Russian President Vladimir Putin's op-ed piece printed in September in the New York Times is now perhaps the most famous example of a foreign leader connecting with citizens from another state. Putin used the same medium that once traditionally also held comics, sports scores, and crossword puzzles. In the first weeks of September, with world tensions rising over chemical weapons attacks in Syria and a potential U.S. intervention, Putin addressed the American public far more directly than he had in over a decade.
Social media caught fire. News agencies from around the world began analyzing and dissecting his opinion piece. Putin's diplomatic plea in the paper showed that the conventional, successful newspaper, despite ever-increasing influence of social media, still is a great tool for global discussion.
In early September, America was on a unilateral march towards military intervention in Syria. It was threatening to bring diplomatic tensions to a head with Russia, a staunch ally and weapons contractor to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. In a diplomatic climate reminiscent of the height of the Cold War, both sides sought to jockey themselves into the position of moral high ground.
Putin made the world take notice by appealing directly to a deeply divided American public that strikes in Syria could "throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance," and that unilateral action could be the dangerous result of America's "dangerous" perception of exceptionalism. He was quickly derided in reactionary press from American opinion-influencers. He was being painted as a vague threat in "his KGB colonel's uniform" by Newt Gingrich, to Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) declaration that the op-ed's disdainful tone made him "almost [want] to vomit."
Despite the attempts to stifle Putin's voice, his voice was heard. In making a coherent, point-by-point declaration to the American public via a prestigious American newspaper, Putin underlined "his" side of the argument, so to speak, to a citizenry that usually receives international news through a decidedly American filter. Not so surprisingly, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani copied this strategy a week after in a bid to present his case to thaw relations with Washington. There was even a sharp rebuke by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) penned on the Russian news site Pravda.ru, which was a quick gambit to offset the prestige Putin gained on the world stage by submitting his writing to one of the most traditionally historic Russian news organizations. The op-ed was ultimately printed in the English-Russian language news site.
The landscape of the media industry is changing by the day. There is a pervasive belief that the old model of influencers via newspapers is hopelessly outdated. The strategy behind Putin's appeal and subsequent reactionary maneuvers by world politicians paints a decidedly different picture. There is still political maneuvering and calculation to be had by playing the strings of traditionally powerful news outlets. All parties involved including the authors and the papers benefited. And, with the White House opening the door for talks on Iran's nuclear weapons program with Tehran, it seems that picking the right microphone for your voice still pays dividends. It just so happens that the most reputable microphones are still the best for the job.