By John Helmer, Moscow
Fakery in allegiance to the truth.
That was how Henry Luce, the proprietor of Time, Life, and the March of Time newsreels, described his coverage of the Spanish Civil War in 1937. Luce’s fakery even won an Oscar that year for “revolutionizing” the newsreel medium. Beside Luce’s photographer in Spain that year, Robert Capa, Ernest Hemingway also faked names, battles, victories, defeats, body count. His allegiance, though, according to a new history of what he was doing as a reporter in Spain, was to money and celebrity; in short, himself. For Hemingway, his war paid about $250,000 in 1937-38 dollars. That’s more than $4 million today.
Though the bylines are less memorable, and the money is less, the Anglo-American reporters from this year’s Ukrainian civil war have composed the same record of selfie journalism. Seventy-seven years is too long to wait for another New York publisher’s history to show how they did it, and why.
A newly published book by Amanda Vaill  tells the story of an international group of journalists who frequented Madrid’s Hotel Florida from July 1936 to March 1939; that’s from the start of the Spanish Civil War until the surrender of Madrid to General Francisco Franco.
Robert Capa and Gerda Taro are also followed in and out of the Hotel Florida, but the telling of their story – not to mention their photo-fakery – adds nothing that hasn’t already been revealed. For that story, see the recent biography of Taro reviewed here . Arturo Barea, one of the Republic’s press censors who escaped to become a writer, and his lover, Ilsa Kulcsar, an interpreter from Vienna, add colour and contrast to the story of the Americans in the foreground. They also add the commentary that they didn’t think much of Hemingway’s behaviour during the war, or of his writing about it. Hemingway, wrote Barea later, “was always a spectator who wanted to be an actor, and who wanted to write as if he had been an actor.”
A handful of clever, ill-fated Russians pass through the story, making double entendres at the parties Hemingway threw at the hotel – Vladimir Gorev (below, left) of the GRU, Alexander Orlov (centre) of the NKVD, Mikhail Koltsov (right) of Pravda. Their histories are also better known elsewhere. Their common opinion of Hemingway was that he was foolish and conceited enough for them to manipulate, so they did. His codename in their cables to Moscow was Argo – without the nought.
Hemingway’s war reporting was particularly lucrative. His contract assignment fee in 1937 was $1,000 per article, or almost $20,000 a pop today. With first-class trans-Atlantic liner, 5-star hotel, car hire, charter plane , whiskey, caviar and foie gras – distributed conspicuously as if he had paid out of his own pocket — plus novel royalties and film rights, by its conclusion the Spanish war had made Hemingway more than $4 million in today’s money. So enriching was Hemingway’s time in Spain, he even imagined that the Italian ruler Benito Mussolini was jealous enough to monitor his movements. “If [the Italian airforce] had known I was aboard [a charter flight], you can be sure they would have tried for it.”
He was also pathologically jealous of other American reporters and writers, fearful lest they might scoop him at the front, expose mistakes, steal his thunder, or his fees. John Dos Passos attracted a special virulence because they had been friends, and because Hemingway regarded him as his most potent competitor in the market. Dos Passos — Hemingway accused him in a cable — had “ratted” on the Spanish republican cause for money, and then got his facts and sides wrong.
So much of what Hemingway himself reported was fabricated, it is the intoxication of the money-making out of the violence that is of most interest in this history.
There has been no byline of the Hemingway glister in the Ukraine civil war, but the fabrications have been just as large and frequent. Also, the big money isn’t being made by the byline journalists at the front, but by the editorial and business managements at headquarters. These days the Hemingway-sized payoffs can be found in the auditor notes on senior executive compensation. At that level, fabrications are just as marketable in the digital media business model as veracities, especially if they are short enough to fit on a mobile telephone screen and tweet.
War is a particularly good app for journalism , because as Hemingway understood, bloodshed is gripping, and is reportable with great frequency, day and night. One reason the Ukraine civil war fabrications of the London media have survived repeated exposure is that they are too good for business. Another reason that the fabrications are overwhelmingly targeted at the Russian or pro-Russian side in the civil war is that in the London media business model, the primary money-paying audience is American, not British at all.
The Guardian, for example, is seriously loss-making, and increasingly dependent for its survival on growth of its digital audience outside the UK, particularly in the US; and on individual donors, most of them American or Australian. Without the latter the annual loss — £32.1 million in FY 2014 – would be unsustainable. These donors include George Soros, Bill Gates, and Graeme Wood, an Australian from the travel booking business. The Guardian’s financial reports do not reveal the extent of this financial sponsorship and subsidy funding .
The Financial Times business model makes more money, but it is even more dependent. Pearson Plc, the listed public company which owns the Financial Times newspaper, is primarily an American operation, with the US market accounting for 57% of sales revenues, 48% of operating profit. Pearson is also not really a media publishing group — 74% of revenues comes from the School and Higher Education divisions, with most revenue growth in higher education, according to the annual financial reports .
