Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Alexi: Not Dead Yet in North America

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Alexi: Not Dead Yet in North America

Solzhenitsyn's dead! Solzenitsyn's dead! So f'n what. That seemed to be the attitude of the U.S. and Canadian media who appeared more concerned with Morgan Freeman's car crash than with the death of the man who has been called "The Champion of Freedom and Justice" and "The Keeper of the Russian Conscience."

The news of the death of the 89-year-old Nobel Prize winner broke in the early hours of a warm North American summer morning but across the continent, editors received it with surprising coolness. At 6.30 am, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s main radio channel, CBC Radio 1, mentioned it as a one-line piece of breaking news. As a former radio and TV editor, I knew that by the time the next main newscast rolled around at 7 am, the editors would have assembled a proper story including the latest report from their Moscow bureau, reaction from around the world and a prepared obituary. It would undoubtedly be the lead story. So what did I hear at 7 am? Nothing. Well nothing about Solzhenitsyn. I did hear about a small plane crash and some trash about the Olympics but not one line about one of the greatest writers of the past century.

By evening, it was as though Solzhenitsyn had been lost forever in one of the Gulags about which he wrote so powerfully. The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric managed to accord the skid marks of Morgan Freeman's car 30 seconds of precious air time. But the marks left by the great Russian author? No seconds. And Canada's CTV National News, fully 16 and a half hours after that first CBC radio headline, didn't bother at all with the dead Russian. Nope. They had far better stories to run – about improved Alberta beef, and oh – will they never stop?— Morgan Freeman's skid marks.

At the end of a long and tedious day of observing the state of our media, I was left with an disconcerting reaffirmation of our values: an actor who reads other people's lines gets more coverage by avoiding death than a great author who succumbs to it.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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John Scully

John Scully has been a journalist for almost fifty years and has covered stories in seventy countries for major international news and current affairs organizations. His book, Am I Dead Yet? A Journalist's Perspective on Terrorism, was published in spring 2008 by Fitzhenry and Whiteside.

Go to John Scully’s Author Page