Commentary Magazine


Why Does the State Department Help Autocrats Silence Journalists?

Over Sunday brunch, an opposition Russian journalist mentioned a State Department policy that symbolizes everything that is wrong with the American approach toward autocratic regimes: In order for foreign journalists to get State Department credentials, the journalists must not only have a letter in hand from the organization for which they work, but they also need a cover letter from the press attaché from their country’s embassy in Washington.

Opposition Russian journalists must therefore get a letter testifying to their journalist credentials from the Russian government or the Russian embassy in Washington; Opposition Venezuelan journalists must get credentials from the Venezuelan embassy; and opposition Turkish journalists must get certified by the Turkish embassy. Needless to say, these countries grant credentials only to those journalists who at worst sing the praises of Vladimir Putin, Hugo Chavez, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and at best self-censor.

There is no waiver for journalists from such countries who would use their residence in the United States to report critically about their home countries. President Obama may on occasion talk about democracy and freedom but, in effect, the State Department’s policy carries water for the world’s worst dictators and uses a pointless bureaucratic impediment to help them silence the very people whom the United States should be doing the most to support. Perhaps it’s time to reset the bureaucratic mindset in Washington, and help Russian journalists while we are at it.