Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Turkmenistan Rising (but it was a close call)

U.S. Courts the Visiting President of Turkmenistan - Victory is ours! The United States rolls out the red carpet for Turkmenistan's President, Gurbanguly Burdymukhammedov - that's right, our Doc Gurby. Why? Maybe it's because Turkmenistan has at least three trillion meters of natural gas in the ground. Maybe it's because anyone who can make it in politics with that name must be doing something right. Doc Gurby gets lunch with Condi Rice, a tour of the NYSE (pictured - Doc is on the left) and, praise the Lord, a long awaited taste of unbiased coverage from the NY Times: "Under Mr. Niyazov, Turkmenistan was among the world's most insular countries. Mr. Burdymukhammedov, since taking over in February, has begun to open it to outside influences. " Kudos to the U.S. for realizing Doc is a reasonable guy who wants to do the right thing for the Turkmen when it comes to selling natural gas. Kudos to Doc, who, at the very least, is letting the Russians and Chinese know there are other players in the gas game while he burnishes the Turkmen image by getting out and about in NY. Kudos to David L. Stern who opened a new chapter in the NY Times coverage.

Kudos to As Good As News, who turned the Times around with a desperate round of 1:00 AM comments last night. What almost happened? Let's go back to the beginning. On July 19 the Times ran a snide story by C.J. Chivers, "Behold Turkmenistan's Marvels! (Authorized Version)" mocking the secretive and authoritarian regime created by Doc's predecessor. Unfortunately the piece was obsolete before it was written and failed to note that every change made by Doc Gurby had been a step in the right direction. As Good As News responded, naturally - we are the official blog of reclusive Turkmenistan - in one of our all time favorite posts (July 19, titled To The Ramparts Turkmen - visit the post and you will get the link the the Chivers story as well.) This quieted Mr. Chivers, but, as we learned late last night, it did not erase the damage already done. On Monday Doc Gurby appeared at the Columbia World Leader's Forum - he was the warm up act for Ahmadinejad - played a boosterish video on Turkmen education and fumbled when he sounded less than clear and forthright in dodging a couple of questions on freedom of the press in Turkmenistan. Sure, he should have consulted with As Good As News before the show, but, no big deal, right?

Not to Jane Roh, writing for National Gate, who took this non-event, combined it with material from the Chivers article (which was about the Turkmenistan created by Doc's predecessor) and came up with the headline "Another Potentially Crazy World Leader..." - really Ms Roh? Because he inherited leadership of a country with no free press and had trouble ad libbing an explation that met with your approval, he must be crazy? Yes , Ms Roh, I note that Turkmenistan has minted some coins with Doc Gurby's image - wake up, he's only the President - and you were stretching mightily if that's the only "crazy" action by Gurby you could find. By the way, he was a practicing dentist and university professor before joining the government, not a "dental student." Is he crazy because, while speaking at Columbia, he announced freedom for 9,000 prisoners and an expanded Turkmenistan amnesty program, but couldn't respond with details to a question about two specific prisoners? Will W's successor know the names of everyone in Guantanamo in February 2009? Was it the confused English in portions of the RFE/RL quotes that seemed crazy, Ms Roh? A cheap shot, how polished would you sound if you had to handle hostile questions while speaking Turkmen?

To compound the disaster, The Lede, an official NY Times blog, ran with the "potentially crazy" quote and a rehash of the lowlights from the Jane Roh post. So, in a self referential circle jerk, the NY Times blog The Lede is now calling Doc Gurby crazy based on Jane Roh's fit of non-analysis which rests, in turn, on the CJ Chivers NY Times piece that was obsolete the day it ran. If you actually read the facts (instead of the snarky asides and the misleading headlines) in the Chivers piece or the National Journal/The Gate post or the RFE/RL report it is clear that Doc Gurby has done nothing crazy. He hasn't tried to make revolutionary changes overnight, but every change Doc has undertaken has improved Turkmenistan. As Good As News made this point repeatedly in an heroic late night comment session, paving the way for the Times turnaround in Mr. Stern's article this AM. It's not easy being the official blog of reclusive Turkmenistan, but somebody has to do it.

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