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BRAMA, Feb 10, 2005, 2:00 pm ET


Lessons from the recent controversy surrounding Myron Kuropas
By Max Pyziur

Many of us in the Ukrainian-American community have noted both publicly and privately the gross inaccuracies and bigotry, notably against Jewish people and to some degree against African-Americans, delivered in hectoring and bullying tones by Mr. Myron Kuropas in his opus as a columnist for The Ukrainian Weekly (website). We have been concerned about the potential liability this could create for all Ukrainians.

Recently, it seems that the risk of that liability is being realized. Beginning on Wednesday January 26th 2005 numerous American newspapers (as well as the Kyiv Post in Ukraine) carried newswire copy, original reports, and editorials on Mr. Kuropas's past statements in the Weekly. To compound this potential risk these items also pointed out that Mr. Kuropas had recently been a part of a small US delegation representing the Bush administration at the inauguration of Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko. When a Presidential spokesman was confronted with these reports he indicated that Mr. Kuropas's invitation to participate in the delegation would have never been issued. The story has even made its way into U.S. State Department briefings.

* * *

The Ukrainian Weekly is a "fraternal benefit" of the Ukrainian National Association (UNA) - a New Jersey-based organization whose primary service is to provide a variety of insurance and annuity products to its members.

However, only a page or two of the paper's average 20 to 30 page run deals with the UNA. The majority of the newsprint is composed of coverage of news in Ukraine and events in the Ukrainian-American and Ukrainian-Canadian diasporas, along with unsigned editorials, "Letters to the Editor", guest items, and an opinion/editorial piece by one of the paper's three columnists. Of the columnists Mr. Myron Kuropas by far gets the most copy across a span that extends for easily 25 years. In addition, he provokes the most reaction in the "Letters to the Editor".

The paper's subscription/readership though small at several thousand extends considerably beyond UNA members. Further, it is distributed to each member of the US Congress free of charge.

From a critically positive perspective, until the onset of the Internet ten years ago the Weekly was the primary, if not the only, English language source of information on Ukraine and Ukrainian-related news. Effectively it was the paper of record. Its guest columns by writers such as David Marples, Taras Kuzio, and Andy Fedynsky, among others, have offered insightful analyses and continue to do so.

Nevertheless, over an extended period, Mr. Kuropas has become a mainstay of the Weekly with the frequency of his columns. For all of the reaction Mr. Kuropas has provoked over the years, the general fallback statement of The Ukrainian Weekly's editor has been "Opinions of columnists, commentators and letter writers are their own...," as though to indicate that neither the UNA - the paper's publisher nor the paper's editor make any policy as to the content, form, grammar, or style of columnists.

Given that the Weekly readership extends far beyond its UNA base, that it is distributed to the US Congress, and that the majority of its action items, unsigned editorials, columns, and reports deal with non-UNA matters shows that it seeks to take on a representative/public role for all Ukrainians, not just one dealing with the narrow range of its membership.

Consequently, either its editorial policies should be tailored to this scope or its scope reduced to its direct interests.

* * *

While the First Admendment precludes any sort of prior restraint on speech respected journalistic organizations do not simply set their editorial policies against this base. They recognize the need for trust and goodwill. They specify particular standards.

Generally, respected major national newspapers produce their content by way of two vertical organizations - reporters and analysts report to one editor while unsigned editorial and Op-Ed writers report to another. Both editors, in turn, report to the publisher.

Further, unsigned editorials tend to basically be soft-spoken, refraining from uncivil and bullying language. The preferred approach is to logically argue for a particular position or point of view. Conversely, signed Op-Ed pieces by regular and guest columnists express a diversity of views using a variety of language and styles. Nevertheless, major national newspapers do not let one columnist dominate. By requiring a particular and equal quota from its regular columnists these organizations present a balance of views.

National newspapers seen as adhering to this standard include The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, and The New York Times, among others. One national paper that deviates from these approaches is The Wall Street Journal, which has achieved notoriety for the looseness of its adherence to veracity and the pugnaciousness of its unsigned editorials. Its signed Op-Eds by regular columnists are generally no better. Nevertheless, the WSJ not only survives but thrives due to the strength of its business reporting, hence making it an exception rather than a model.

It is important to note that as a standard-bearer The New York Times has often stumbled to the level of scandal. The scandal sometimes has overshadowed its exemplary work. However, it has tried to address these failings, at least some of them. Over the last several years some of the paper's reporters - including Jayson Blair, Judith Miller, and Jeff Gerth - have either used questionable or even no sources. To that end in addition to oversight policies already in place, the paper has the position of a readers' ombudsman - someone who will represent readers' views and complaints to the paper and report on the results (or lack of) to the readers and the papers public.

Due to numerous complaints against its regular columnists the paper recently established a policy of fact checking for their Op-Eds. If it was demonstrated that a column was factually incorrect, that writer is now required to publish an errata in his/her subsequent column. Interestingly, one of the Times' longtime writers, William Safire, refused to comply with this requisite and when pressed decided to retire from writing his column.

Last, in this most recent period it is important to note that the coverage of Ukraine by the mentioned newspapers has been overwhelmingly positive. In the case of the New York Times the Orange Revolution has been been prominently presented on the front page in at least seven (by my count) editions.

* * *

The issue that has developed should not be sidestepped. The material that was exposed was an iota of the totality of Mr. Kuropas' similar-themed columns. Contesting Mr. Kuropas's columns on points of detail/minutiae only potentially exposes that much more of his bigotry and undermines Ukrainians' collective credibility.

The first steps in quality control are to "... listen to your customer." Over the years numerous readers have eloquently expressed criticism of both Mr. Kuropas' positions as well as the policies of the Weekly in the paper's "Letters to the Editor" section. Complaints have also been made outside of this forum both publicly and privately. Unfortunately, that information has either been ignored or dismissed.

Removing Mr. Kuropas either by directive or request is definitely one step to defusing and remedying the issue. A more complete solution would also include examining and revamping the Weekly's policy with respect to its regular columnists, as well as hiring more diverse-viewed columnists to bring about a modicum of balance. A "best" solution would include both of these recommendations as well as the creation of an advisory board whose membership would be composed of diverse respected individuals meeting formally once or twice a year for the purposes of review as well as the submission of recommendations to both the publisher - the UNA - as well as the paper's editor.

If the Weekly and the UNA seek to maintain their public role then it would be prudent to take a cue from Ukraine's newly elected president. Civility and basic decency in President Yushchenko's character are paramount. Hate mongering and divisive bickering is not seen. The Ukrainian-American community should adopt as its model the pluralistic and tolerant society into which Ukraine has evolved.

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