Dear Lawrence O'Donnell, Don't Mansplain to Me About Russia

by Julia Ioffe | August 8, 2013

Tonight, I went on Lawrence O'Donnell's show, and Lawrence O'Donnell yelled at me. Or, rather, he O'Reilly'd at me. That O'Donnell interrupted and harangued and mansplained and was generally an angry grandpa at me is not what I take issue with, however. What bothers me is that, look: your producers take the time to find experts to come on the show, answer your questions, and, hopefully, clarify the issue at hand. 

I was invited on the show to talk about Obama's (very wise) decision to cancel his Moscow summit with Putin, about which I wrote here. I am an expert on Russia. In fact, it is how you introduced me: "Previously, she was a Moscow-based correspondent for Foreign Policy and The New Yorker." I'm not going to toot my own horn here, but I was there for three years, I'm a fluent, native speaker of Russian, and, god damn it, I know my shit. 

READ: Obama Bails on His Inevitably Awkward Date With Putin

Which is why I wish you'd let me finish answering your bullshit question, which went like this:

"Julia, to start [the White House statement canceling the summit] with the Snowden factor, for the Russian statement to say, 'this is a situation which we did not create,' is of course a lie. They were in complete control of the outcome of what would happen to Snowden from the second he arrived at that airport. But administration, are you surprised that the administration included it in their official statement about the decision?" 

Okay, no I was not surprised about their decision to include it in the official statement because Snowden was the catalyst for this decision, and it was a good decision because Russia and America have not been getting along and have not been getting anything done for a while now. Like, for a good year and a half. 

But I decided to contest O'Donnell's premise that Russia had this thing planned and under control from the beginning, and that they did, in fact, create the situation. We then squabbled over whether Putin personally controls everything in Russia: what TV anchors say, everything that happens at Sheremetyevo, even every breath that Snowden takes. "Julia, Julia, Julia. You aren't seriously suggesting that Vladimir Putin and the Russian government did not have complete, total, absolute control over the outcome of Edward Snowden entering that airport in Moscow?" ("That airport in Moscow" is called, say it with me now, SHEH-REH-MEH-T-YE-VO! See, helps to have a Russia expert around!)

Because O'Donnell didn't let me get a word in edgewise after that, let me explain.

Yes. I am seriously suggesting that. I am also seriously suggesting the following things:


My main beef with O'Donnell is not that he wouldn't let me make these 11 points—because, let's face it, that's not what the TV is for—but that he did exactly the same shit Russians did to me when I was in Russia. They assumed that the U.S. and its government was one sleek, well-functioning monolith, that Obama was omnipotent, and that everyone in the world, including other important (and nuclear!) world leaders, act and must act as Russia demands it should, using Russian foreign policy calculus, and with only Russian interests in mind.

Sound ridiculous? Believe me, it sounds just as insane in reverse. The problem is that this was not in the ranting comments section, but was coming from the host of a prime time, national television show. And if you don't have the good sense and education or, hell, the reporting experience to know better, then just let the guests you invited on speak.

Otherwise, don't waste my fucking evening.

Julia Ioffe is a senior editor at The New Republic. Follow @juliaioffe on Twitter here.

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