Daily News columnist Gersh Kuntzman is doubling-down on his celebratory-but-not-celebratory-but-obviously-celebratory take (12/20/16) on the December 19 murder of Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov by an off-duty Turkish police officer. His follow-up column, “Vladimir Putin Is Demanding an Apology From Me!” (12/21/16), came a day after Kutzman openly justified the killing of Karlov in the United States’ sixth-largest newspaper.
Predictably, calling for the assassination of Russian diplomats in such a large forum upset the Russian government, and President Vladimir Putin has since asked for an apology from the paper’s editor. But Kuntzman, polishing his Bold Truth-Teller bona fides, used the opportunity to posture and further troll the world’s largest nuclear power. This exercise in pseudo-courage came complete with front-page tabloid-taunting (“Yeah Right, Vlad”) Thursday morning, and a hastily made “wanted poster” by some poor Daily News graphics intern:
Kuntzman—who last gained slight internet fame after he insisted that firing off a few rounds from an AR-15 gave him “a temporary form of PTSD”—appears to be enjoying his 15 minutes. “Apologize, Russia?” Kuntzman mugged. “Only if you go first and apologize for Putin’s thuggery.” Such bravery. Or at least we could pretend it was, if he didn’t go on immediately afterwards to backpedal:
Make no mistake: I condemn violence in all forms. My article only sought to explain the assassination and put it in the current context.
But wait—aside from support for the assassin being the logical implication of comparing Putin to Hitler and the Russian bombing campaign to the Holocaust, he expressly defended the killing on Twitter. On Monday, he tweeted out his initial hot take with the words, “Wherein I make a case for political assassinations … when the victim works for Putin or Hitler, that is.” The case for political assassinations: Kuntzman is unequivocally arguing in favor of what the assassin did.
In defending himself on social media, Kuntzman time and again shows he’s far more concerned with grandstanding than engaging, even clumsily referring to the gunman as Syrian (he is, of course, Turkish) in one of his responses.
The reality is, Kuntzman has a superficial understanding of the conflict in Syria, has a separate bone to pick with Russia, and cheaply used the former to demagogue the latter. In scores of pieces written over his four years at the Daily News, Kuntzman has, until Monday, never once written about the Syrian conflict. (The one mention of the word “Syria” in his writings came when he quoted his Trump-supporting father blaming Democrats for “allowing the Russians into Syria”—8/2/16.)
That’s correct—what he now insists is a genocide unfolding before our eyes, so morally urgent it justifies gunning down diplomats, isn’t something he once felt the need to highlight to his paper’s hundreds of thousands of readers. Like the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof, who spent weeks advocating the bombing of Libya in 2011 only to never write about Libya again, Kuntzman’s bleeding heart stops and starts at the whims of the US national security state.
This speaks to what I sometimes refer to as “The North Korea Law of Journalism,” which states that editorial standards are inversely proportional to a country’s standing with the US State Department. Because relations with Russia are so frayed right now, US journalists and pundits can basically report or say anything they want. Despite the abhorrent human rights records of US allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia—to say nothing of the United States itself—one would never read a columnist advocating the murder of their diplomats in the pages of a major American paper.
Kuntzman, without ever explaining himself, goes full Godwin, asserting Putin as the moral equivalent of Hitler without ever laying out how this moral calculus was arrived at. After equating Karlov’s Turkish killer with Herschel Grynszpan, a Jewish student who assassinated Nazi diplomat Ernst vom Rath in France in 1938, Kuntzman insisted Russia’s undefined Nazi status made all Russia public servants fair game:
Karlov’s job in Turkey was to ease tensions over Russia’s atrocities in Syria and its incursions inside Turkey itself — meaning his job was to enable and normalize Vladimir Putin. Given that role, he wasn’t a diplomat, but a soldier, and his death is the same whether it came on a battlefield outside Aleppo or in an art gallery in Ankara.
The logical follow up to this is: Does this apply to all countries who commit war crimes? To US diplomats? If so, doesn’t it also render virtually all modern diplomacy impossible? Such glaring holes in his argument are never addressed.
They’re not addressed because, like many Western pundits, he is not serious about having a discussion on Syria—or how to mitigate its horrors—he’s only interested it in using it as a proxy for other geopolitical grievances. He has never written about it before Monday, and will likely never write about after this spat is over. Syria, and its countless victims, are simply a moral bludgeon to be wielded when scoring points against US enemies and, as with others before, he will likely drop the subject once these aims are achieved.
Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst for FAIR.org. You can find him on Twitter at @AdamJohnsonNYC.