It says a great deal about the current state of American media that the name Mikhail Lesin has not made many headlines recently.
Lesin, who is credited with founding Russia Today (now RT.com) in 2005, was a powerful ally of Vladimir Putin, and a towering figure in the world of Russian media. He relocated to Los Angeles in 2013, although his precise whereabouts over the course of the past few years have been murky.
In November 2015, Lesin was found dead in a Washington, D.C. hotel room. When initially announced, the cause of death was reported as a heart attack. RT itself published an article about the incident also noting that Lesin died of a heart attack. The article mentioned that the media mogul had been suffering from an unnamed, prolonged illness.
At the time, there were few reasons to believe Lesin’s death was the result of anything but natural causes. This all changed on March 10, when the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Washington D.C. announced that Lesin had died of “blunt force injuries to the head.” Noting that the Russian businessman had suffered multiple blows to his neck, back, and torso, a medical examiner explained it was unclear if Lesin’s death was the result of a crime, an accident, or some other circumstance.
For some reason, this news has received very little press coverage in the United States. While the The New York Times, Washington Post, and various publications ran articles noting the latest bizarre twist, there has been little in the way of national interest in this story.
Why isn’t American media covering this development, which has all the trappings of a Soviet-era thriller? The obvious answer is that U.S. news coverage, already heavily geared toward domestic issues, has been consumed by the upcoming presidential elections, leaving little room for international news stories. But that does not excuse failing to cover a story like this, which represents a potentially enormous political bombshell.
As some investigative journalism might show, the Russian government may have had good reason to eliminate Lesin. Having served as Putin’s press secretary from 1999 to 2004, Lesin dominated the Russian media sector, and worked to bring much of the country’s independent press under state control. After leaving government, he moved to the media wing of Gazprom, Russia’s energy giant. According to reports, Lesin was pushed out of this position by Putin’s government after coming to blows with another Putin ally, businessman Yuri V. Kovalchuk, who was closer to and more valued by the Russian leader.
It might be a stretch to suggest that Lesin’s run in with Kovalchuk prompted Putin (or someone close to him) to have Lesin killed. Still, it is a theory that is not entirely without merit, and certainly one that would benefit from further exploration and coverage.
In the meantime, those following the story are offering up their own theories on social media. Many of these individuals have theorized about the government’s possible motives for murdering Lesin.
— sıradan insan:) (@siradan_fx) November 11, 2015
Putin's just diverting all state resources into finding out what really happened to Mikhail Lesin.
— Michael Weiss (@michaeldweiss) March 14, 2016
Putin doesn't leave witnesses:
— Michael MacKay (@mhmck) January 10, 2016
So Mikhail Lesin, a man who knew heaps of Kremlin secrets, died in DC after being hit on the head. Feels like a scene from House of Cards.
— Leonid Ragozin (@leonidragozin) March 10, 2016
I wonder what Mikhail Lesin was planning to write a book about, before he was found mysteriously dead in a Washington hotel room.
— X Soviet (@XSovietNews) February 21, 2016
— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) March 11, 2016
It is entirely possible that Lesin’s death has no connection to the Kremlin. At the same time, he may also be the latest casualty of an authoritarian regime notorious for its high-profile killings, including the murder of former Soviet spy Alexander Litvinenko. This possibility certainly merits more investigation and coverage from the American media than we have seen so far. Their failure to do so suggests an outsized focus on domestic issues that is more than a bit disappointing.