The Financial Times (along with step-sister publication, The Economist) are accounted for in Pearson’s “professional division”. That comprises just 25% of group sales revenues, and they aren’t growing. Inside the professional division, English-language lessons, teaching aids, employment qualifications, and other products are also included, with most growth in China and Brazil.
Pearson’s annual reports indicate that the professional division’s sales revenue (£449 million in 2013) has stopped growing, with digital subscription growth offsetting (but not by much) the loss of newspaper audience and loss of advertising. It is also clear that the Financial Times is a minor line of the Pearson group’s business, and its digital growth is primarily for short and breaking news, written and posted to fit on a mobile telephone screen. As the latest Financial Times annual report claims: “Mobile is an increasingly important channel for the FT, driving 62% of subscriber consumption, 45% of total traffic and almost a quarter of new digital subscriptions .”
The Economist, the most rabidly anti-Russian of the international media in English, has also been claiming that its audited circulation numbers are putting it ahead of all other UK news periodicals . In fact, of its 223,730 current readership, 30% don’t pay because the magazine is given away – in doctor’s waiting-rooms or on airplane seats. Also, discount subscribers, according to the last Economist annual report, renew their subscriptions “in unexpectedly low volumes .” Converting the freebies into paying customers, the editorial management acknowledges, requires no letup in the drama of the newsflow. Russophobia has helped The Economist mask its market losses, but only because it’s a giveaway. Noone will pay the sticker price.
Reporting from Ukraine and Russia captures audience so long as it fits the small screen. There isn’t room for accuracy and veracity, so long as the posting is frequent. As the Guardian always claims at the top of its website homepage, the news is “last updated less than one minute ago.”
The Hotel Florida story doesn’t stint on sex in pairs, and much is made of Hemingway’s use of the war to get away from his wife in the US, so that he could get into bed with Martha Gellhorn. She promoted herself as a war correspondent for Collier’s, and got her first media breaks at the same time. Collier’s circulation doubled during wartime.
Hemingway was also suspicious that his co-reporters at the hotel might get the same hots for Gellhorn, so on at least one occasion, while Hemingway was off interviewing members of the International Brigades, he locked Gellhorn into her hotel room. An artillery bombardment from Franco’s side on the street outside didn’t encourage Hemingway to release her for her safety. But Gellhorn managed to handle the stress pretty well, going shopping. “First they priced some pretty silver fox furs – such a bargain in Madrid just now [April 1937] – then they stopped at a linen shop, where Martha bought handkerchiefs for Hemingway, and went to the coiffeur to get their hair washed.”
Once started, the war against Russia has been good for women reporters newly arrived at the Financial Times bureau in Moscow. They have made up in animus towards the Russians what their predecessors had demonstrated of its opposite – that’s to say, affection for a handful of oligarchs whose business practices were never reported as anything but impeccable. These reporter bylines substitute for one another, unmemorably.
The Gellhorn role in this war has been appropriated instead by Anne Applebaum, who publishes inexpensively and freelance. Like Hemingway for Gellhorn, Applebaum’s husband, the ex-foreign minister of Poland, also helps . Her regular employment, it turns out, is at an obscure front with an expensive address on Charles Street in Mayfair, London (right). This is the Legatum Institute , which describes itself as “a charitable public policy think-tank whose mission is to help people lead more prosperous lives. The Institute defines prosperity as wellbeing, not just wealth. Its Legatum Prosperity Index™ assesses a wide range of indicators including education, health, social capital, entrepreneurship and personal freedom to rank 142 countries. Published annually, the Index has become an essential tool for governments around the world.”
Applebaum’s job is titled “Director of the Transitions Forum” and “Director Global Transitions ” This comprises publishing herself and running panels with subject-lines like “The Myth of Russian Humiliation”; “Russia: A Post-Modern Dictatorship”; “Looting Ukraine: the East, the West, and the Corruption of a Country”; and “The Menace of Unreality: Combatting Russian Disinformation in the 21st Century” . Watch Applebaum at work last week on that one . Contributing money and organization to Applebaum and her panel were the US State Department and a New York front for Mikhail Khodorkovsky called “the Institute of Modern Russia ”.
According to a Legatum press release , Applebaum has been short-listed at number 27 on the “Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute’s 2013 ‘Global Thought Leaders’ list.”
Legatum – in Latin, the perfect passive participle of Lego – is a toy of its owner, Christopher Chandler (right). He finances the institute in parallel with an investment management operation called Legatum Group. That’s now based in Dubai; it sprang from New Zealand, by way of Monaco. When Chandler called his business Sovereign Asset Management, he invested in early-stage Russian privatizations through a Caribbean entity called Cambridge Capital Management . In 1999, when Boris Yeltsin was still in the Kremlin, Chandler was beaten for control of Novolipetsk Metallurgical Combine (NLMK), and the transition to a more prosperous life achieved instead by Vladimir Lisin, who is still NLMK’s controlling shareholder.
Chandler’s 17% stake in NLMK would be worth $1.3 billion, if he still owned it. The Ukraine civil war and the war against Russia that has followed have wiped 28% or $500 million off that value. When Applebaum says Russian disinformation, Chandler thinks Novolipetsk. It’s the Hemingway way.