A war of words is escalating between Russian state media and an influential Moscow radio station after one of Ekho Moskvy's journalists was stabbed in the throat by an assailant following a state TV report portraying her as a nefarious agent of the West.
Numerous journalists and Kremlin critics have tied the near-fatal October 23 attack on Tatyana Felgengauer, Ekho Moskvy’s deputy editor in chief, to what they call an “atmosphere of hate” stirred up by state-controlled media against dissenting voices.
But state-media heavyweights have pushed back, noting the alleged mental instability of the man accused of attacking Felgengauer, who survived and is recovering, and his purported blog posts suggesting he was a devoted listener of Ekho Moskvy and critical of authorities.
The latest to wade into the fray is Russian state media executive and TV presenter Dmitry Kiselyov, who is known for his anti-Western and homophobic rants, as well as for his unwavering loyalty to the Kremlin.
In his weekly news program on October 29, Kiselyov accused Ekho Moskvy, which gives substantial airtime to opposition politicians and commentators, of fomenting an “atmosphere of hate” and derided the broadcaster as a bastion of malcontents and conspiracy theorists.
Kiselyov called Felgengauer’s accused assailant, 48-year-old Russian-Israeli dual citizen Boris Grits, “a typical representative of the Ekho Moskvy fan club: grouchy, whiny, complaining about persecution, a loser accusing others for his own failings.”
Ekho Moskvy, which is 66-percent owned by state-controlled Gazprom Media, has repeatedly complained about threats against its journalists, including political talk-show host Yulia Latynina, who fled Russia last month following what she suspects was an arson attack on her car.
On October 27, the broadcaster’s editor in chief, Aleksei Venediktov, said Ekho Moskvy journalist Ksenia Larina had fled the country as well following her public spat with prominent state TV and radio personality Vladimir Solovyov.
In a Facebook post featuring a photo of the bloodied floor of Ekho Moskvy’s offices following Felgengauer’s stabbing, Larina said Solovyov “really wanted this.”
She referred to a February show of his in which he was discussing Larina and appeared to agree with a listener’s complaint that “no one is doing anything to shut their foul mouths.”
In an interview with Dozhd TV, Venediktov appeared to link his decision to “evacuate” Larina from Russia for at least six months to Solovyov’s radio program days earlier in which a guest described her as “scum.”
In an October 28 newspaper interview, Solovyov accused Ekho Moskvy and Venediktov of organizing a “witch hunt” against Russian state broadcaster VGTRK's journalists “and me personally.”
Responding to Kiselyov’s denunciations on October 30, Venediktov referred to the TV host’s comment that he feels “bad” for Felgengauer but that Grits “also provokes pity,” as does “the rest of Ekho [Moskvy’s] audience.”
“That’s everything you need to know about Dmitry Kiselyov,” Venediktov wrote in an October 30 tweet, adding, “Victim=killer.”
Russian investigators said last week that they believe the attack was most likely driven by Grits’s “psychological instability” and that there is no convincing evidence of a hidden agenda or a third party involved in the stabbing.
Russian President Vladimir Putin echoed those suspicions on October 30 in his first public comments about the attack on Felgengauer.
“A sick person showed up. What does freedom of speech have to do with it? He came from Israel and attacked a journalist,” Putin was quoted by the state-run TASS news agency as saying.
Felgengauer, meanwhile, published her first substantial public comment on the attack on October 30, thanking colleagues, doctors, family, friends, and the security guard who pulled her away from the assailant.
She did not address the politically charged controversy swirling around the attack.
“When you’re a fighter, and when you have people who are ready to fight for you, that’s when you get a story with a happy ending,” she wrote. “It’s a story of how a girl defeats a maniac.”