I’m back, sort of

What’s a vacation if you don’t get seriously ill during the last couple days? Luckily I’ve nearly fully recovered from what appears to have been a bad case of the flu and not ricin poisoning, but as I am busy taking care of business this week I have to hold off on a couple big posts I’ve got planned.

In the mean time, I highly recommend this article. Ragozin and I have had our differences at times, but this one really offers some insight into the early history of the Russian Federation and how things went wrong. Well worth the time to read.

OH SHI-

I can’t remember if I ever posted about it here, but early on in the Trump race, even before he managed to cinch the nomination, I predicted that his most fanatical fanboys will not give up on their mad crusade just because their candidate loses. First of all, there would be the back-stab legends, the contrived conspiracy theories to explain, mostly to themselves, why their candidate lost. In fact, last week the Trump campaign and some of its supporters have already started peddling their basic theory that the election will be “rigged.” This will not be the last time you hear that, I guarantee it.

As it turns out, I’m not alone in my concern over the potential reactions of the Trump mob. This article from Foreign Policy lays out the danger pretty accurately, judging by the past reactions to Obama’s election and the general trajectory of American political discourse. But there’s something in it even more disturbing. Check out this excerpt:

“What will Trump himself do now that he is no longer a candidate? Media insiders are predicting the rise of “Trump News,” a media empire that will cater to, as one insider said, “a base of the population that hasn’t had a voice in a long time.” If the media organization mirrors Trump’s campaign, that base will include Klansmen, militia members, and everyday racists, and will likely circulate conspiracy theories and lies, further muddling reporting in a decimated media economy.”

Forget RT. Forget Sputnik. Hell, forget Fox News. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a threat to American society. Nobody really pays attention to the former two, and as bad as the latter is, even they have some limits as to who they’ll put on. A Trump news network is likely to be a complete circus, a cornucopia of the worst ideas. This threatens to do to America what Russia’s insane media did to this populace.

While it looks like Trump’s chances in November are pretty poor, and he’s got plenty of time to alienate even more potential supporters, I wouldn’t be breathing a huge sigh of relief should he go down in flames on election day. A more difficult struggle will no doubt ensue thereafter. I sure hope the left gets its act together and reconstitutes itself into a real political force very soon.

 

At the Mountains of Madness

Between the Trump campaign and Russia’s “information war” I have begun to feel like I’m stumbling around blindly in a torpor, trying to understand the grave phenomenon that seems to be unfolding before our eyes. As a history buff I’m always cautious about doom-saying and lamenting the supposed “decay” of civilization. I’m fully aware that every age had its prophets of doom who warned that their current younger generation would surely be the last, just as I am aware that on the whole, humans live longer, better, more satisfying lives than in any other period of history. On the other hand, unlike the overly-optimistic liberal establishment I am not so naive as to think that progress is an uninterrupted, irreversible process. Or to put it in layman’s terms: Yes, we can totally fuck everything up.

What phenomenon am I speaking of? Well Peter Pomerantsev calls it “post-fact.” Rather appropriate term, I think. I’ve noticed a growing trend whereby a person is presented with irrefutable evidence that something did or didn’t happen, and yet this makes literally no impact on their beliefs or behavior. Now in case this sounds normal, let me tell you now that it isn’t. There definitely seems to have been a change, a growing trend.

Take politicians’ lies, for example. It seems like in the not-too-distant past, most political lying was what they call spin, or being “economical with the truth.” This would seem logical in an era of the internet and ubiquitous recording, because if you tell an outright falsehood someone would easily catch you. Observing the Bush administration and Fox News’ antics at the time, it seemed like the trend was getting away from factual arguments and into opinion and things which couldn’t easily be disputed or verified. For example, maybe Saddam didn’t actually have WMDs, but how could you be sure he wouldn’t get them eventually? Realistically speaking that claim is highly unlikely, but virtually impossible to disprove. And as you’re trying to make the case against that unlikely hypothetical scenario, your opponent would have moved onto some other topic, such as Saddam’s use of chemical weapons against Kurds.

To be sure, this is not ideal. It was downright annoying, to say the least. But now something’s different. It’s evolved. See the politician-style rhetoric starts with a conscious realization that objective truth exists, but it might not be on your side. Therefore what you do is grease yourself down and be as slippery as possible. You know that if you get pinned down, you’ll end up saying something that is verifiable, and if someone checks you’ll be found out. This new lying isn’t even lying, insofar as those telling the lies appear to sincerely believe in them. These untruths are stated confidently, in strong declarative sentences as though they were self-evident facts. It matters not how blatantly they are contradicted by material reality. It doesn’t matter if this person is opining on a topic they’ve never even heard of until recently. Once they find the talking point that fits in with their world view, it is “fact.”

