It’s not about whether you “agree” or “disagree” with the Russia Today broadcast; more importantly, the principle of fair play in media access and reach is crucial for the health and future of democracy.
In the age of globalization during the last quarter of the 20thcentury, the English language achieved global hegemony as the “lingua franca” for international communication. It is no small coincidence that during this same time, after the end of the Cold War, the US rose as the sole and dominant superpower with stated aims to achieve global hegemony. Just as English was the language of the British Empire, so English retained its imperial role when the US Empire succeeded that of the British. And as has been said of language, the power to control language is the power to control minds.
As a result, a number of countries realized that if they wanted to have a say in global affairs, they were going to have to be able to say it in English. In other words, unless they were happy with the embedded worldviews in the news narratives of CNN and the BBC and preferred no voice of their own, then they were going to have to create their own international broadcasts in English. Moreover, since the Internet revolutionized communications during this same time period, it became much easier to broadcast and thus imperative for countries to project their own perspectives on global affairs and engage in international discourse on issues that concerned them. Hence, at the end of the 20thcentury and particularly during the beginning of the 21stcentury, English news broadcasts sprang up from around the world to compete with established news organizations.
So, that’s the backdrop and context for the grand entrance of the state-sponsored broadcast station, Russia Today (RT), onto the global media arena in 2005. When Margarita Simonyan was appointed editor-in-chief (at the age of 25), she stated that RT would provide the same professionalism of mainstream international news channels but would “reflect Russia’s opinion of the world” and provide a “more balanced picture” of Russia. The late Danny Schechter, a renowned journalist who was on the staff of CNN at its launching, saw something similar at RT’s launching, describing it as another channel “of young people who are inexperienced, but very enthusiastic about what they are doing.”
However, almost immediately, Western pundits, officials, and MSM cried “foul,” as Cold War stereotypes of “communist propaganda” resurfaced. When RT began airing its counter-hegemonic narratives, challenging mainstream (particularly US) news coverage through Internet and satellite broadcasts, it quickly attracted millions of viewers throughout the world. It seemed that the more popular RT became, the more alarmed the US and the West became, accusing RT of being a “propaganda bullhorn” of Putin, spewing disinformation and lies.
So, is this true? Is RT merely Kremlin propaganda, spreading disinformation and lies, or is it a platform to present a more balanced picture of Russia, expressing the Russian perspective on global affairs? In my opinion, from extensive viewing of the news coverage and programs offered by RT, I would say that RT critics’ “propaganda” claim does not hold up to close scrutiny and is, in fact, propaganda itself; on the other hand, the alternate claim of offering a “balanced picture of Russia” and expressing the “Russian perspective,” though certainly closer to the truth than the “propaganda” claim, is not a truly accurate description of RT either. In other words, while the news coverage can be said to reflect the Russian perspective on global affairs, most of the hosts are not Russian; moreover, as for as providing insight into Russia and everything “Russian,” proportionally speaking, only a fraction of the programming or coverage revolves around Russia or Russian affairs.
So, now that I’ve told you what RT isn’t, I’ll explain what it is, the reason why I view and support it, and why I think the US establishment, including its corporate media, has been fiercely attacking RT and are out to shut it down. To put it plainly, RT is the #1 international broadcast that allows a platform for alternative narratives and dissenting views to be expressed. Just take a look at the hosts of the “shows” section of RT’s website, and you’ll understand what I mean. These are very independent-minded individuals, whose dissenting views are simply not allowed on MSM; in fact, some of them, like Larry King, Ed Schultz, and Thom Hartmann, held celebrity status on MSM and only joined the RT staff because they were free to air their views without censorship. Ed Schultz, for example, stated that, unlike the usual censorship tactics of MSNBC, RT never quizzed him in advance about his guests or the content of his show; instead, he says that the very reason he likes RT is because of its policy of absolute freedom of speech. Imagine that! Here we have Ed Schultz, a media refugee from MSM, stating that, unlike MSNBC, he’s allowed to say anything he wants to on RT, without any editorial oversight whatsoever.
This is quite phenomenal when you consider the outrageous charges of American politicians and the corporate media that RT is a mere “propaganda tool of the Kremlin,” and that those who work at RT are “useful idiots’ or “Putin’s puppets.” Really? Just take a look at the kind of individuals, most of them Americans or British, hosting their shows on RT. These are very independent, very smart people who refuse to be anyone’s “puppet”; in fact, the very reason they came to RT was because they didn’t want to be puppets of the corporate media. Do you really believe that people like Larry King, Ed Schultz, Thom Hartmann, Jesse Ventura, Chris Hedges, Lee Camp, and George Galloway are all stooges for Putin? Give me a break.
