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RT ≠ Endorsement

On air, Liz Wahl quits Russia’s English-language propaganda network.

She’s been getting a bit of snark from Twitter over her belated realization that maybe RT is a less than rigorously objective news source. Yet I’m more exasperated by RT’s viewers than by hosts who are, after all, only making a living, however dubiously, by reading from the Kremlin’s script.* In particular, how can certain libertarians or government-skeptical leftists think that as long as the spin is coming from a government other than America’s it must actually be the truth?

Unfortunately, the answer is all too plain: if you think that the U.S. federal government is the source of all evil in your life, your country, and the world, then it stands to reason—almost—that whatever contradicts Washington is on the side of truth. Moscow and Beijing therefore become beacons of light. The ideologues who fall prey to this don’t necessarily hate America—there’s a distinction between the country and its government, after all—and they don’t think of themselves as pro-authoritarian or, in the case of the Middle East, pro-dictator. But they do think, ultimately, that foreign authoritarians and dictators are really more liberal than the liberal-but-really-authoritarian United States. It’s a sour love affair: the U.S. fails to live up to liberal ideals, or even to come close, so regimes that have no intention of abiding by them must be no worse, or indeed a great deal better.


The number of such misguided people is pretty small, but they play a very useful role for the likes of Bill Kristol and other hawks, who can then point to these few loons, like the scattered nutcases with 9/11 Truther placards at a Ron Paul rally, to demonize everyone who’s against American military misadventures. The RT libertarians/leftists then turn around and tell those whose ranks they’ve infected, “See? You get attacked as ‘unpatriotic conservatives’ even if you don’t make the case that Saddam Hussein is just a misunderstood humanitarian!” Neocons are fond of talking about how the extreme left and right intersect, but it’s the Kristols and RTers who really depend on one another. Each justifies the other’s crackpot arguments, at least in a world in which ideology counts for more than hard reality.

The reality, for the Ukrainians and for Russia, is complex and grim. For Americans—neocons and RTers alike—it’s quite simple: we face so few direct threats to our security and public order that we can afford to indulge in fantasies about how oppressed or endangered we are, and those fantasies lead to profound misunderstandings of places like Russia and Ukraine that have to deal with “history” in a sense that is altogether foreign to us. RT doesn’t create our fantasies, of course. It just takes easy advantage of our fantasists.

*I’ve been on RT, and China’s equivalent (and seemingly better funded) network, and there weren’t any scripts involved. But that’s to say these are “authoritarian” networks, not “totalitarian” ones. That Wahl’s feed was live is further proof of that. I’m perfectly willing to talk to such state broadcasters—but not to listen to them without my bullshit filters on.

p.s. Credit for the title goes to Olivier Knox, who was the first I saw to use the pun on Twitter:

I also liked this gibe from Matt Bors:

27 Comments (Open | Close)

27 Comments To "RT ≠ Endorsement"

#1 Comment By Brandon On March 5, 2014 @ 9:45 pm

Oh man, Liz Wahl is so hot.

#2 Comment By tomfinn On March 5, 2014 @ 11:04 pm

Well, now after Ms. Wahl has spat in the face of the network that made her, let’s see where she next works. There’s CNN, CNBC, FoxNews, the (state-owned) BBC, and many other worthy news agencies with untarnished reputation, which have never engaged in low propaganda, and have never cheered “military interventions.”

Perhaps Ms. Wahl will also care to explain exactly how she expected an overtly Russian institution to fail to support the exceedingly popular current Russian regime; how exactly pro-Russian media is supposed to respond to the insane bashing coming from the Western “fifth estate”; and also how much she was paid for her services.

Because Ms. Wahl’s behavior illustrates why the word “presstitute” is becoming a part of the English language.

By the way, if the major US networks happen to have hired an anchor who is a Russian citizen and patriot whose father defended his nation’s flag in Chechnya or in Afghanistan, please post that anchor’s name.

#3 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 6, 2014 @ 12:14 am


I lean in the direction that we fostered the issues by encouraging some form of naive revolution.

That there seems to have been a rush or perish mentality among the protesters’ leadership that from the outside didn’t make sense. And that is where I start and end.

I am not going to be coo’d by accusations of Russian being on the wrong side. This is not our conflict but we bear some guilt as does the EU.

If your opponent grants your wishes and the Ukrainian Pres. Apparently did that and more. And you are confident in your cause why engage in violent revolution which by your claims would be an easy win by election?

