For war journalist Scott Anderson, the most confounding part of his recent assignment for GQ magazine to explore the root of terrorist acts in Russia a decade ago wasn't the suggestion of treachery and subterfuge he found.
"It was quite mysterious to me," Anderson says. "All of a sudden, it became clear that they were going to run the article but they were going to try to bury it under a rock as much as they possibly could."
Anderson, 50, is an accomplished reporter and novelist who has written previously for Harper's Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, and Vanity Fair.
His investigative piece, published in the September American edition of GQ, challenges the official line on a series of bombings that killed hundreds of people in 1999 in Russia. It profiles a former KGB agent who spoke in great detail and on the record, at no small risk to himself. But instead of trumpeting his reporting, GQ's corporate owners went to extraordinary lengths to try to ensure no Russians will ever see it.
A Management Memo
Conde Nast owns Vanity Fair and GQ as well as other publications, including Russian versions of GQ, Glamour, Tatler and Vogue. On July 23, Jerry S. Birenz, one of the company's top lawyers, sent an e-mail memo to more than a dozen corporate executives and GQ editors.
"Conde Nast management has decided that the September issue of U.S. GQ magazine containing Scott Anderson's article 'Vladimir Putin's Dark Rise to Power' should not be distributed in Russia," Birenz wrote.
He ordered that the article could not be posted to the magazine's Web site. No copies of the American edition of the magazine could be sent to Russia or shown in any country to Russian government officials, journalists or advertisers. Additionally, the piece could not be published in other Conde Nast magazines abroad, nor publicized in any way.
It wasn't just that there was no reference to Anderson's piece on the cover of this month's GQ, which featured a picture of Michael Jackson, a reference to tennis star Andy Roddick's wife and a ranking of obnoxious colleges and top drinking cities. At this writing, I cannot find any reference to Anderson's piece on the Internet.
The idea that information can be sequestered at a time when people can communicate instantly across oceans and continents may seem quaint. But in this instance, Conde Nast sought, against technology, logic and the thrust of its own article, to show deference in the presence of power.
Lawyers, executives and editors at Conde Nast and GQ did not respond to repeated requests for comment this week, and a spokesman ultimately declined on their behalf. But NPR has spoken to several people knowledgeable about the handling of Anderson's piece. No issues have been raised to date about the article's accuracy.