Mr. Putin, Tear Down This Network

For as long as there have been Communists abroad there have been useful idiots here at home. In the ’30s we had Walter Duranty at the NY Times and today we have a 24/7 news network called RT.

Launched as Russia Today in 2005, RT is run out of Moscow with a studio in Washington DC and satellite offices around the world. It’s distribution is still primarily via the web and to a long list of hotels around the world, but it is making inroads to satellite and cable providers around the world by offering it’s product (including a Spanish language version) for free. So for instance, you can now get RT on Time Warner cable in NY or New Jersey. Here’s why this is a matter of concern.

From the outset it was clear that RT was a propaganda effort controlled completely by the Kremlin. The Kremlin put up more than $30 million to get it started and spend double that to pay a staff of over 100 reporters in just its first year of operation. When it launched in 2005, CBS interviewed former Russian Press Minister Mikhail Fedotov, who explained what RT was about:

The Kremlin’s inside advisors believe professional propaganda might form the splendid and shiny image of modern Russia, without Chechen war…without corruption.

RT attracted some negative attention in 2007 for running a weird ad campaign which attempted to humanize Stalin. But the propaganda arm really swung into action in 2008 when Russia invaded East Ossetia. (You may recall John McCain’s statment at the time “Today, we are all Georgians.”) After RT reporter William Dunbar mentioned on air the fact that Russia had bombed Georgia, the rest of his scheduled appearances that day were canceled. He resigned, telling the Guardian “The real news, the real facts of the matter, didn’t conform to what they were trying to report, and therefore, they wouldn’t let me report it.”

Given its history, I was a bit surprised to see RT doing a segment this weekend on U.S. media propaganda. This is what it looks like when the Kremilin gets into the Fox bashing business:

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What’s most striking perhaps is how similar all of this sounds to the complaints coming from Brave New Films or Michael Moore. Indeed, if President Obama is still looking for common ground with Russia, he might find some in this Kremlin-approved clip.

Incidentally, there’s one analyst who appears in that clip but is never named. The guy in the glasses and red shirt is cartoonist Ted Rall. You may recall that he recently published a book advocating the violent overthrow of the U.S. government. Which begs the question: How far left do you have to be that the Kremlin’s propaganda channel is embarrassed to name you in its reporting?

When it’s not doing media criticism, RT seems to spend most of its time attacking the US and capitalism. It’s sort of like having attractive presenters read excerpts from Bush-era Daily Kos. Here’s a sample of RT segments that aired in the last week:

The Cold War was fought between the US and USSR by proxy armies in places like Korea and Afghanistan. The next Cold War is being fought in the landscape of international cable and satellite networks between patriotic outlets like Fox and anti-U.S. media issuing from the Kremlin and elsewhere (Iran’s Press TV comes to mind). It’s still early in the process, but already I have a feeling that somewhere out there is another Ronald Reagan waiting for his moment to shove this latest offshoot of state socialism into the dustbin of media history.

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