And making claims about Pres. Putin’s ability to predict events and hold that to account is unreasonable as it is unknowable if that is true.

I have no illusions about government rhetoric, nor do I have any doubts the rhetoric by all is serving their own ends.

I think it is more obvious that we should have known that given the nature of the national make-up, we were only hearing from one side – the most vocal.

The cards have been played. Nothing to do but wait out the hand.

#4 Comment By Jack Ross On March 6, 2014 @ 12:52 am

When I first heard about this I suspected that she was just grabbing away out from exhaustion with all of the RT bull. They’re a bad joke, and the sad part is they could be much more effective if they gave a damn, instead of just doing constant improv games with crazies from Workers World Party and trutherdom.

As usual you have a brilliantly nuanced insights into the larger issue, and I especially appreciate you pointing out why the RT-sphere and the neocons need each other – Michael Tomasky had a brilliant piece on the perverse dynamic at Daily Beast that was unfortunately weighed down by some rather out there liberal hawkishness (why he’s decided to be the last of the Mohicans is puzzling).

All that said, I do think its true that the trend since the fall of Communism is toward an equilibrium of standards and norms between the historic democratic west and the seriously flawed democracies of Latin America, the former Soviet Union, etc.

That’s not to say that some regimes don’t employ cruder propaganda and methods than others, nor that there aren’t still very good reasons to prefer America to a lot of other places. But the very underappreciated fact is that one of the gravest casualties of the end of the Cold War has proven to be the basic standards of civil liberty and a free society by which America distinguished itself from Communism, with the materialism and libertinism associated with the American way of life a vastly more important distinguisher against “Islamofascism”.

#5 Comment By Fran Macadam On March 6, 2014 @ 1:42 am

There was a time when an Ed Murrow or Walter Cronkite inspired public trust. What we have now in America is a degenerated courtier journalism that behaves more like status-conscious hangers-on seeking the favor of the powerful to be allowed access in pursuit of careerism. Instead of speaking truth to power, they too often tell lies for it to the powerless.

We the people have been lied into ruinous wars, with propaganda manufactured in the service of elites who profited from them while collapsing Main Street’s economy. The bailouts of the guilty haven’t just been of Wall Street banksters, but of inflated pundit egos who told lies too big to fail about wars that failed bigtime. The usual suspects, rehabilitated without repentance, are pressed again into service to lie us into more of them, this time several wars at once, an embarrassment of potential riches. Perhaps corporate war marketeers want us to believe we can “bundle and save.”

Focusing on the failings of the Pravdas and Izvestias out there who can’t help clocking up accuracy twice a day, given the low estate of our own Fourth Estate, isn’t all that useful. They’ve even published Senator John McCain; do we really need RT to know what is obvious about him?

What’s really important to our own journalistic and consequent democratic health is what goes around here has come around with really bad results. The nation that used to have a First Amendment has fallen a dozen points to 46th in a ranking of world press freedoms. Those who now occupy the very rooms where Tom Jefferson expounded the essential role of a free press in ensuring freedom, call journalists co-conspirators, collaborators, accomplices, criminals, agents and even porno-spies – and plot new laws to retroactively classify public information and jail those who print it. Whistleblowers and news sources who reveal government wrongdoing are prosecuted and jailed under vicious Palmer Raid era espionage legislation against leaks. Meanwhile government officials who wiretap press offices offer up their own limited leaks of secret material that purports to make them look good to their own pet media mouthpieces. In this climate, it’s hardly brave to point out the obvious failings of RT as if that is an antidote to the execrable condition of the only watchdog of democracy we Americans can ever have – a healthy, skeptical, investigative adversary journalism in the public interest – which is not the same as one in the government’s interest.

That some people are driven to watch RT because of our own media’s gross failure to be properly adversarial, speaks volumes more about the fallen state of our own American journalism and our decrepit democracy’s faithfulness to the Constitution, than it does about their supposed disloyalty.

#6 Comment By Brainstorms On March 6, 2014 @ 4:31 am

You used 380 words to rant, call names, and strut your stuff. 93 words to state the problem.

Of course reporting on something does not imply an endorsement. It’s a basic truth but everyone seems to forget it when it comes to tearing people apart. By all means, break whatever you want, just make sure you have a better plan in mind.