It seems I cannot stress enough how insane this is. Imagine we’re co-workers and you catch me eating your lunch in the company break room. Next to me is the paper bag you put it in. It has your name written on it, on both sides, with big black letters. You point out that it’s yours and I, still chewing part of your pretentious gourmet artisanal sandwich, confidently tell you that you are mistaken. Not only do I insist it is mine, but I begin bringing up all kinds of other topics that have nothing to do with the ownership of the food in question. “Someone once ate my lunch from the fridge! Why don’t you talk about them? Some co-workers have shared food with me in the past!” Some of these things could be facts, but they have absolutely nothing to do with the bottom line, which is that I stole your goddamned lunch. My basic line stays the same: “No, it’s not yours. It’s mine. It was always mine. Your name is not Bill. I am Bill. You are Jim.”

Or suppose we change the scenario a bit. You’re upset because you heard your significant other was making out with another co-worker at a party. I tell you that this is physically impossible, because I was at the party from beginning to end and saw neither your significant other nor the person they were supposedly flirting with. In fact, that particular person was on vacation in another country at the time. I can’t speak for the fidelity of your partner, but it is literally impossible that they did what you think. This never happened. Now one would think that, assuming you had no other reasons to suspect such behavior from your partner, at the very least you would probably rethink the dramatic confrontation you had planned for later that night. If anything, you might want to confront the person who told you that yarn in the first place. Put simply- you would modify your behavior according to the facts you have received.

If you’re a Trump supporter, Putin fanboy, conspiracy theorist, or quite possibly all three, maybe you wouldn’t. At least you wouldn’t if you applied the same approach to reality you use online and in political matters to your everyday life. I wonder how such people would react if someone sold them an obviously broken product and claimed it was functioning perfectly. I wonder because again and again I see people like this confronted with concrete facts, sometimes provided by myself, and it has no effect on them whatsoever. They just double down until you basically have to block them because they begin to look as though they’re trying to convince themselves more than anyone else. I guess it takes effort to maintain the fantasy. As one writer put it: They don’t believe in these things because they’re stupid, they become stupid because they believe in these things.

Again, someone might say, with a fair bit of evidence, that this kind of thinking has always been around. That may be the case, but I think that there might be a qualitative difference simply because we live in the information age of the internet and mass media. As others have pointed out in regards to the internet, it creates the ability to construct one’s own echo chamber. Over the years I’ve also personally witnessed another strange phenomenon, whereby people seem to be playing a sort of real-life role playing game in internet discussions. Rather than debating with other people like themselves, they apparently see their opponents as representatives of their chosen enemy. Neo-Nazis will accuse you of being a Jew. 9/11 truthers accuse you of being a government shill. Anti-GMO people say you work for Monsanto or “Big Pharma.” Kremlin supporters say you work for the CIA or State Department, and Ukrainian nationalists and cheerleaders accuse you of being a “Kremlin troll.” Nobody can simply disagree with them. Nobody could possibly have more access to the facts or expertise on the topic than them. So the only explanation must be that they are some kind of evil agent, deliberately spreading disinformation on the internet.

That, I think, is the factor that wasn’t present in past societies. Sure, there were plenty of political parties that demonized their enemies and may have offered their members some kind of adventure to spice up their dull lives, but these movements existed in the real world. You had to join them, interact with their members, learn their ideology, and engage in activism. If you were trying to recruit someone on the street and they said they weren’t quite sure about some of your claims, you couldn’t just point your finger at them and start screaming “SHILL!” The internet makes this all too possible.

In the same vein, if you joined one of these organizations in the past, you usually had to face the consequences of your actions and statements. If you engaged in long rambling speeches about things that never happened you’d be dismissed as a crank and become a public laughing stock. Or if you engaged in a public debate with someone far more knowledgeable and experienced on the topic at hand, you would be easily embarrassed. As soon as you get stumped on a few basic questions the audience would see through you, and you’d know it too.

None of this is the case online. Online you’re a revolutionary fighting for Western civilization against the “Cultural Marxist social justice warriors.” You’re an “anti-imperialist” waging war on American hegemony and globalization. You’re standing up to Putin’s “neo-Soviet Union” and his legion of “trolls,” i.e. anyone who disagrees with your claims or fails to present information that falls in line with the fantasy narrative you’ve created. It’s so much more exciting than reality!

Recently I’ve taken up reading Matt Taibbi’s book The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, and Religion, and I can’t recommend it enough from what I’ve read so far. In the introduction, Taibbi speaks of millions of Americans so befuddled and burnt out by politics that they seem to check out of reality altogether and construct their own alternative realities. Against this backdrop he documents the corruption and cynicism within the US government, and while those who have checked out of politics see themselves as some kind of “resistance” to the system, in actuality their abdication of their civic responsibility means the system has even more freedom to be as corrupt as it can. As you read his words you think about how accurately this describes 2016, and then you have to remind yourself that this book was published in 2008. In other words, we’ve exceeded the level of insanity we describe.

