is the man who pulled the world several steps back from the nuclear brink and lifted a crushing fear from his countrymen, who ended bloody foreign adventures, liberated Eastern Europe and won for the Soviet Union at least provisional membership in the club of civilized nations. By the standards of the West (and by comparison with the incumbent, Boris Yeltsin), Mr. Gorbachev is a man of impeccable character." — New York Times foreign editor Bill Keller reviewing Gorbachev’s memoirs, October 20, 1996.