#7 Comment By SteveM On March 6, 2014 @ 6:52 am

I can understand why Liz Wahl quit. But at least RT is up front about where it gets its money. While the U.S. media market is comprised of ideological ghettos that are just as pathetically tendentious with a thin veneer of phony objectivity. Lapdogs for Obama or the Republicans.

I’d like to see some of those anchors and editors stand up and quit in disgust after reporting one propaganda piece after another.

There are some journalists with integrity like Glenn Greenwald and Tim Carney. But not enough. Most of the Media Elite are pimps and stooges for the Power Elites whose water their carry, or outright idiots like Tom Friedman and a host of other nitwits masquerading as pseudo-intellectuals.

Yeah, RT is biased and the American media is what?

#8 Comment By Aaron Gross On March 6, 2014 @ 7:22 am

Nice post. Kind of depressing, though. Basically, it’s an appeal to stupid people (tinfoil-hat RT fans) to stop being so stupid so that other stupid people (Kristol, et al.) won’t be able to point out their stupid behavior and use it to persuade still other stupid people (those watching Kristol on FoxNews) that it’s the anti-interventionist side that’s stupid.

I understand that all this is necessary – persuading stupid people is what democracy is all about – but it’s still kind of depressing. Putin’s lucky he doesn’t have this kind of problem.

#9 Comment By Beyond On March 6, 2014 @ 7:38 am

Yet I’m more exasperated by RT’s viewers than by hosts

Are you saying that because people watch RT, they must agree with the views presented?

#10 Comment By Johnny F. Ive On March 6, 2014 @ 8:12 am

My beef with Liz Wahl is that she ran to Jamie Kirchick to tell her story. She gives an exclusive to that weasel? Could she have found a more repugnant character to share her legitimate concerns with? I am glad RT allowed Americans who are critical of American foreign policy to have a platform to discuss their views. However, I always knew RT was working for Russian objectives. I watched them fawn over Putin as he took jabs at America’s history. What we need is an American news station that allows for dissenting views.

#11 Comment By Izzy On March 6, 2014 @ 10:06 am

“China’s equivalent (and seemingly better funded) network”

First I have heard of this network – what’s it called?

#12 Comment By Johann On March 6, 2014 @ 10:10 am

RT America is mostly blatant propaganda. Central China TV on the other hand has some very good world wide news reporting as long as it has nothing to do with China or China’s interests. If it does have something to do with China, well, its eye-rolling time. But if not CCTV is a great alternative news source that covers more of the world than our domestic naval gazing media.

#13 Comment By Fran Macadam On March 6, 2014 @ 1:11 pm

“I understand that all this is necessary – persuading stupid people is what democracy is all about”

Seldom have I heard such contempt for democracy openly stated like that.

The level of the lies shows they hope we are stupid, the enforced secrecy keeping us in the dark about what they do behind our backs, shows they’re not so sure.

The unintended consequences of their policy actions shows that the stupidity of those lying to the people is all the greater than those they are afraid wouldn’t do what they want without being lied to.

#14 Comment By Traveler On March 6, 2014 @ 2:19 pm

“What we have now in America is a degenerated courtier journalism that behaves more like status-conscious hangers-on seeking the favor of the powerful to be allowed access in pursuit of careerism. Instead of speaking truth to power, they too often tell lies for it to the powerless.”
Fran has exceeded even my own high expectations of her posts. At least TAC tries.

#15 Comment By Sergey On March 6, 2014 @ 2:45 pm

I’ll just leave this here. These people have seized power in Ukraine

#16 Comment By Leo H On March 7, 2014 @ 5:31 am

What a petty article.Calling out your readers to ignore an alternative source and you write for the American Conservative ? You misjudge and insult your readers. And, sorry small-timer, you’re just not that important or interesting…bye,bye.

#17 Comment By Jeff Martin On March 7, 2014 @ 11:08 am

The most insidious form of propaganda is that which appears to be a veritable mirror of nature, reason, or history; almost as insidious are those forms which dissemble inequalities of power, corruption, manipulation, and hypocrisy beneath the formalities of law and ethics.

#18 Comment By Peter Hardy On March 7, 2014 @ 12:49 pm

What nonsense! Us left wingers who follow things on RT don’t for a minute think that everything on that station is true!!

#19 Comment By Thomas Sm On March 7, 2014 @ 8:58 pm

A somewhat arrogantly written post. I know hardly anyone who thinks there is no slant on RT or that everything on RT is true.

