Confused senator attempts to publish column in Communist newspaper from distant past

John McCain embarrasses himself in the Russian press by submitting an editorial to an online conspiracy site

Published September 19, 2013 5:19PM (EDT)

Sen. John McCain, a man of his word, published his editorial -- a stirring defense of the rights to free speech, dissent and political expression -- in Russia's Pravda, just like he said he would.

One small problem: As people are now finally pointing out, this isn't the famous Pravda. After the Soviet Union was made to collapse, its official propaganda organ was sold off and eventually closed. There is no more "Pravda," omnipresent national newspaper in which the Kremlin disseminates the party line to the oppressed masses. There is now Pravda, the struggling, thrice-weekly organ of the remains of the Communist Party, and, a sensationalistic online-only news site few people in Russia take seriously.

So, after Vladimir Putin published a provocative column in America's most prominent and trusted newspaper, John McCain basically submitted his response to the Russian equivalent of the Daily Blaze. After you read his impassioned words, you can scroll down to Pravda's enlightening "photos of celebrities" section. Or why not check out Lady Pravda for your love and beauty tips? McCain really couldn't have found a better way to illustrate that he's a befuddled Cold War relic with no idea whatsoever what Russia is like in 2013.

Sen. McCain was goaded into this by Foreign Policy's John Hudson, and some, like Dave Weigel, did point out earlier that McCain was effectively being pranked into submitting his serious editorial to a conspiracy site capitalizing on a famous name.

But there's no one McCain can blame but himself. A few minutes of research -- or any working knowledge of modern Russia, I guess -- would've saved McCain some embarrassment. He almost got it right, sort of. One of Russia's bigger newspapers is Komsomolskaya Pravda, or Komsomol Truth -- not to be confused with plain "Truth" -- and today Komsomol Truth is is straight-up mocking McCain. Here is the very bad Google translation:

Iron man, U.S. Senator John McCain. He promised to write a column in the "truth" and did. True, "Pravda.Ru", but this is small. You could have a "spark" to write ", but did not find, I guess. Or did not know what was, and a newspaper.

("Spark" was the pre-revolution socialist newspaper run by Lenin and his allies. It ceased publishing in 1905.)

If McCain had wanted to write in a Soviet-era paper for the symbolism, he could've picked one of the ones that are still publishing. Pravda was the official paper of the party, but the USSR had lots of newspapers, and not all of them are now defunct. The Soviet Union's actual "paper of record," Izvestia, is still around, and today it has a fun interview with the chairman of "" in which it repeatedly asks him how and why McCain published an Op-Ed at his website instead of at an actual newspaper, like Izvestia.

Even if he'd picked an actual newspaper, McCain's central conceit would still have been wrong. "A Russian citizen could not publish a testament like the one I just offered," he wrote in his editorial after some boilerplate about the importance of self-determination. That is not remotely true. Russia has hundreds of daily newspapers representing a broad array of viewpoints. There are pro-Kremlin papers and pro-opposition papers. Russia has, in Novaya Gazeta, an award-winning investigative newspaper. Russians have access to anti-Putin journalism if they want it. The state, as I understand it, recognized long ago that controlling television is more useful than censoring newspapers. McCain could've easily placed his column in an actual newspaper that prints actual copies that actual Russians read, and I can't imagine why any paper would've been scared to print it. (It's far too ridiculous.)

If McCain's mission was to prove that the United States is run by solipsistic buffoons who don't even try to understand anything about the rest of the world before they go blundering out shouting hypocritical nonsense about freedom, well, mission accomplished. Way to make Putin look like a wise and prudent statesman, Senator.

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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Cold War John Mccain Newspapers Russia Soviet Union Vladimir Putin