by John Lawrence
Or Does It Shine a Light on Unflattering Aspects of US Political System?
RT television is broadcast on several satellite and cable networks including Dish, Comcast, Time Warner, Cox Cable and Verizon although it's not available on all those networks in all markets. It's available from Time Warner cable in San Diego and North County as well as Dish satellite. According to Wikipedia, "RT (formerly Russia Today) is a Russian international television network funded by the Russian government. It operates cable and satellite television channels directed to audiences outside of Russia, as well as providing Internet content in various languages, including English and Russian. ... RT International, based in Moscow, Russia, presents around-the-clock news bulletins, documentaries, talk shows, debates, sports news, and cultural programmes about Russia."
RT has been accused of being a propaganda outlet for Russia, but it's hard to swallow that accusation based on the fact that Larry King, Thom Hartmann, Ed Schultz, Chris Hedges, Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert, Americans all, are some of the major presenters on RT. Larry King, whose work has been recognized with awards including two Peabodys and 10 Cable ACE Awards, was formerly on CNN. From 1985 to 2010, he hosted the nightly interview television program Larry King Live.
In May 2013 RT America announced that King would be anchoring a new talk show on its network. King said in an advertisement on RT: "I would rather ask questions to people in positions of power, instead of speaking on their behalf." He also brought his Hulu show Larry King Now to RT. As for the accusation that RT helped Trump get elected, Larry King interviewed Trump himself. After introducing the then–GOP nominee as a “good friend,” King proceeded to push back against Trump on a number of issues, including his “secret plan” to defeat ISIS. King also has interviewed American icons like Regis Philbin recently on RT. They don't seem to have any hesitancy about appearing on a supposedly Russian propaganda channel.
Ed Schultz was formerly host of The Ed Show on MSNBC. On July 30, 2015, MSNBC President Phil Griffin announced that the series had been cancelled in an effort to transition the network's 3 to 6 PM programming to more breaking news reporting and less political commentary and opinion. The program aired its final episode on July 31, 2015 without Schultz being present. The real reason that MSNBC got rid of Ed Schultz, in my opinion, was that he was too radical, too supportive of workers and the union movement and too critical of US policy. On January 14, 2016, Schultz announced he would start hosting The News with Ed Schultz on RT America.
Schultz routinely ran segments that criticized Trump. “Who’s gonna stop Donald Trump!?” pleaded Schultz before a segment on how the GOP was worried about the reality-TV star’s unstoppable rise. Schultz also aired an interview with Bernie Sanders, who lambasted Trump’s bigotry and sexism and called Clinton “far and away the superior candidate”.
Despite all the Americans employed by RT, The American intelligence establishment continues to call RT Russian propaganda. The Christian Science Monitor stated: "According to the US intelligence community, this gated complex of buildings, housing the satellite channel RT's ultra-modern studios and bustling newsrooms, is ground zero for a sophisticated Kremlin-funded effort to subvert US and Western democracy." But is it?
US intelligence agencies have pointed toward the Russia Today television channel as part of an ongoing effort to prove the Kremlin conducted a pro-Trump “influence campaign” in the run-up to the presidential election.
The article was sub-titled "American journalists at RT have simply shined a light on unflattering aspects of the American political system."
An article in the Washington Post asserted: "If Russia Today is Moscow’s propaganda arm, it’s not very good at its job"
The ODNI Report Adds Fuel to the Fire
The long-awaited and recently declassified intelligence report into Russian influence in the election (Office of the Director of National Intelligence) claimed that Russia’s “state-run propaganda machine” contributed to this influence campaign by serving as a platform for Kremlin messaging to both Russian and international audiences. The report dedicated seven of its 25 pages to RT America.
But it’s not just intelligence agencies characterizing RT America as a vehicle for pro-Trump messaging. The accusation has become a common theme across traditional US media outlets as anti-Russia hawks and both liberal and conservative analysts seek to discredit anyone who strays from the accepted narrative on RT as a Kremlin stooge.
The problem with the claim that RT America is pro-Trump is that it is simply false. Many of the channel’s biggest names were either adamantly anti-Trump or highly skeptical of what a Trump presidency might mean for America.
Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and former Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times, who hosts the show On Contact, was consistently anti-Trump in his outlook. Hedges has called Trump “woefully unprepared” for the presidency and said his election could mean the creation of a “draconian police state.”
Stalwart liberal Thom Hartmann, who hosts The Big Picture, has aired programs with names like: “Dictator Trump Threatens Free Speech,” “Why Trump’s Cabinet Is a Basket of Deplorables,” “How Trump Could Bring on the Crash of 2016,” “Does Trump Mean the End of the Internet as We Know It?,” “Why Trump’s Win Is a Koch Coup Against Our Democracy” and “Is Donald Trump the Master of BS?”—to name a few.
Are all these guys Communist, excuse me, Russian dupes?
