The good people of Brattleboro must be wondering “What in hell happened to our local newspaper?” Because the Reformer’s owner, Belarusian native and skillionaire currency trader Paul Belogour, has begun exercising Rich Guy’s Prerogative over the paper’s content.
Last week the Reformer published a despicable opinion piece by Belogour entitled “War is the Answer” in which he explained why the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a good thing. Well, actually, he didn’t say “invasion.” He said “the war between Russia and Ukraine,” which is exactly like saying “the battle between lion and antelope.”
That was bad enough, but at least it was labeled “opinion” and carried the usual disclaimer “The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of Vermont News & Media.” But now the paper has published a “news” article that’s essentially a handjob for the boss.
The story, entitled “Refugees to be housed at Belogour’s Bulgarian hotel; his pro soccer team opens doors to displaced women, children.” Said soccer team is also in Bulgaria. It doesn’t even try to connect the story with Brattleboro, because there is no connection.
And it carries the weakest possible disclosure. Belogour is identified, deep in the article, as the owner of Vermont News & Media. Astute readers will know that’s the parent company of the Reformer, Bennington Banner and Manchester Journal. The rest of the reading public will not make that connection. It’s a deceptive, inadequate disclosure. But I bet it made the boss happy.
Those pieces are bad enough. What we don’t know is how many pieces have not been published. Newspapers have wide latitude when it comes to running wire service copy and syndicated columnists. If there was a ban on coverage of the global communitys reaction or the humanitarian disaster or Russian aggression or the heroism of Ukraine’s president, we wouldn’t be able to tell.
Upon Belogour’s ascension to Media King status in May 2021, I wrote:
When an oligarch swoops in and buys media outlets, it may be out of a true sense of obligation to support journalism… Or it might just be a matter of collecting trophies and buying influence with little regard to the health of the publications.
It’s now clear where Belogour’s ownership interests lie, and it ain’t journalism. He’s bought himself a bespoke outlet willing (well, they don’t have a choice, really) to polish his family jewels whenever he feels the need. And in the process, polish Vladimir Putin’s as well.
Let’s take a closer look at Belogour’s content, shall we?
The op-ed piece argues that the “Russia-Ukraine war” can solve a myriad of America’s economic and social ills, including “rampant inflation, failure in Afghanistan, astronomical rise of the national debt, declining size of the economy, diminishing political and military influence and a potential threat to the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency.” Which seems like a stretch, not to mention an ethical catastrophe.
His reasoning, such as it is, is that a “limited and frozen military conflict” could trigger a capital flight from Europe to the U.S., boosting our economy. It should also make Europe more dependent on American fossil fuel and armaments and “leave the U.S. to be the only superpower by default again.”
Great deal, right? All we have to do is sit back and let Russia go on pummeling Ukraine. Human rights don’t pay the bills, baby.
This must be especially galling for the residents of Brattleboro, one of the most progressive communities in Vermont.
Now let’s turn to the ball-washing story about Belogour’s humanitarian efforts in Bulgaria. The story chronicles his decision to have his Bulgarian soccer team’s bus drive to the Ukrainian border, fill up with refugees, and bring them back to the team’s city where his hotel will serve as temporary housing.
Seems like a worthy endeavor, if a drop in the bucket. Belogour also calls on the U.S. to ease restrictions on Ukrainian refugees entering our country.
Which is fine. But what the story doesn’t address — at all — is the war itself. Belogour doesn’t call for an end to the invasion. He doesn’t say anything at all about Russia’s (and Belarus’) dangerous aggression against a sovereign nation nor any of the terrible things it’s done in the process, including open season on civilians, laying mines along a proposed safe route out of a besieged city, and opening fire on a goddamn nuclear power plant. “Limited and frozen” conflict, my ass.
But the main point is this. The story would never have been written if it wasn’t about the owner. It has literally nothing to do with the Brattleboro area. At a time when the Reformer is sorely lacking in resources, this is a complete waste of time and effort.
Except for how it benefits the boss, making him look like a humanitarian in a place where he’s bought himself a prominent role in community life. I suppose you could call it “newswashing.” And it’s a betrayal of what newspapers are supposed to stand for.
If any local residents are concerned about their local paper becoming a lapdog for its owner, I suggest reading — and financially supporting — The Commons, a nonprofit news organization seeking to become a real alternative to whatever the Reformer might become.