Izvestia “improves” Sutovsky’s article, Süddeutsche Zeitung refers to fabrication

Preface: I did cover the Carlsen-Karjakin match in German, so did many other sources in many languages – no need to translate my articles on the match itself. This post-match piece appeared in German yesterday (5th December), here I translate it as published and mention recent developments at the end. I did consider the world championship match to be ‘over’, also from a journalistic point of view, and I do separate chess from politics as much as possible. But this article “has to be written”.

To first mention media and persons involved: For Izvestia in Russian at least two persons – upon invitation Israeli grandmaster (with roots in Azerbaidjan) and ACP president Emil Sutovsky and, not requested by Sutovsky, at least one unnamed member of Izvestia’s staff. Izvestia can currently be considered a government-friendly tabloid. Sutovsky wrote about it on Facebook, these are certainly 100% his own words. Later, after the original (or second) version had already been quoted internationally, Izvestia changed and thereby somewhat ‘softened’ the article.

For Süddeutsche Zeitung, Frank Nienhuysen translated and quoted Sutovsky or rather (he couldn’t know) Izvestia’s final editor. I can’t blame him for this, but maybe for the fact that he called Sutovsky ‘Russian’ [situation on 5th December, see below for later correction]. Süddeutsche Zeitung is an independent German quality newspaper; Nienhuysen is (according to the profile accompanying the article) an experienced staff member (since 1994) and expert for Eastern European politics – certainly not relying on Google Translate for Russian sources.

From my personal point of view: When I write about chess (or my other hobby running), I am currently always amateur or at most incidental freelancer, certainly not a professional.

Some of my writing on running (for local or club newspaper) was edited by others, sometimes changing the meaning of sentences – I won’t accuse the final editor of doing so deliberately, and it was more funny than scandalous or annoying. Conversely: When do I request authorization of articles? For difficult/controversial topics, when I am not absolutely sure about quotes. Certainly also if I edited text from other people, changing the content – this wasn’t yet the case. I don’t know about journalistic codes – I am not a professional. Explicit promises should always be honored – regardless of legal or moral aspects, written or unwritten rules. This article deliberately without illustrations – I could show Karjakin in a Putin T-Shirt or Sutovsky (often, also for the Izvestia article, wearing a suit), but I do not consider it necessary.

At the very start, Nienhuysen quoting “Sutovsky”: “Let’s call it geopolitics”, says Russian [sic] grandmaster Sutovsky in Izvestia, “nowadays Russia has to put up resistance against the west in many aspects, and this resistance adds special weight to achievements in chess”. Sutovsky’s Facebook post in the Russian original version:

Не могу молчать! SHARE&REPOST!

Вчера ко мне обратились “Известия” с просьбой озвучить свои мысли по поводу матча и касательно настоящего и будущего шахмат в России. Мы согласовали, что окончательный вариант будет отшлифован мною перед выходом в свет. Сказано – сделано, и заверенный мной материал в письменном виде ушел в Москву. При этом, я отдельно предупредил, что любые купюры в тексте должны быть согласованы. Увы, в окончательном варианте текста моя фраза: “Сегодня Россия во многом противопоставляет себя Западу…” превратилась в “Сегодня России во многом приходится противостоять Западу”, а из перечисленного мной списка великих чемпионов, чьи имена произносятся c придыханием, исчез Гарри Каспаров.

Выражаю протест подобным действиям, искажающим мою точку зрения, и прошу своих друзей расшарить эту информацию.

Maybe some readers know Russian? I initially only understood “SHARE&REPOST!” – as I mentioned before (in German articles), Sutovsky rarely uses all-capital letters, here he did. For the rest, Google Translate (somewhat shaky but still meaningful) helped, and then also Sutovsky himself. I contacted him by email, as well as Mr. Nienhuysen, I didn’t get in touch with Izvestia (wouldn’t know how). Sutovsky’s three main points: 1) Despite explicit promises, he didn’t get a chance to authorize the final version of the article, accepting (or rejecting) any editorial changes 2) He didn’t write “Russia has to resist the west”, but something along the lines of “Russia moved away from the west”. [Then Sutovsky, email to TR: “In my post about Izvestia I stated, that my original version read as: ‘Russia tries to oppose the West in everything’ while they published it as: ‘Russia has no choice but to oppose West in everything’.] 3) From his list of great Russian chess players the name of Kasparov was deleted. Aus seiner Liste grosser russischer Schachspieler wurde der Name des (regimekritischen) Garry Kasparov redaktionell gelöscht. Finally (Google translation) “I protest such actions, distorting my point of view, and ask your friends to share the this information.

