Newspaper reports William N. Oatis missing

The US Condemned Stalin’s Prosecution of Journalists. Now It Uses His Playbook.

The prosecution of Julian Assange in 2023 mirrors the prosecution of journalist Bill Oatis during the Cold War.

Two of my colleagues — Evan Gershkovich in Moscow and Julian Assange in London — languish in prisons for doing their job: keeping you informed. Russia and the U.S., knowingly or not, are following Joseph Stalin’s press playbook. A case in point: the Stalinist persecution of U.S. journalist William (Bill) Nathan Oatis in Cold War Czechoslovakia, which mirrors the contemporary prosecutions of my colleagues.

To Bill Oatis, as to Assange and Gershkovich, journalism was less a job than a vocation. He worked on school newspapers from the age of 12 and dropped out of college in 1933 to take a job at his hometown newspaper, the Marion, Indiana, Leader-Tribune. From there, he moved to the Associated Press (AP) bureau in the state capital, Indianapolis. (His managing editor, Drysdale Brannon, recalled, “He was a factual reporter and probably the most conscientious man who ever worked on the staff.”) Diverted from journalism to the Army for three years during World War II, he returned to the AP, first to its New York news desk, then to London and in 1950 to Prague, Czechoslovakia, as bureau chief.

The Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, in common with the Soviet Union’s other satellite states, was consolidating its monopoly on power. The Státní bezpečnost (St.B) secret police, auxiliaries of the Soviet Ministry for State Security (MGB), had expelled the AP’s two previous bureau chiefs for “unobjective reporting.” Remaining Western correspondents were targets of rigorous surveillance.

One of Oatis’s first stories broke the news that Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Vyshinsky had come secretly to Czechoslovakia to dictate Stalin’s propaganda guidelines to the Information Bureau of the Communist and Workers’ Parties (Cominform). It was a scoop. His next scoop was a report that former Foreign Minister Vladimir Clementis had not defected but was under arrest…

To read the full article, visit Truthout

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