Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It is rare to hear a politician say: Of course it was a set-up. But Russian President Vladimir Putin told a Russian journalist that many of his most picturesque media appearances: shooting a tranquilizer dart into a tiger, who appeared about to pounce; tagging a wounded snow leopard; and wearing a feathery, white suit to pilot a glider to guide a group of cranes south for the winter, were staged.

Of course, there are excesses, he told Masha Gessen in Bolshoi Gorod. But they were constructive deceits, he said, because they called attention to endangered wildlife.

Now, a lot of Russians had been skeptical about President Putin's highly publicized displays of environmental daring. They thought the tiger looked a little glassy-eyed, and suggested he might have been trucked in from a zoo. But I thought up these tigers myself, Mr. Putin said. Twenty other countries where tigers live also started taking care of them. The leopards were also my idea. Yes, I know they were caught before, but the most important thing is to draw public attention to the problem.

The president also confirmed that a stunt last year, in which he appeared to dive to the bottom of the Black Sea and discover ancient Greek artifacts, had been staged.

Well, of course, they were planted, he said. Why did I dive? Not to show off my gills, but to make sure people learn history. Of course it was a set-up.

Actually, if President Putin has gills, I'd say he's entitled to show them off. If an American politician confessed to having gills, we'd see an attack ad that went: Can an aquatic organism really represent your interests in Washington, D.C.?

There was a joke in the old Soviet Union about the two state-run Moscow newspapers, Pravda and Izvestia, whose names meant Truth and News. There is no truth in news, Russians used to say to each other, and there is no news in truth. There are many who charge Mr. Putin's state-run media may have restored those times, when Russians don't turn to the news for news, so much as clues to what people in power expect them to think.

Yesterday, Russia's parliament expelled Gennady Gudkov, a former KGB officer and Putin ally, who has joined an opposition party. Mr. Gudkov told reporters: We have come very close to the brink that separates an authoritarian regime from a dictatorship.

President Putin was at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Vladivostok, then talked about this week's flight with the cranes. It's true, he told a press conference, not all the cranes followed me at once. But only weak cranes did not follow me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TALK TO THE ANIMALS")

SIR ROGER MOORE AND THE MUPPETS: Singing If I conferred with our furry friends, man to animal, there would be no animosity. If I could walk with the animals, talk with the animals...

SIMON: Sir Roger Moore, The Muppets, 1980.

You're listening to NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TALK TO THE ANIMALS")

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Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small