Now the Izvestia article includes “Сегодня России во многом противостоит Западу” (Google Translate “Today, Russia is largely opposed to the west”) – still not Sutovsky’s original, at least in this version he is no longer supporting Putin, but a neutral observer who does not comment. Nienhuysen’s article is proof that the current version of Izvestia is the, in total, third one. Sutovsky wrote me “they modified it, but also not what I wrote originally!” Now Izvestia mentions, in this orde, Botvinnik, Tal, Kasparov, Petrosian and Karpov. Sutovsky per email to me “The original one DID NOT HAVE KASPAROV AT ALL” (again all-caps ….). I am also sure, that the Google-translated Izvestia article was different a few days ago, but am not tech-savy enough to find an earlier cached version.

So far the specific reason for this article – my audience is limited, but probably different from the one Sutovsky reaches via Facebook. My way to honor Sutovsky’s request (bold italics above). Another Sutovsky quote by email: “It was important for me to make a clear point about “Izvestia” misbehavior. Poor journalism is exploding and hard to fight.

While I am typing, some comments on the remainder of the Nienhuysen-article and a few other mass media sources. I wrote to Nienhuysen: “About Karjakin: I separate chess from politics as much as possible. I do not share his political opinions, but can understand them from his perspective (ethnic Russian from the Crimean peninsula) – maybe no need to be as ‘loud’ as he is, but that’s also his choice. Regarding support from Russia: Many countries support their chess talents, also “imported” ones. Norway supports Carlsen, the Netherlands support Anish Giri (Nepalese father, Russian mother, arrived in the Netherlands after his father got a job as a hydrologist here). Meeting with politicians may be required, and also (no matter whether this is fully true) saying that this is “a pleasure”. For example, Carlsen received congratulations from NATO general secretary Stoltenberg and would probably also accept an invitation to meet in person.” Nienhuysen’s parallels to earlier world championship matches – the American Fischer against the Russian Spassky, Karpov against dissident Korchnoi, later against rebel Kasparov – are rather artificial in my opinion. One thing became clear after the New York match: Carlsen (praising his opponent) and Karjakin (starting his speech with “Happy birthday, Magnus!”) like and respect each other. Others also added political-national tones to successes in ches: US-Americans (at least some) were extremely proud to win the Chess Olympiad, members of team Carlsen posed with a Norwegian flag after Carlsen won the rapid tiebreak in New York.

Other sources: German weekly and Internet newspaper ZEIT had Ulrich Stock, experienced journalist and strong amateur chess player, reporting from New York (and earlier matches since Anand-Gelfand). In his match preview Stock wrote: “Compared to the world champion, sometimes grumpy and hardly talkative, the challenger is a ‘talker’ [Plaudertasche], though stuttering. He is a nice guy, having his heart on his tongue (if this expression exists in English), in interviews – without being asked – praising his president Vladimir Putin for repatriating the Crimean peninsula.” He thus mentions politics, not again in later coverage. For him it seems to be a ‘detail’, and the way he phrased it is more praise (open and authentic) for than harsh criticism of Karjakin.

Dennis Monokroussos got a hint from a reader and then mentioned/linked/commented on a rather strange (my opinion, apparently his opinion) New York Times article. “At World Chess Championship, Familiar Overtones of East-West Politics“. Three ‘highlights’: “Norway has noted a rise in the number of Russian combat planes flying along the 100 miles of shared border.” – certainly done to annoy Carlsen? He noticed (in Oslo, about 1400km straight distance away) and did his final match preparation in the Caribbean – but his secret seconds worked from Kragerø. “the political backdrop to the match, including Mr. Putin’s military buildup and support for the Syrian government, has been anything but sportsmanlike.” – apparently there is a connection between the chess world championship and Russia’s, to use a neutral expression,  more active role in the Syria conflict”? “Mr. Carlsen in particular heralds a new, post-Soviet image for chess” – including commercials for Porsche and G-Star. Author John Leland (apparently succeeding Dylan Loeb McClain, who no writes for AGON) also mentions the Carlsen movie – as well as a very negative review by his colleague Jeannette Catsoulis: “insipid and uninformative”. They also show Karjakin in a Putin T-Shirt, Monokroussos’ and my own general impression: the author received a topic from the redaction, diligently collected ‘facts’ (probably all correct – while “Carlsen … post-Soviet image for chess” is opinion or cliche – but not necessarily relevant or pertinent) and wrote a ‘story’.

P.S.: Süddeutsche Zeitung added a correction – removing the “Sutovsky quote” from the main text, adding a ‘Anmerkung’ (Addendum) below to state that Izvestia corrected the quote, and now referring to Sutovsky as “Israeli, originally from the Soviet Union”. This still isn’t the whole story – Sutovsky’s version only here and by himself on Facebook. [Facebook may not be a ‘citable’ source for political mass media, while semi-regularly mentioned by chess sites, also major commercial ones.]

November 2017
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