The New York Times Magazine for Sunday carries an article by acclaimed novelist (and Columbia University professor) Gary Shteyngart. The Russian-born writer was hired by the Times for a media-watching stunt: “For the next week, I will subsist almost entirely on a diet of state-controlled Russian television, piped in from three Apple laptops onto three 55-inch Samsung monitors in a room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Manhattan.” A sardonic caption describes the writer's "captivity" in the luxury hotel.
James Taranto at The Wall Street Journal noticed on Twitter that this article mocked former Rep. Michele Bachmann as the American equivalent of clownish Russian “ultranationalist” politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky, just as our liberal media did with conservatives in the mid-1990s. The comparison came in reaction to a drag-queen act:
On a cold, sunny New Year’s Eve in 2014, I am sitting at the edge of my king-size bed at the Four Seasons hotel in New York, munching through a stack of Wagyu beef slices and demolishing a bottle of pinot noir while watching a woman play a man playing a bearded woman on Russian state television.
It was a woman pretending to be “Conchita Wurst,” an Austrian drag queen who won the 2014 Eurovision song contest and became a “gay icon.”
When Conchita won, back in May, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an ultranationalist in Russia’s Parliament who is roughly equivalent to Michele Bachmann, said her victory meant “the end of Europe.”
The deputy prime minister and the Orthodox Church issued statements essentially denouncing the collapse of Christian civilization as we know it. On tonight’s show, broadcast to millions of Russians, the message is clear: Europe may have rejected homophobia, a value it once shared with Russia, by giving a musical prize to a drag queen, but Russia, like Gloria Gaynor herself, will survive, never to succumb to the rest of the world’s wimpy notions of tolerance. A country where gangs of vigilantes who call their cause “Occupy Pedophilia” attack gay men and women on the streets of its major cities will now carry the mantle of the European Christian project.
So Bachmann is the “equivalent” to violent street thugs and a Russian politician who’s accused of ordering his aides to rape a pregnant reporter in 2014.
This stunt has been performed before. In 1996, ABC’s Ted Koppel was the runner-up in our “Damn Those Conservatives Award” for this attack on then-presidential contender Pat Buchanan, using the same tactic:
"Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the Russian ultra-nationalist, embarrassed Pat Buchanan today by embracing him as an ideological soulmate. 'Today,' said Zhirinovsky, 'there is a presidential candidate in America who is not afraid to speak the truth, that truly the Congress of the United States is an occupied territory of Israel. Your press,' Zhirinovsky went on, 'is occupied, and all of your finances. Americans don't manage those. Israel does, through American Jews or Negroes.' The Buchanan campaign immediately issued a message of rejection to Zhirinovsky. It's not that Buchanan hasn't expressed some of the views that Zhirinovsky echoed, but perhaps he'd never realized how ugly they sounded until he heard them in the mouth of a genuine bigot."
-- Ted Koppel concluding a February 23, 1996 Nightline profile of Pat Buchanan.
Journalists also tied Zhirinovsky to Oliver North when he ran for the Senate in 1994:
"Oliver North and Vladimir Zhirinovsky: Two names out of the headlines that don't usually connect. But the would-be senator from Virginia and the Russian chauvinist steam along parallel political tracks: They pander to frustrated and angry voters consumed by an overwhelming sense of loss of their country....The separate but similar nationalisms that North and Zhirinovsky express are raw and crude, reeking of claims of manifest destiny and divine inspiration. They are not simply charlatans. They are geopolitical charlatans who would reassert a lost national greatness by intimidating smaller countries and dominating neighbors. That was North's style with Central America when he was in the White House." -- Washington Post columnist and former chief diplomatic correspondent Jim Hoagland, June 30, 1994.
"But the Republican conflict is part of an emerging national struggle, more structural than personal; Oliver North, America's Zhirinovsky, won the party's nomination in a state convention overrun by the religious right." -- Newsweek Senior Editor Joe Klein, July 18, 1994.