Oliver Stone to Stephen Colbert: Vladimir Putin Has Been 'Insulted' and 'Abused'

Oliver Stone
Director Oliver Stone poses as he arrives for the gala screening of the film "Snowden", during the 60th British Film Institute (BFI) London Film Festival at Leicester Square in London, Britain October 15, 2016. On June 12, 2017, Stephen Colbert grilled Stone over being soft on Putin in his latest documentary series. Peter Nicholls/Reuters

On Monday evening, a deranged man appeared in Midtown Manhattan to rant in front of a large and largely helpless audience about world affairs, those involving Russia in particular. The plainly disturbed individual was, by turns, incoherent, disingenuous and condescending. Most troubling of all was his insistence that he be taken seriously, when, in fact, he could only be taken ridiculously.

The man was identified as professional conspiracy theorist Oliver Stone.

Stone's embarrassing appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert is the kind of stuff that ends careers. Then again, one has to first have a career worth ending. The increasingly pneumatic Stone, for his part, hasn't made anything resembling respectable cinema in three decades, if not longer. He is now a professional far-left propagandist, like your mildly alcoholic uncle who is convinced that "the corporations did 9/11" and wireless internet is an Israeli mind-control plot. He is a crank with a camera—though, judging by his media bookings, he retains a pretty good publicist.

Stone came to the Ed Sullivan Theater to promote his four-hour, four-part interview with Vladimir V. Putin, which Showtime has audaciously billed as a documentary. There's a better word, however, for trying to humanize a dictator: propaganda. That effort would have been richly rewarded by the Soviet Union, but Stone has the misfortune of living in the democratic West, where his fawning over Putin, as well as Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez, hasn't attracted the enormous, rapturous audiences he might have expected in a Siberian gulag, or a Maoist reeducation camp.

Stone visited Colbert at the end of a day in which Putin cracked down on political opponents, including rising liberal star Alexei Navalny. It is not clear if Stone knew about this latest exemplar of Putinism, but if he did, it certainly didn't trouble him as he sagged into his chair and scowled at Colbert. In fact, he was at such immense pains to depict Putin as the second coming of Peter the Great that Colbert finally posed a blunt question that seemed only partly a joke: "Does he have your dog in a cage someplace?"

One feels immensely sadness at the very suggestion that such a canine may exist, and that its primary benefactor in the human species may be Oliver Stone.

Putin clearly convinced Stone that they'd formed a genuine bond during their reported 20 hours together (the interviews were conducted over a two-year period). Though transparently illusory, that comity all but ensured that Stone would unquestioningly accept the Russian despot's version of events, even when it was obviously false. For example, in an interview with The Nation that would have made even a Stalinist cringe, Stone suggested that the CIA and FBI had "cooked" intelligence regarding Russian hacking related to the presidential election.

Stone even came to pity the bloodless KGB apparatchik who waged a brutal war in Chechnya while overseeing an increasingly totalitarian state at home, one in which personal freedoms have been steadily curtailed.

"He's been through a lot. He's been insulted and abused," Stone said.

The audience expressed audible disgust.

"Abused in the press, in the media," Stone explained dismissively.

Now the audience jeered. Stone flashed his sagging jowls, then continued in the manner of all shameless shills.

Colbert tried to get Stone to say whether he liked Putin, or whether there was anything about the Russian strongman that the American filmmaker found objectionable. Stone deflected both questions, suggesting that Americans who disliked President Trump were transferring that enmity to Putin's Russia. The notion that Putin's Russia might have sins of its own seemed preposterous to Stone.

"I think he's devoted to his country," Stone said, in a stunningly naïve expression of how little he understands about Russia and where that nation is heading. With an economy reliant on natural-resource extraction, a non-existent public health system and a cancerously corrupt Kremlin, Russia is returning to the grayest days of Leonid Brezhnev, the mean-spirited dullard whom Putin most closely resembles. Propagandists like Stone are only helping that downward slide.

"I think you should see the film for yourself," Stone said at one point.

If you're into masochism, then by all means, spend four hours with Stone and Putin. But for a true sense of Russia, read the work of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya. She was assassinated in Moscow in 2006, without question for reporting on the murderously unrestrained Putin regime, which has only gotten worse in the years since. Politkovskaya's is the real Russia—the one Stone is too cowardly to depict.