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MSNBC: Mark Ames and Yasha Levine
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eXiled Alert! / July 1, 2008

The eXiled is a webzine that publishes political commentary, pop culture criticism and investigative reporting from around the world—all of it written in The eXiled’s infamous satirical and outrageous style.

The eXiled has been online since June 2008 as the web-only incarnation of The eXile, a Russia-based English-language bi-weekly newspaper that was launched in 1997 by American journalist Mark Ames and shut down by the Russian government in the summer of 2008. (Read more about the history of The eXile.)

Mark Ames and Yasha Levine are editors of The eXiled.

Read media coverage surrounding the Kremlin’s decision to kick The eXile out of Russia:

The Moscow Times:

End of The eXile Era

By Owen Matthews

So farewell, The eXile. An era has ended, and we shall not see its like again. After over a decade of delivering caustic comment, childish pranks and more information than we perhaps wanted and needed to know about the editors’ sex lives and drug habits, Moscow’s original alternative expat newspaper is finally being shut down. Four inspectors from the Federal Service for Mass Media, Telecommunications and the Protection of Cultural Heritage recently visited The eXile’s offices, wanting to know about Eduard Limonov, a long-time contributor to the newspaper whose radical National Bolsheviks form the last remnants of Russia’s real opposition. The inspectors were investigating whether the newspaper violated Article 4 of the Law on Mass Media, which bans media outlets from promoting extremism, pornography or narcotics. The writing was on the wall.

Is the paper guilty? Hell yes – at least by the puritanical standards of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The eXile was a biweekly dish of political gossip (often surprisingly incisive), grim reports from the country’s underbelly and amphetamine-fueled vitriol against Middle America. It was also heavily laced with pornography, satirical graphics and outrageous club reviews penned by a series of fictional correspondents. This was the paper that created the “Death Porn” column, a compendium of the week’s most gruesome crimes illustrated with police photos. Its most recent issue hailed the early arrival of “snapper season,” complete with photos of naked provincial girls taken from the “Dyevscovery Channel.”

In one of their most famous pranks, the editors made a cream pie mixed with horse sperm and threw it in the face of New York Times bureau chief Michael Wines. The journalistic offenses Wines had committed are long forgotten, but the memory of the pictures of him licking cream off his fingers lingers on. Former editor Matt Taibbi, posing as a sports promoter, once persuaded Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to sign up as a motivational coach for the New York Jets. And, in the later, darker years, The eXile chronicled Mark Ames’ epic odyssey to celebrate the paper’s ninth anniversary by sleeping with nine whores in nine hours, armed with a pocketful of Viagra, $450 in expenses and a digital camera. (For the record, he failed.)

But The eXile’s mission was more than just to shock. It ran Yasha Levine’s 2007 piece on working as a gypsy cab driver on Moscow’s nighttime streets – as powerful a piece of city reporting as I’ve read anywhere. In addition, Taibbi’s report from the distant mines of Vorkuta in the aftermath of the 1998 crisis delivered a level of detail and raw empathy that no mainstream reporter had matched. And an antic experiment to hire prostitutes to come and spend an hour writing short fictional stories in The eXile offices instead of their usual work – printed in the paper under the headline “Whore-R-Stories” – actually produced deeply moving, pathetic little tales of provincial despair.

U.S. author and journalist Tom Wolfe said, “There are only two adjectives writers care about anymore – brilliant and outrageous.” The eXile was both. But it was also an anachronism. Indeed, it was a minor miracle that it should have survived so long. Even before the paper’s demise, I couldn’t think of it as anything but a child of its time, vibrating to the deep, doomed rhythms of a specific moment. It could never have happened anywhere else but the Moscow of the mid-1990s. Like the city itself, The eXile was vulgar, venal and violent. It was also manic, obscene, uproarious and mammon-obsessed. But above all, it was only by soaking up enough of the penetrating cynicism of that time that all of Russia’s tragedies could seem, on some level, darkly amusing.

Moscow, I found, seemed to attract people who were ferociously smart but often hungry and damaged, fleeing failure or trying to prove something to the world. Russia – especially the Russia that created The eXile – certainly had a definite appeal for anyone with a dark streak of gross irresponsibility and self-destructiveness. And if you had these traits, there was nothing to stop you from indulging them. It was a weird Godless world where values went into permanent suspended animation and you were terrifyingly free to explore the nastiest recesses of your own black heart. Like a traumatic love affair, it seemed to change people forever. Like a drug, it would be exhilarating at first. Then, as it wore on, it reclaimed the buzz it had given, with interest.

Despite the good times, Moscow got its revenge on its new masters, insidiously screwing with foreign psyches. You’d see how young men, who had arrived as cheery, corn-fed boys, would, within a year, adopt that hardened, taciturn look that one usually associates with circus people. Selfish young hedonists quickly turned into selfish psychotic monsters – too much sexual success, money, vodka, drugs and cynicism in too short a time. Ames lived it and wrote about it. He described his encounters with heroin, teenage prostitutes and speed with a savage self-loathing and fueled, in his own words, by “vanity and spleen.”

The story of The eXile is the story of an earlier, pre-boom Moscow, before gourmet supermarkets and sushi restaurants sprouted on every corner. The eXile was born in a place that was dark, vibrant and absolutely compelling. The money, the sin and the beautiful people – it was doomed, apocalyptic and transiently beautiful. The incandescent energy of the pretty, deluded party kids whom the paper wrote about could have lit up this blighted country for a century if channeled into anything other than self-destruction and oblivion.

They were indeed strange and savage times, to borrow a phrase from U.S. author and journalist Hunter S. Thompson. And Mark Ames and Matt Taibbi were their greatest chroniclers.

