Two days after announcing it had hired New Yorker editor (and former Washington Post Moscow bureau chief) David Remnick to provide guest commentary on the network’s air during its coverage of the upcoming Sochi Winter Games, NBCUniversal announced it had hired Moscow-based TV journalist Vladimir Pozner as a correspondent for its Olympics coverage in Sochi. Pozner will appear with Bob Costas on a late-night program, offering a Russian perspective of the Games, the company said.
“With his deep Russian roots and American upbringing, Vladimir Pozner is uniquely qualified to provide a Russian outlook to our audience during the Sochi Olympics,” said Jim Bell, Executive Producer, NBC Olympics, in this morning’s announcement, calling this “another significant moment in Russia’s history.” Costas, know for his outspoken commentary, recently told The Associated Press he won’t comment on Russia’s so-called “gay propaganda” law that’s causing people to protest NBC’s participation in the upcoming Games because he’s hoping to land an interview with what AP called “responsible people.”
Pozner’s a controversial guy. About a year ago, Radio Free Europe reported he’d blasted the state of justice in Russia, over the abduction and alleged torture of opposition activist Leonid Razvozzhayev, as well as the prison sentences of Pussy Riot members. He’s not controversy-free in this country either. Pozner’s U.S. media experience, NBCU noted, includes co-hosting Pozner/Donahue — a syndicated weekly, issues-oriented roundtable program that aired on CNBC from 1991-1996 — and numerous appearances across the landscape, including NBC’s Today, and ABC’s Nightline.
Here’s what Nightline’s original anchor, Ted Koppel had to say, in 2004, about Pozner’s first appearance on the newsmag on January 23, 1980, ” the night of what would turn out to be Jimmy Carter’s last State of the Union Address.” when the Soviet Army had recently invaded Afghanistan…and Carter had some tough things to say about that.
“We turned to someone who was described to us as a Radio Moscow Commentator. His name … Vladimir Pozner,” Koppel said. His comments, on ABC’s website, are followed by an excerpt of Pozner’s appearance on Nightline that night:
POZNER: You realize that I do not agree with what you call an invasion. I’m very happy to have the opportunity to say our viewpoint, and I want to thank you for it.
TED KOPPEL: Please do.
POZNER: The Soviet Union, as you know, has agreements with Afghanistan and sent in military aid at request of the Afghanistan government. We do not see that at all as an invasion. But, as simply, honoring our commitment. And I’d like to make that absolutely clear.
Koppel added, in 2004: “It used to drive my colleague George Will crazy when I introduced Vladimir Pozner as a Soviet Journalist. ‘It’s a contradiction in terms,’ George would insist. ‘The Soviet Union doesn’t have journalists in the sense that we do.’ And he was right.”
Here’s Pozner’s version, as told in an interview for a PBS broadcast:
Ted Koppel put me on. It was like out of the blue sky, a clap of thunder, because I did not look like a Soviet…You know, I was supposed to be fat with a very strong Russian accent and all of that, and uncouth, and all of these things. And here was a man who spoke American English, who could talk to you in the psychology of that language on the same level, who was dressed like an American might be dressed, and that created a total uproar. They kept having me back on, because the ratings went up. As you know in America if the ratings go up, then they do it again and again… I made a lot of people uncomfortable, because the arguments that I advanced were quite logical, and therefore that made them uncomfortable… It came up to the point when Nightline would ask for the State Department to furnish someone to rebut me during one of our talks and the State Department would refuse. Because they couldn’t find anyone to rebut me. There are a lot of people who’ve never forgiven me for that, for being too effective.
In August 1981, after appearing on Nightline five times, Pozner told People magazine, “Quite to my surprise, I’ve become a celebrity.” The magazine noted one of his appearances was on a broadcast that won an Emmy, and Pozner complained, “I got a letter from [ABC News chief] Roone Arledge…but no statuette.”
Back to NBCU, which noted today Pozner previously worked for Soviet, then Russian TV at three prior Winter Olympics – 1980 in Moscow, 2006 in Torino, and 2010 in Vancouver. From NBCU’s announcement:
In the 1980s, Pozner co-hosted a series of televised discussions known as the U.S.-Soviet Space Bridge, among citizens of the Soviet Union and the United States. Pozner hosted an audience in a Soviet city while an American counterpart hosted an audience in a U.S. city. Spacebridges included: “Moscow Calling San Diego: Children and Film” (with Mike Cole), “Citizens Summit I – Leningrad/Seattle” (with Phil Donahue) and “Citizens Summit II: Women to Women – Leningrad/Boston” (with Phil Donahue). He also hosted Moscow Meridian, an English-language current affairs program focusing on the Soviet Union, and delivered the “Vladimir Pozner’s Daily Talk” program on the North America Service of Radio Moscow.
Pozner was born in France before his family moved to the United States for eight years in 1940s and then to Berlin and later Moscow. He began his journalism career in Russia as the senior editor of the English-language Soviet Life magazine, and in 1967 he moved to its sister publication Sputnik for three years. In the early 1970s, Pozner worked as the chief commentator for the North American service of Radio Moscow and was a regular guest on Ray Briem’s talk show on KABC in Los Angeles.
He has authored several books including his autobiography Parting with Illusions and Eyewitness: A Personal Account of the Unraveling of the Soviet Union, and co-authored: Remembering War: A U.S.-Soviet Dialogue.
Pozner has won multiple awards include three Emmys and nine Teffys (Russia’s highest national television honor).