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:
Oh, come on. Like Putin didn’t see it coming?!? Everyone on Twitter knows that RT does not = endorsement. http://t.co/orvrrPHvf9
— Olivier Knox (@OKnox) March 5, 2014
I also liked this gibe from Matt Bors:
I’m not sure why that RT news anchor resigned. Backing wrongful invasions is usually a good career building move in cable media.
— Matt Bors (@MattBors) March 5, 2014