Independent’s Eye by Joe Gandelman
Many Americans seemed shocked, by reports that beset Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s government is believed to have hired thugs or used plainclothes police to provoke violence that would later be used as a pretext to point to as evidence of a need to protect an Egyptian Silent Majority.
That news was coupled by reports of Mubarak supporters going after the press to try and halt stop an unfavorable message or image. A reporter was threatened with beheading. Several were roughly handled. CNN’s Anderson Cooper was punched by some Mubarak fans and Cooper announced he was reluctantly leaving Cairo.
The fact: these are there realities of how politics works some places in the world. I had my own baptism of fire starting a few years after graduating Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism’s masters program. The settings: Indira Gandhi’s India, Francisco Franco’s Spain and post-Franco-transitioning-to-democracy Spain.
In 1974, my trusting world view was altered when a Russian journalist tried to recruit me for the KGB. I was the Chicago Daily News’s prolific New Delhi stringer when I met a Russian journalist. I excitedly told him that my grandfather Abraham Ravinsky was from Russia (I didn’t mention that my grandfather HATED the Communists, which is why he fled to the United States).
The young journalist then invited me over to his house where he gave me a big dinner and dark vodka. He did it one more time. Then he said he had a business proposition: he’d like to string for his news agency and send him written reports, but not tell anyone I was doing it and I would be paid for it. This set off alarm bell. Even if I could tell people who I was writing for, I didn’t exactly see how stringing for a Russian news agency in the days of the Nixon presidency would look awesome on my resume.
So I asked an American diplomat who I often saw at a restaurant I’d frequent to find out if this was a recruitment attempt by just telling me “yes or no” one day, no details needed. A week later he said “Yes” and offered me a few details about who had ordered it.
Another eye opener came one year later in Madrid. The Franco regime was in final months, under attack for torture, its severe crackdown on the Basques in the face of Basque separate ETA terrorism, and negative publicity from the international press that was covering it in great detail ““ including torture. Franco executed some Basque separatists, sparking a huge international outcry. Newsweek paid me to help their bureau and stringer out…
I was talking to two American journalists and we agreed that the government seemed poised to go after the international press. “They’ll pick someone they consider weak, someone low on the totem pole, someone they consider irrelevant to send a message,” I told them.
After a week later a policeman showed up to ask me to go to the police station where they stamped my passport saying I had 96 hours to leave Spain.
The story was covered in the Washington Post at the time. My parents learned about it watching Walter Cronkite.
When pressed the Franco government insisted it was due to my personal behavior (for THAT they expelled Americans?).An American reporter called me to interview me and asked it was true that I got into a fight and busted up the bar. I almost yelled: “I’m five foot one and if I got into a fight I should be garroted for stupidity!!” A stringer for a top newspaper told me to stop talking and quietly demand the American Embassy take care of it.
The order was placed on hold. A day or two after Franco died it was totally lifted and I was soon the accredited correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor in Spain.
Once Franco died several of my stories were about journalists of people pressing for democracy who were brutally beaten up by “ultra-rights” ““ who many top Spanish journalists and American diplomats privately insisted were military or paramilitary Civil Guard and just your average citizen.
Politics ain’t bean bag”¦especially “out there.”
Copyright 2011 Joe Gandelman
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at [email protected] and can be booked to speak at your event at www.mavenproductions.com.
Follow Joe Gandelman on Twitter @joegandelman.