I wish I could offer some kind of solution here, but my usual recommendations probably wouldn’t even cut it if they were implemented. What’s the use of teaching people critical thinking skills  when they’ve long since graduated school and quite possibly suspect that the very concept of critical thinking is some kind of Marxist mind-control plot? Who would the teachers be? Who’s to say they won’t claim the teachers are shills for Monsanto or the US government? What about fact-checking projects like Stopfake or Politifact? These won’t sway the alternative reality crowd one bit. The former will be labeled a US government front and the latter is probably controlled by Soros or the Illuminati.

It seems to me in the short term, the only possible solution is to just shut these people down and block them out. I’m not talking about censorship; I’m talking about individuals. In the past I’ve tended to disagree with those who say you should never debate conspiracy theorists, Holocaust deniers, creationists, etc. I tend to disagree. These debates help sharpen one’s own knowledge and rhetorical skills, and they also show audiences that those on the side of truth can stand up to challenges. This, however, refers to actual debates- rules, standards, perhaps a moderator, and an agreement on basic facts of the matter.

Maybe the best response to bold, declarative statements devoid of any supporting evidence and arbitrary dismissals of contrary evidence is to simply say: “Sorry, but that’s incorrect,” and move on. I mean do we seriously need to sit down and “debate” as to whether or not the Earth is a flat disk? “No, the Earth is not a flat disk. No, sorry, but the sun is not a giant space-whale testicle floating in space. That’s wrong, you moron.” Or more relevant: “What’s that? You’ve never been to Russia or Ukraine and yet you’re going to lecture me on these topics and tell me what sources are reliable or unreliable because you have an internet connection?  No, sorry. You are wrong. Your opinion is frivolous and does not matter. Come back when you’ve put in the time and the work.”

Of course this only works for individuals and it is still a stop-gap. After all, the real work is for governments. Based on my own experience and what Taibbi and others have written, what I see is extreme alienation of large swathes of the population in industrialized countries. They’re suffering from things they don’t understand and can’t easily see, so they make up their own villains. This is why I keep saying that the real response to this so-called Russian “information war” must first start at home. Take care of your own people first and you will deny bad actors (including home-grown ones) from leading them astray. Whereas the Russian foreign-language media basically says “Yes, we’re bad, but everybody’s bad so don’t judge us,” the Western, especially publicly-funded media ought to be saying, “Yeah, things are really bad, here’s what you can do about it, here’s what others have done about it.” People often use fantasy as an escape from unpleasant reality, therefore we need to somehow make reality more appealing.

 

UPDATE: If you want to see an example of how unpleasant reality makes people receptive to bullshit, take a look at an excerpt from this article:

“During a discussion on the links between Brexit-backers and the Trumpian proletariat, NPR’s economics reporter Adam Davidson offered the following explanation for right-wing populism’s current appeal:

I know Hillary Clinton’s economic team fairly well, and I’m very impressed by them. They really are top-notch economists and economic policy thinkers. They don’t have anything for a 55-year-old laid-off factory worker in Michigan or northeastern Pennsylvania. Or whatever. They don’t have anything to offer them. And so I think it’s intuitively understandable that a screaming, loud, wrong answer is more compelling than a calm, reasonable, accurate, right answer: Your life is going to be worse for the rest of your life — but don’t worry, these hipsters in Brooklyn are doing much better.
[…] The threshold for wages has gone up. There was a long period in the 20th century where, simply being willing to go to a building reliably everyday for eight hours or 12 hours and do what you’re told was worth a lot. […] And you didn’t need to read, you didn’t need to write, you didn’t need to have any kind of education. Those jobs are all but fully gone. […] So in this country, we don’t have demand for the high-school-only graduates and the high-school dropouts we have, and that’s a big population. Something like 80 million people.”

 

Getting real old

Recently, while discussing my most recent article about Margarita Simonyan with a friend, he suggested there’s no point in covering her interviews anymore since every one is basically the same whataboutism-laden mess. One is basically interchangeable with another. And yo know what? He’s 100% right. A recent interview in the New York Times demonstrates this clearly.

Basically there are the two main pillars of every interview in two quotes:

“Contacted for this article, representatives from RT issued a lengthy statement from the network’s editor in chief, Margarita Simonyan, who wrote: “There is no special policy for treating any news stories differently when they pertain to Russia.”

Really? So it’s just a coincidence that RT expends zero effort questioning the claims of the Kremlin, while at the same time fostering conspiracy theories against the US and Western governments? Loyal RT staff are also fond of talking about how free they supposedly are, but how can you talk of freedom when everything you write just happens to line up with the Russian governments claims? If you want to demonstrate your editorial freedom, do some actual investigation and write a scathing indictment of any of the government’s claims or policies and see how well that does.