Owen Matthews, author of “Stalin’s Children,” is Moscow bureau chief for Newsweek magazine.

The Wall Street Journal:

Raucous Russian Paper Closes Amid Kremlin Scrutiny
Expat’s Exile Falls As Investors Retreat; Ribald Pranksters

MOSCOW — An English-language newspaper in Moscow famed for lampooning Russian and Western officialdom has shut down after it fell under the scrutiny of the government for its raucous content.

The demise of Moscow’s Exile newspaper is the latest sign of the homogenization of the press within Russia, where an official crackdown on dissent has led to the self-censorship of many publications.

The Exile’s editor, California native Mark Ames, said investors withdrew support earlier this month after officials from Russia’s media regulator visited the paper’s office and took away copies of recent issues to analyze whether the paper was violating …

Committee To Protect Journalists:

English-language paper closes because of state harassment

New York, June 19, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists is disturbed by the closing of the alternative English-language biweekly The eXile in Moscow. The paper announced on its Web site last week that it was forced to shut down after nervous investors withdrew support in the wake of a politicized audit of its content.

The eXile routinely criticized both the Kremlin and the West, using strong and irreverent language, according to local and international press reports. The paper was known for its political satire, which often tackled serious issues such as corruption, crime and poverty.

The National:

Russia silences tabloid

MOSCOW // For more than a decade, The eXile has delighted Moscow’s English-speaking expatriate community with its irreverent mix of vicious humour, sharp political analysis and shameless hedonism.

But after 11 years of scorched-earth Gonzo journalism and taking down every sacred cow in sight, The eXile’s time appears to be up.

An unexpected inspection this week by Russia’s Federal Service for Mass Media, Telecommunications and the Protection of Cultural Heritage to see if the biweekly was in compliance with Russian media laws spooked the tabloid’s investors, who withdrew their funding, said Mark Ames, the editor-in-chief.

“This is exactly the kind of thing that they did not want to be involved with,” said Mr Ames, a US citizen who launched the newspaper in 1997.

The eXile’s closing comes after the Kremlin brought every major national media outlet to heel, leaving little room for political criticism in Russia’s public discourse.

The government media watchdog was to issue the results of its inspection on whether The eXile violated Russian media laws last Wednesday, but Mr Ames said he had not yet heard anything. Yevgeny Strelchik, a spokesman for the watchdog, declined to give any details and said it was an internal matter between the inspectors and the newspaper.

The newspaper could receive a warning for, among other things, publishing pornography or extremist statements, or for promoting drug use. A second warning could result in the paper having its licence revoked.

While it would not be difficult to find The eXile guilty on all three counts, Mr Ames said the inspectors’ conclusions are now largely irrelevant. In what he described as a type of soft censorship that permeates Russia’s current mass media climate, the attention paid by authorities to the newspaper was enough to prompt its funders to flee.

“The government does not need to jail or shoot people,” Mr Ames said. “All they have to do to keep people under control is say ‘Boo!’

“Nothing may come at all of the inspection. They may say there are no violations at all,” Mr Ames said. “But it doesn’t matter. The job is already done.”

In another such case, Mr Ames cited the example of the Moskovsky Korrespondent, a Moscow newspaper that published an article in April with the unsubstantiated claim that Vladimir Putin, who at the time was the Russian president, had divorced his long time wife and married an Olympic champion rhythmic gymnast.

Moskovsky Korrespondent subsequently closed, but the publisher said it was shut down because it was not making a profit, not because Mr Putin had taken offence to the report.

From its inception, The eXile has rubbed officials the wrong way, “but 10 years ago people were not so scared” about challenging the state, Mr Ames said. “Now, if you take on the government, not only is there a 100 per cent chance of losing, you could have your assets stripped or go to jail,” he said.

Mr Ames said when he met with government inspectors, they asked first about columns The eXile publishes by Eduard Limonov, a fierce Kremlin critic and a leader of Russia’s fractured opposition.

Mr Limonov, a friend of Mr Ames who founded the now-banned National Bolshevik Party, has written for The eXile since its inception and reserved some of his harshest words for Mr Putin and the business and political elite for his columns published in the paper.

The fall of The eXile, which launched the career of Matt Taibbi, a political correspondent for Rolling Stone magazine, marks the end of perhaps the world’s most unique publishing project.

Publishing in Moscow, it found a niche in which it was out of the reach of libel laws in western countries, yet, with its small circulation and foreign-language content, remained largely under the radar screen of Russian authorities – until now. The result was a paper that published sophomoric pranks on Russian government officials and western businessmen, savage criticism of western journalists covering Russia, and misogynistic club reviews informing male readers which clubs were optimal for finding overnight female companionship.

The eXile once paid the handlers of Mikhail Gorbachev to convince the former Soviet leader to act as “Perestroika Co-ordinator” for the then-struggling New York Jets and give pep talks to the American football team.

In 2001, the paper’s editors stormed into the Moscow bureau of The New York Times and threw a pie filled with equine sperm into the face of the bureau chief after accusing him of soft coverage of Russia’s political elite. In 2004, it published a doctored cover photo of Mr Putin as a Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) member.

Mr Ames’s announcement of The eXile’s closure came last week, on the same day that Dmitry Medvedev, the current Russian president, told a conference of Russian journalists that free speech is key to “building a free and responsible society”.

The likelihood is extremely low that The eXile will ever publish another issue, “unless some angel or miracle comes along”, Mr Ames said. “But I don’t think that anyone wants to touch me. It’s like I have polonium on me.”

In the meantime, the publication is calling for donations on its website in the hopes of generating enough revenue to keep the site alive, Mr Ames said.

“This has always been more of an artistic and writers’ project,” Mr Ames said. “The business part of it has been a colossal failure.”

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