The "Stalin's Dacha" segment that ran on Fox.

There have been plenty of issues with Fox Sports’ World Cup coverage, and one that’s sparked some debate has been their long-announced avoidance of “Russian geopolitical stories.” Well, they’re apparently not avoiding all political topics. On FS1 Monday ahead of the Spain-Morocco match, Fox ran a segment from NatGeo (majority owned by Fox) showing off former Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s dacha (vacation house) in Sochi.

The segment starts with the cringe-inducing “Think what you will about Josef Stalin, but there’s no denying that this was one of the formidable figures in all of history. Today, we’re visiting Stalin’s dacha, his vacation home right here in Sochi.”

The segment doesn’t get much better from there, with further lines like “It ended up being his favorite place to get away from it all.”  Yeah, you have to get away from all those mass killings of millions, which, shockingly, receive zero mention here. But hey, at least we can see Stalin’s bulletproof couch (where he watched Charlie Chaplin movies, apparently) and his original pool cue. Oh, and “How do tourists perceive Stalin, as a great man in history or as a dictator?” is quite a question.

Honestly, the curator provides the most somewhat-negative comments about Stalin here, with “He was creating a rather great country, but his methods, they are arguable still today” and “whether he was a dictator or a good politician, you know, this is our history.” The reporter, Sergey Gordeev, ends this with “Stalin’s dacha is living history, and the thing about history is, good or bad, it makes us who we are.” And, sure, but presenting an incredibly problematic figure as just “he had a nice house,” without any discussion of why he was controversial or problematic, is quite a selective reflection of history.

As pointed out on Twitter, beyond his work for NatGeo, Gordeev works for the Gazprom (the Russian oil company majority owned by the state)-owned station NTV, so, yeah, he’s not exactly who you’d tab for a hard-hitting Stalin investigation. And the segment overall was absolutely roasted on Twitter:

There of course can be debates about all manner of historical figures, but Stalin is in a pretty rare class when it comes to deaths attributed to him. And discussing Stalin this way isn’t just about history, it’s about modern politics as well; emphasizing Stalin’s “strength” and glossing over his atrocities is something very in line with the current Kremlin’s goals, and Russian president Vladimir Putin told Oliver Stone last year that “excessive demonization of Stalin is one of the ways Russia’s enemies attack it.”

Running a segment like this is far from apolitical, and that’s a pretty interesting move for Fox, considering how careful they’ve been to avoid any sort of negative commentary on Russian politics. The criticism they took here is well deserved.

[Fox Sports]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.