Red Star over Scandinavia
Communists in the Nordic news media, then and now.
(/sites/default/files/uploads/2013/12/pl1.jpg)The brightest light in the Norwegian media firmament – and one of the brightest, for that matter, in the European media generally – is the independent news and opinion website document.no, which celebrated its tenth anniversary this year. Founded by journalist Hans Rustad, it’s a consistently excellent site, addressing Islam, immigration, and related issues with thoroughgoing intelligence and responsibility. (Indeed, one can only wish that the country’s major newspapers were half as serious, and half as well written, as the typical piece on document.no.) Not unimportantly, it’s also an elegant site, which features reproductions of great paintings and recordings of classical music – the point presumably being to remind us exactly what we’re talking about when we talk about preserving our civilization in the face of barbarism.
The success of document.no has baffled and rankled Norway’s mainstream media, which have repeatedly depicted it as radical and Islamophobic. After the July 2011 atrocities in Oslo and Utøya, many prominent leftists took the opportunity to link document.no to the murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, who’d been an avid reader of the site and had posted a number of comments on it before carrying out the actions that would make him world-famous.
But document.no has endured, and thrived – and the media have been compelled to acknowledge, however grudgingly, its considerable influence. Recently, Aftenposten, Norway’s excuse for a newspaper of record, hosted a video debate between Rustad and Helge Øgrim, a veteran journalist who’s now editor of Journalisten, the official journal of the Norwegian journalists’ union. The debate wasn’t about Islam or immigration but about document.no itself: is it a valuable source of reliable news and legitimate commentary, and thus a positive force in Norwegian society, or a dangerous mouthpiece for ugly, racist views? Øgrim, sitting right there next to Rustad, chose not to call it racist, but instead – taking a tack often employed by leftists when confronted with arguments they can’t answer – maintained that its focus was too narrow and its views too predictable, and that it was thus a boring experience.
The Rustad-Øgrim debate wasn’t just a conversation between two journalists; it was a confrontation between the new media and the old. Indeed, to look at Øgrim’s résumé is to get a glimpse of just what Norway’s old media really consists of – and, therefore, of just how much Rustad has been up against in his effort to report widely suppressed news developments and to publish alternative viewpoints. For Øgrim, as it happens, is the very personification of Norway’s old media. He’s been the editor-in-chief of Dagbladet and the U.S. correspondent for the major Norwegian wire service, NTB. Not irrelevantly, he also spent many years on the central committee of the AKP, a Maoist party that held an iron grip on much of the Norwegian elite during the last quarter of the twentieth century. The AKP, founded in 1973 and finally folded into the Rødt (Red) Party in 2007, was created by Stalinists who found the post-Stalin USSR insufficiently rigorous in its Communism.
Øgrim’s career is not atypical. To use a Norwegian expression that’s particularly apt in this case, Communism has run like a red thread through mainstream Norwegian journalism of the last half century. The first head of AKP, Sigurd Allern, later became Norway’s first professor of journalism, at the University of Oslo. (He still holds that position.) Other former heads of AKP include Pål Steigen, who has since held many high-level cultural offices, including a stint as an editor at Cappellen, a major publishing house; Kjersti Ericsson, who’s now a professor of criminology at the University of Oslo; and Hilde Haugsgjerd, who until recently was the editor-in-chief of Aftenposten. Øgrim himself, I might mention, is a member of an old-media dynasty that’s also a red-diaper dynasty: his father was the longtime program director of NRK television; his cousin Tron was a high-profile Communist journalist.
Norway isn’t alone in having its journalistic community dominated by Communists. The situation has long been much the same in Denmark, although much of the history of this phenomenon has been systematically covered up. The protagonist in this story is Bent Jensen, head of Denmark’s Center for Cold War Research, who has been fighting an uphill battle to expose the degree to which Denmark, and especially Danish journalism, was infiltrated by Soviet agents during the Cold War. The history of Jensen’s struggle, in a nutshell, is this: in 2006, after a report by the Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET) on Cold War Communist infiltration was deemed unsatisfactory, the Danish Parliament allocated money so that Jensen could research the subject independently and provide a fuller report; in 2009, Minister of Justice Brian Mikkelsen promised him unrestricted access to all the documents that the PET had been allowed to see. But the promises turned out to mean nothing. Jensen, who considers Soviet Communism to have been every bit as perfidious as Nazism and wants the world to understand why, has been stonewalled at every turn.
Why? Plainly, according to reports, high-up figures in the government don’t want him to be in a position to name names. PET head Jacob Scharf, a former Social Democratic youth official, and Justice Minister Morten Bødskov, also a Social Democrat, have been described as using their power to keep documents about still-living left-wing politicians and journalists out of Jensen’s hands. (Bødskov reportedly tried to keep Jensen, a serious and objective scholar, from being given this assignment in the first place.) PET claims that allowing Jensen to see certain materials would damage national security and harm PET’s collaboration with its NATO counterparts. It seems clear, however, that even more important than those considerations is the determination of leftists to cover up their own parties’ strong Cold War ties to the USSR.
It’s known that among the PET’s archival items to which Jensen has been denied access is a list of left-wing journalists and politicians who were either KGB agents or naïve Soviet tools – and that among the names on that list is that of Torben Krogh, former editor-in-chief of the national newspaper Information who, reportedly, helped out the KGB by promoting Soviet views. News photographer Jacob Holdt, known for a photo series entitled “American Pictures” that was unflattering to the U.S., was also suspected by PET of working for the Soviets.
Among others whom PET had its eyes on during the Cold War was Jørgen Dragsdahl, a well-known far-left journalist who, PET concluded, was either an out-and-out KGB agent or some thing very close to that. When the national newspaper Ekstra Bladet reported on this in 1992, Dragsdahl sued and won. In a 2007 interview with Jyllands-Posten, Bent Jensen stated that PET archives contained proof that Dragsdahl had been working for the KGB, and Dragsdahl sued again. He won, but Jensen appealed, and just two months ago – after a trial during which Dragdahl’s lawyer depicted Jensen as an “inquisitor” – the appeals court finally exonerated Jensen, ruling that he had “sufficient factual foundation for his statements.”
So much for Norway and Denmark. As for the other Scandinavian country, Sweden, meet Olof Frånstedt, who was head of the Swedish intelligence service, Säpo, in the 1960s and 70s. He’s just published a book, The Spy Hunter, in which he writes about the Soviet ties of many leading Social Democrats. A major topic in his book is the so-called IB Affair. IB (Informations Bureauet) was a secret intelligence group which, operating with the support of Säpo, monitored the Soviet, Maoist, and Palestine connections of Sweden’s radical left. In 1973, however, journalists Peter Bratt and Jan Guillou – who is also one of the country’s most successful novelists – wrote articles revealing IB’s existence. A media scandal ensued – and what outraged the media was not that many high-ranking Swedes had Communist links, but that such a thing as IB existed at all. As a result of Bratt’s and Guillou’s efforts, IB was closed down. Only many years later, in 2009, did the newspaper Expressen reveal that Guillou himself had been a KGB agent, and had been paid by the Kremlin for writing Soviet-friendly articles.
It’s a measure of just how things work in Scandinavia that this revelation did little or no harm to Guillou’s reputation. As with Øgrim, and as with Dragsdahl, his career has been kept going thanks to a sympathetic media establishment that has chosen to let the sordid news of his treason slide out of public consciousness after only the most perfunctory coverage. Which, needless to say, is another way of stating that the far left, even all these years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, still runs the show in the Scandinavian media. And this, in turn, only underscores just how remarkable an accomplishment document.no really is.
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