The fact that their portrayal of RT is a complete fabrication tells you who the real propagandists are, who truly are guilty of spreading disinformation and lies to the public. Yes, in spreading their malicious lies about RT, they reveal themselves, and if they are deceiving you about this, they are probably deceiving you about just about everything else too. Actually, MSM has been in the public deception business for quite some time; as long as it’s good for the ratings, it’s called “news.”
Take the RussiaGate conspiracy theory, for example, which has zero evidence to support it with. Is it “hacking,” “collusion,” or “trolls?” I forget which meme is current. Similar to the various justifications (one after the other, all of them lies) to support the Iraq War, as soon as one conspiracy is debunked, it is followed by another, in the blink of a media eye, without comment on the fraudulent nature of the prior allegation, as in Orwell’s novel, as if it didn’t exist. And the familiar villain, the usual suspect, the Russian whipping boy, comes to their rescue once again.
Several months ago I penned a piece in CounterPunch about the anti-Russia hysteria that’s been sweeping the nation, so I won’t rehash that. However, what I find telling is that a disproportionate amount of this hysteria is actually directed at Russia Today. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the FBI report in January of 2017, based on the investigation of supposed Russian interference into the 2016 election: roughly a quarter of it is about RT. When you think of it, that’s a large percentage devoted to a media outlet, especially when you consider that RT was never all that pro-Trump. As I mentioned, RT has a diverse blend of the hosts of featured programs, and they were anything but homogenous in their views on the presidential candidates. It’s true that Peter Lavelle, the host of CrossTalk, believed that Trump should be given a chance, and Larry King gave a favorable interview to Trump; on the other hand, a number of other hosts were highly suspicious and critical of Trump. Okay, well, I admit that there wasn’t a whole lot of support for Hillary Clinton on RT, it’s true, but when you compare lackluster support for Clinton on RT with the overwhelming support that she enjoyed on CNN, can you really justify the claim that RT “interfered” in the 2016 election and CNN didn’t? The FBI report is a joke, really, as a CNN producer described it in private – a “nothing burger.”
So, if it’s true that Putin made so much effort to interfere in the American elections to ensure that Trump would win, and if it’s true that RT is Putin’s propaganda arm, then why didn’t Putin do more to use RT to propagandize in favor of Trump? Are you telling me that the tepid support of Trump on RT was the best propaganda that Putin could come up with? As an ex-KGB officer, I’m sure he could do better than that. It’s the same kind of “nothing burger” sock pocket, failed hot dog sales people that Mueller indicted – the 13 Facebook trolls who failed to wake Sleeping Beauty but were indicted for trying.
Okay, I realize I’m getting into fantasy here, but that’s my point: its total fantasy that MSM has been spinning 24/7. Wake up, people, and smell the Rachel Maddow koolaid you’ve been drinking; these people are professional liars – it’s what they do for a living. When RT’s press credentials were withdrawn at the White House, when their algorithms were suppressed on Google, Twitter, and Facebook, when the Russian Consulate in San Francisco was raided at hardly a moment’s notice, and when RT was singled out and forced to register as a “foreign agent” with FARA – an unprecedented move against a single media outlet – where was CNN or MSNBC? Did they protest this blatant form of media censorship? Only when Russia retaliated with a tit-for-tat response did they even mention it. And this media silence, aside from reporting on the Russian response, was not only true in the case of MSM, but sadly enough, Democracy Now’s joined the media silence. Not a word was uttered in protest of this outrageous attack on the press freedom of RT. It bogs the mind to think that no one seemed to consider that this was not just an attack on RT but an attack on the freedom of press everywhere: to attack one is to attack all, especially when the justifications are based on “trumped up” allegations, which essentially boil down to: “We say Russia Today is a propaganda bullhorn of the Kremlin, and because we say it, you should believe us. After all, have we ever lied to you?” And then all the media bows down and assents to this madness. Forgive me if I’m not impressed with fairy tale logic.
To sum up, I support RT mostly because they are professionals and feature a line-up of fantastic programs and documentaries, which are informative and insightful. As far as I’m concerned, whether it serves Putin’s “agenda” (whatever that is) is beside the point. What matters is the authenticity of the journalism. Americans should be grateful for this source of alternative views that challenge homogenous and hegemonic “mainstream” narratives. While all media either have some interest to serve or ideology to peddle, the health of the media in general can only be measured by its diversity. So, it’s not about whether you “agree” or “disagree” with the Russia Today broadcast; more importantly, the principle of fair play in media access and reach is crucial for the health and future of democracy. That’s why I support Russia Today, and so should you.
 Though no longer at RT, Tom was the host of “The Big Picture” for at least a couple of years and left the broadcast on good terms.
Top Photo | Employees of the “Russia Today” television channel prepare for a visit b Russian President Vladimir Putin to Russia Today’s new headquarters in Moscow, Russia. (Yuri Kochetkov/via AP)