In This Review

Assignment Moscow: Reporting on Russia From Lenin to Putin
Assignment Moscow: Reporting on Russia From Lenin to Putin
By James Rodgers
I.B. Tauris, 2020, 256 pp

Rodgers, a British journalist who has worked in Russia at various times since the 1990s, writes about the plight of the English-speaking correspondents who have covered Russia, going all the way back to the Russian Revolution in 1917. That their task was not easy is hardly surprising, yet Rodgers repeatedly emphasizes the difficulties they faced (the word “difficult” is used to describe their job at least two dozen times): strict censorship (foreign journalists were forced to clear their dispatches with Soviet authorities until 1961), travel restrictions, limited access to senior officials and ordinary people alike, and the government’s suspicion that Anglo-American correspondents were spies in disguise. Even Rodgers’s discussion of the American journalist Hedrick Smith—who, despite the restrictions, famously managed to produce exceptionally rich and insightful coverage of the Soviet Union and its people in the 1970s—is reduced to Smith’s reflections on how difficult his work was. Rodgers’s narrative rests on an enormous number of articles in Anglo-American media, books by and about journalists, and his own interviews with many Moscow correspondents. He quotes some of them as saying that journalists knew and understood Russia better than diplomats or policymakers did. This may or may not be true. Unfortunately, Rodgers doesn’t give the diplomats and policymakers a chance to respond.