Remember, RT is like Radio Free Europe. It serves two purposes:

(1) Propagate the foreign policy line of the host country. Usually, it is obvious that this sort of coverage is propaganda.
(2) Display some cultural and informational programming about the host country to create a better image of it. Cover domestic news from the host country. This can be propagandistic or very balanced or even critical. I’d say RT’s domestic Russian coverage is balanced to critical.
(3) Invite political dissidents and whistleblowers from the target country on to the show. What they say may range from ridiculous conspiracy theory to accurate and important imformation that the MSM won’t cover. In either case, it can reduce trust in the government of the host country. The format in these cases can be very neutral – new programme hosts need not directly endorse the information being presented, the fact that it is presented at all is good enough.

The range of dissidents is very broad. In the US, it is socialists, libertarians, and right-wing nationalists. In Russia, it is liberals, anti-immigraiton activists, anti-corruption activists, certain ultranationalists, and certain far-leftists.

#20 Comment By Robert Charron On March 15, 2014 @ 9:11 pm

Paul Craig Roberts has advised people to watch RT. Someone recently remarked that he was grateful to be in a country where the government did not control the reds like it does in North Korea. My reaction was that the North Koreans have an advantage over Americans in that they know the news they get is what the government of North Korea want them to hear, whereas most Americans naively believe they are getting the objective news from our news agencies. Remember how the American Press went bananas over Colin Powell speech to the U.N. and said it proved our case for invading Iraq? When John Kerry said that this was the twentieth century and in this century one did not invade another country on phony pretexts to assert their will. Now this was precisely what the U.S. did a few years ago in Iraq, but no one from mthe major media ever saw fit to make this observation. Now more than 50% of Americans feel Obama is right to insist that the Ukraine revolution was legal and to take measures against Russia. Remember around 70% of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks on the world trade center just before we invaded Iraq. Now this allegation was wrong, there was no good reason to even claim this. Now how did the American people get that idea from a free press that gave them the truth? I am well aware that all our presidents from FDR down lied to the public, our Army has lied, Bush and Cheney told all kinds of lies, and Obama is the smoother liar yet. But our news media, while they may make a sideshow of fact checking statements during elections have never challenged the whoppers. At 83 I am very disillusioned at the honesty displayed by our government officials. It keeps getting worse. RT tends to favor the Russian point of view but they can tell the truth abouty us

#21 Comment By R. J. Stove On March 20, 2014 @ 4:52 pm

A fine and judicious analysis by Daniel McCarthy of a subject that in lesser hands usually generates much more heat than light.

#22 Comment By Gregory Nearing On March 22, 2014 @ 11:33 pm

Great Article Daniel McCarthy. I really enjoyed your crackdown you laid on the both sides of this debate. I really made my night. I hope more thoughtful articles just like this one.

#23 Comment By Scott Locklin On March 26, 2014 @ 11:16 pm

The differences between RT and CNN:
1) CNN doesn’t tell you it’s giving you US ruling class opinions. RT does tell you it’s giving you Russian ruling class opinions.
2) RT is actually more accurate and objective when it reports on America than CNN is when it reports on Russia.

#24 Comment By Gazza On May 17, 2014 @ 8:49 pm

The USA doesn’t have a press corp, it has a legion of corporate-funded government stenographers with press badges…

RT is hardly perfect and they (as expected) present a view that is in line with Russian thinking and policy, but whatever their faults, they display nothing like the mendacity, deceit, bias, hypocrisy and outright sycophancy that is practiced by Western corporate media.

#25 Comment By Northernsoul On May 19, 2014 @ 6:50 pm

I rather like them (as a european), naturally it’s a russian view on the world. I just ignore the commie worshipping and some things like that.

#26 Comment By Jonathan Revusky On May 27, 2014 @ 7:50 pm

Here is my take on it. The Russian government created Russia Today largely to disseminate anti-American propaganda. However, when it came time to make up anti-American propaganda, they discovered that they couldn’t make up anything that was actually worse than what was actually going on.

Since simply reporting truthfully already cast such a negative light on the U.S., that is what they chose to do. And that is why RT actually is the best source of information about U.S. politics and its foreign and domestic policies.

#27 Comment By Nicolas On June 25, 2014 @ 10:42 pm

Lew Rockwell, the widely surmised author of Ron Paul’s racist newsletters, is a glistening example of an RT tool. He brings the Mises Institute into disrepute.