If RT’s critical reporting on the United States is factual—and not even the intelligence report is claiming that it isn’t—then it’s no different from any other channel with an editorial slant, albeit one with far less influence on the American public than mainstream US channels. The disparagement of RT as a Vladimir Putin–controlled engine for pro-Trump propaganda boils down to anger over the fact that the American journalists who work for RT have the audacity to shine a light on unflattering aspects of the American political system. After all even Russia is entitled to a point of view without it being considered some kind of nefarious plot.
Worlds Apart Most Intelligent Discussion Show on TV By Far
Most reputable news sources seem to agree that the US intelligence community's assessment of RT as a source of Russian propaganda is overblown. One of the best RT programs that features intellectual discussion in far more depth than any American TV show is Oksana Boyko's Worlds Apart. Although she is Russian and in many situations defends the Russian point of view, she doesn't hesitate to bring on western diplomats who take the other side. This is hardly what could be called propaganda.
Oksana Boyko, who hosts a polemical interview show twice weekly on RT, defends the channel's approach to news. "I believe that RT serves, to some extent, as a tool of the Russian government. That doesn't compromise me as a journalist or a moral human being. I don't regard Russian foreign policy as inherently immoral."
She argues that the West's tactic for fighting the "information war," as typified in the ODNI report, is to try to shut RT out of the conversation. "The point of their model is not to engage with us or grant us any legitimacy." She says she often invites US officials to come on her show, but they always refuse. "That's too bad, because my preference is to engage."
Ms. Boyko spent two years at the University of Kansas in the early 2000s on a US State Department grant aimed at developing democracy. She says it was money well spent. "I benefited a lot [from studying in the US] and think I'm still working to develop democracy. I love the United States, and I don't conflate the government with the people," she says.
Ms. Boyko engages political scholars and diplomats from all over the world (sans the US) in interesting discussions of real issues, a far cry from anything that can be found on other channels including the major news networks. The intellectual content of her show and others, like Chris Hedges', far surpasses the intellectual content of any shows on American TV. American media news shows have to be entertaining rather than factual in order to draw eyeballs, enhance ratings and attract advertisers who pay the bills. They are infotainment rather than in depth discussions of issues. As such they precipitate angry interchanges among talking heads to rev up the entertainment value of their "news."
It seems that the biased piece of reportage here is the ODNI report which is the declassified version of the intelligence community's assessment of the Russian influence on the US election. That report devoted 7 of its 25 pages to the role of RT in influencing the recent US Presidential election. The RT's head of communications, Anna Belkina, says she was amazed when RT was singled out and described at length as a major threat to America. ... "I have the impression that report was compiled by people who never bothered to watch RT for a single afternoon. Our actual programming bears no resemblance to the tropes presented there, or in the popular media," says Ms. Belkina.
No one disputes that RT is growing in popularity as a source of alternative news. It is even outpacing Al Jazeera, the BBC and Voice of America! Maybe that's why the US intelligence establishment is trying to shut it down. There's more intelligent discussion of issues facing the world today than can be found anywhere on US media including the major networks.
The New York Times commented regarding RT:
Afshin Rattansi, who hosts a talk show three times a week called “Going Underground,” came to RT in 2013 after working at the BBC, CNN, Bloomberg, Al Jazeera and Iran’s Press TV. “Unlike at the BBC and CNN, I was never told what to say at RT,” he said.
Is RT critical of the US point of view? You bet. And so are an ever increasing number of American citizens. In 2012 RT was nominated for its coverage of Occupy Wall Street for an International Emmy, the most prestigious award in television, in the News category. RT became one of the first TV networks to provide an in-depth coverage of the Occupy protests from their inception. As an open society that values free speech, the US should just deal with other points of view even when they come from another part of the world like Russia.
And by the way ...
Russia's Total Military Budget Is Less Than Trump's Increase
Russia cut its defense budget by 25% from $65 billion to $48 billion according to Janes: "Figures released by the Russian Federal Treasury have confirmed that Russia's defense budget has been cut by 25.5% for 2017, falling from RUB 3.8 trillion (USD 65.4 billion) to RUB 2.8 trillion. The reduction represents the largest cut to military expenditure in the country since the early 1990s." Meanwhile, Trump increased the US military budget by $54 billion to $639 billion, an increase that's more than the entire Russian defense budget. Are we winning the Cold War all over again? Who's the aggressor here? I guess it's not the US as long as you believe that the lie by George W Bush that launched the Iraq war and all the money spent on regime change by Obama, both of which precipitated the largest refugee crisis in human history, were justified and well worth it.
America needs an enemy, a BIG enemy, in order to justify its ungodly, ginormous defense budget. And Russia fills the bill for that ... again. Without enemies, big and small, in the world the US economy which is predicated on military expenditures would collapse. A renewed Cold War is just the thing to keep the American military machine going. Instead of engaging with Russia to fight terrorism, US policy makers are intent on demonizing Russia. It's deja vu all over again as Yogi Berra would say.