Evan Gershkovich ’14, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal based in Moscow, was detained by Russian authorities on espionage charges yesterday. He is believed to be the first American journalist to be arrested on espionage charges since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Gershkovich has been a highly dedicated member of the College community, both as a student and alumnus. He launched his journalistic career as an undergraduate, writing extensively for the Bowdoin Orient and serving as an editor at the Bowdoin Review (formerly the Globalist). In the years following his graduation, he has guided numerous students in their professional pursuits.
While the specific nature of the charges against Gershkovich is unknown, The Wall Street Journal strongly contests the accusations made by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). This contestation is reflected in an official statement from The Wall Street Journal obtained by the Orient.
“The Wall Street Journal vehemently denies the allegations from the FSB and seeks the immediate release of our trusted and dedicated reporter, Evan Gershkovich,” the statement reads. “We stand in solidarity with Evan and his family.”
The news of Gershkovich’s detention has deeply affected the campus community. President Clayton Rose addressed the situation in an email to students and employees yesterday, asserting the College’s support for Gershkovich.
“A free press is essential to a free society and is embedded in the core values of our college,” Rose wrote. “Evan, along with so many other Bowdoin graduates, has dedicated himself to advancing this principle and making it real.”
Professor of Government and Acting Chair of Russian Department Laura Henry sees Gershkovich’s detainment as fitting into a larger narrative of the deterioration of the Russian free press. Since 2019, the Kremlin has been steadily mounting legislative efforts to reinforce its censorship power, capped by the passage of a malleable ‘fake news’ law in 2022.
“I think the laws on spreading false information and discrediting the Russian military have created a context in which it’s very difficult to even do basic reporting,” Henry said. “So I think this really signals that it’s going to be very hard to do journalism of any sort in Russia. And that’s a shame, because we’re not getting a lot of information about developments in Russia as it is, and this will probably just further limit the flow of information.”
Former acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton ’85 noted that the implications of Gershkovich’s arrest stretch beyond Russia’s domestic media climate, stymying future reporting on the region by international outlets.
“Media freedom is not really anything that we can say is alive and well in the Russia of today, but now we see that recording from foreign outlets is also no longer going to be permitted,” Thornton said.
Gershkovich’s arrest—and the precedent it sets—has sparked unease among journalists everywhere. For journalist Andy Serwer ’81 P’16 P’20, what happened to Gershkovich is not novel but a continuation of an international trend that his industry has been observing for decades.
“The climate for journalists has deteriorated, and it’s deteriorated along with the rise of nationalism over the past decade or so,” Serwer said. “It’s become a much more fraught environment in many, many countries now.”
Serwer is an Editor at Large at Barron’s, a sister publication of The Wall Street Journal under the Dow Jones company. His professional proximity to Gershkovich’s detention—and that of his colleagues—means that the crisis hits close to home.
“It’s a time when the people here at the company … feel helpless,” Serwer said. “We want to know what we can do and just [support] each other.”
Nora Biette-Timmons ’14, a current deputy editor at Jezebel and longtime friend of Gershkovich, shares Serwer’s anxieties.
“I feel very scared,” Biette-Timmons said. “I don’t want to say it’s because I’m a journalist, because I think anyone who’s been following the news—even passively—understands how serious this is.”
Those who knew Gershkovich as an undergraduate continually admire his aptitude, thoughtfulness and dedication to his craft.
“He was one of those freakishly curious and talented writers that could write about political things [and] arts,” writer Erica Berry ’14 said. “He carved this path for himself, and this is just, obviously, such a terrifying turn…. He’s such a talented reporter, and he’s been caught in this thing that is so much larger.”
Above all, Gershkovich’s loved ones are hopeful that he can secure legal representation and make a safe return. Journalist and Eastern European policy expert Linda Kinstler ’13, who maintains that the charges against him are unfounded, is involved in the collective effort to secure his release.
“He’s an incredible friend. He’s an incredible journalist. He’s an incredible writer. He was incredibly dedicated to his friends, both here in the United States, and in Russia, and in the surrounding region where he works,” Kinstler said. “I just would like him to come home.”