ARI SHAPIRO, host:
Normally when a magazine gets a big scoop, it shouts it to the world, but apparently not GQ. GQ's latest investigative piece challenges the official line on who was behind terrorist acts in Russia a decade ago. The story was published, but as NPR's David Folkenflik reports, GQ Magazine's corporate owners have gone to extraordinary lengths to make sure no Russians will ever read the story.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: For war journalist Scott Anderson, the most confounding part of his story wasn't the suggestion of treachery and subterfuge he found over in Russia. It was the ultimate reception his story received back in the United States.
Mr. SCOTT ANDERSON (Journalist, GQ): It was quite mysterious to me. But all of a sudden, it became clear that they were going to run the article, but they were going to try to bury it under a rock as much as they possibly could.
FOLKENFLIK: Now, I'm looking now at the September issue with Michael Jackson on the cover, and there's stuff about Andy Roddick's smoking hot bride, the 25 most obnoxious colleges. I don't see any mention of this. This is a significant international piece.
Mr. ANDERSON: Yeah, no mention of it on the Web site.
FOLKENFLIK: I couldn't find it anywhere on the Internet. To understand what Anderson found and why it scared GQ's owners at Conde Nast, it helps to turn back the clock to a few months before the new millennium in September 1999.
ROBERT SIEGEL: The death toll from this week's blast in a Moscow apartment building has risen to 90.
FOLKENFLIK: Hundreds died in a series of deadly bombings in Russian cities. Chechen terrorists were blamed, and the new prime minister, Vladimir Putin, emerged from the shadows.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
He said authorities would take whatever measures necessary to restore order and discipline.
FOLKENFLIK: A crackdown on dissent was followed by a second war against Chechnya. Anderson convinced GQ to send him back to Russia to report on those bombings and the lingering suspicions about who might be responsible, a question widely discussed at the time, but not much since.
Mr. ANDERSON: This was the real catalyst that brought Putin to power. That was basically my pitch, and they said, great. Go do it.
FOLKENFLIK: And so he did. Anderson wrote a six-page story centering on Mikhail Trepashkin, a former KGB agent who had investigated the bombings. Trepashkin spoke at length about the inconsistencies in the case, and about possible links to the security agency that Putin once headed.
Ms. NINA OGNIANOVA (Committee to Protect Journalists): Well, if you're talking about the Russian press, no. This is a taboo topic.
FOLKENFLIK: Nina Ognianova monitors Europe and Central Asia for the Committee to Protect Journalists. She says Russian authorities often turn up the heat on reporters who stray into unwelcome terrain.
Ms. OGNIANOVA: You can be sued for defamation, but you don't even have to be sued. You can be audited. Politicized audits are a big hurdle for Russian publications that dare to publish sensitive topics.
FOLKENFLIK: Audits can be about almost anything - including fire codes - that can paralyze a publication and send advertisers fleeing. Foreign publications are increasingly important sources of revenue for big media companies, and Conde Nast has four publications in Russia: GQ, Vogue, Glamour and Tatler. And the company flinched. NPR has obtained and authenticated an emailed memo from one of the firm's top lawyers, Jerry Birenz. Here's my colleague Allison Bryce reading from his memo, dated July 23rd.
ALLISON BRYCE: Conde Nast management has decided that the September issue of U.S. GQ Magazine containing Scott Anderson's article "Vladimir Putin's Dark Rise to Power" should not be distributed in Russia.
FOLKENFLIK: The lawyer ordered the magazine not to post the story on its Web site, not to run the article in any foreign additions of Conde Nast titles, not to send copies to Russia, and not to circulate it to Russian officials, journalists and advertisers. Lawyers, executives and editors at Conde Nast and GQ did not respond to repeated requests for comments this week, and a spokesman ultimately declined on their behalf.
But NPR has spoken to several people knowledgeable about the handling of Anderson's piece. There are legitimate reasons for journalists in Russia to fear retribution.
Media advocate Nina Ognianova will release a report in Moscow on September 15th about 17 journalists who have been killed since 2000. There have been convictions in only one case. But Birenz did not raise security issues in his memo. And Scott Anderson says he was simply told the company was concerned about legal or business matters.
Mr. ANDERSON: If you're worried about repercussions and you bow to them, you're basically surrendering to the other side.
FOLKENFLIK: The idea that information can be sequestered at a time when people can communicate instantly across oceans and continents may seem quaint. But in this instance, Conde Nast sought - against technology, logic, and the thrust of its own article - to show deference in the presence of power.
David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.