On television and within the corridors of official Washington, Kremlinology is having a renaissance. But as questions swirl about the extent of President Trump’s relationship to Russia, it’s actually never been easier to take the pulse of Moscow. Americans have access to it on television and online 24 hours a day.
It seems innocuous enough: A small green square with “RT” in black letters. It looks cool, with a sort of edgy counter-culture mystique. It’s slogan — “Question More” — blares from the website’s masthead. Maybe you’ve even seen some articles linked around other sites you read or recognize some of the people on television.
That, of course, is the plan.
RT, however, is not cool. Far from some quirky left-wing media company, it is fully the mouthpiece of the Russian government. Formerly just Russia Today, its outlets and subsidiaries around the world regularly spew 21st century agitprop with the express aim of advancing Russia’s strategic interests.
Regular Mediaite readers, of course, need no reminder of the insidious role RT plays in the national discourse, but here’s a primer.
The channel portrayed the US electoral process as undemocratic and featured calls by US protesters for the public to rise up and “take this government back.”
In 2016, the report goes on:
Russia’s state-run propaganda machine—comprised of its domestic media apparatus, outlets targeting global audiences such as RT and Sputnik, and a network of quasi-government trolls—contributed to the influence campaign by serving as a platform for Kremlin messaging to Russian and international audiences.
In the global sphere, however, the situation is no better. From the Ukraine to Syria, the network’s coverage of international events affecting Russia is hopelessly biased. When Israel had a problem with RT’s coverage, their foreign minister took the matter up with Vladimir Putin. While domestic reporters in Russia know what happens to those who step out of line, RT’s foreign correspondents have a nettlesome tendency for very public crises of conscience
Yet despite the abundant and irrefutable evidence of RT’s ulterior motives, the channel endures like some fiendish creature from Tolkien’s Middle Earth. In the United States, you can follow the latest on RT America from their Twitter page (they are up to 370,000+ followers). There’s also Facebook, where the number of fans is now approaching one million. Alexa, which measures website traffic, puts RT within the top 300 online destinations globally, (though this number is a sharp increase over the last six months). Even in the United States, RT’s rank is roughly on par with sites like Salon and The Daily Caller.
Aside from taking gross advantage of western press freedoms — freedoms that journalists in Russia are literally dying for — RT’s success in the United States comes as the result of a long and stealthy campaign of normalization, especially among the anti-establishment left.
What does that normalization look like in this regard? It looks like Larry King, who after leaving CNN, ran headfirst into RT’s arms. Maybe you caught him on their 2016 election night coverage. Or ducking questions about Russia’s international conduct at the height of the Crimea crisis in 2014. “You may not like what Russia’s doing now, but I’m really a party removed,” he told The Daily Beast in an interview at the time. If you missed King, the network also features such aging forget-me-nots as former MSNBC anchor Ed Schultz and former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura.
It is no coincidence, either, that RT has also taken up the banner of the U.S. social justice left. Their critical reporting on issues like the Ferguson riots and the Dakota Access Pipeline has given the organization a certain amount of credibility among those who traffic in perennial protesting.
RT’s online content is often indistinguishable from Salon, Democracy Now!, the Young Turks, and other totems of leftist American media — and this is keenly by design.
Russia gave the world many wonderful things like Tchaikovsky and high-quality vodka. News, however, should not be one of their exports.