Oh wait…I forgot. It’s literally impossible for RT’s journalists to demonstrate their editorial freedom in that manner because the Russian government literally never does anything wrong, nor does it lie. It’s the one government in the entire world that never lies. Therefore RT’s intrepid writers could not possibly write a critical article of the Russian government not because they would be censored, but simply because doing so would entail lying.

But of course that’s not what you came here see. You want that sweet, sweet whataboutism. The kind of whataboutism that’s debunked with 5-10 seconds on Google. Well dear readers, I deliver:

“The same talking heads never mention the rampant crackdowns by the absolute monarchies, theocracies and ruthless strongmen allied with the U.S.,” Ms. Simonyan added.”

Here we go. Six seconds on Google. Here’s another one. Here’s a BBC story that talks about the civilian casualties from Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in Yemen:

 

Here’s a report from Vice about the Saudi-led airstrikes:

Also if we go back to Arab Spring, the Western media seemed to have no problem reporting on the crackdown of the Egyptian government, in spite of the fact that the Mubarak being well-known as a US puppet for decades.

Turkey, though it seems to be warming up to Russia lately, is still a NATO ally. I wonder if the Western media is ignoring the crackdown there. Nope. Here’s Time. Here’s Reuters. Here’s state-funded Voice of AmericaThe GuardianBBC.

Here’s one on the crackdown in Bahrain five years ago:

 

Now I know some folks who work for RT follow this blog, so if you have Margarita’s ear maybe you can pass along this small piece of advice. Stop using the word “never.” The main reason why these statements sound so idiotic is because of the way she and others insist that the “mainstream media” doesn’t cover any of these stories. If she just said something like, “They don’t cover these events as much as they cover these other ones, ergo they’re biased,” she’d be far closer to the mark. In truth, major media outlets are biased, just to the same degree as Margarita thinks and for very different reasons.

Of course the funniest thing about that particular quote is that she talks about how the media supposedly doesn’t cover the crimes of regimes friendly to the US. If that argument came from someone like Noam Chomsky (and it does, constantly), it would have more impact. The reason being that unlike Simonyan and the state she serves, Chomsky doesn’t defend the Assad regime, the Iranians, or Putin’s Russia. See if RT reported honestly about the Russian government, its activities in Ukraine, and the atrocities of the Assad regime while simultaneously devoting a significant portion of their coverage to the actual problems of Ukraine, the failure of US policy in Syria, and the human rights abuses of regimes like Qatar or Saudi Arabia, then they’d not only be objective, but they’d be a much better news network than the rest. But that’s not what we see.

Instead we get constant fawning praise for Putin, phony claims about Ukraine, conspiracy theories, and cowardly anonymous attacks on anyone who criticizes their network. I’m sorry but this isn’t the same as CNN or  BBC. As I’ve said before, the closest RT comes to a Western network is Fox News, which incidentally happens to be the shittiest network in America.

Apart from the details, my friend is absolutely right. There’s nothing in this interview that we don’t here in any interview with Simonyan or Kiselyov. “We don’t censor! We don’t have an editorial line! If we do then you do it too! We’re the same as you but somehow better!” They could write that on index cards and save a lot of journalists’ time by handing them out.

You are not special

Recently a move by Poland’s right-wing government has caused major uproar among some circles in Ukraine. A resolution now officially recognizes the ethnic cleansing of Polish civilians in Volyn by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) during WWII as an act of genocide. Indeed, all evidence hitherto points to this as an act of genocide, though the timing of the Polish resolution seems odd, as if a historical event somehow isn’t genocide without a ceremonial resolution. For his part, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko seems to have played the role of the bigger man, visiting a memorial to the victims of the event and asking forgiveness from Poles on behalf of Ukraine.

Naturally some Ukrainians went ape-shit over the matter, spitting out arguments that sound really, really similar to the logic you tend to hear in another country that happens to border Ukraine. We’ve got whataboutism in the form of bringing up Polish “Pacification” against Ukrainians during the interwar period, as well as attacks on Ukrainian civilians during the same period when the UPA was attacking Poles in Volyn. While it is true that Polish underground forces did similarly massacre Ukrainian peasants in the areas they controlled at the time, it’s also worth noting that the UPA itself murdered about 20,000 Ukrainian peasants from 1944 till the end of its existence as a fighting force in the 1950’s. It is also true that some Poles have been reluctant to acknowledge these atrocities,  a fact pointed out by such scholars as Grzegorz Rossolinski-Liebe. But then we might ask those upset nationalist apologists why they think Ukraine has the right to write its history as it sees fit, while Poland and Russia apparently don’t according to their worldview. What’s good for the goose…

Another eerie similarity I’ve noticed is the implication that criticism of the UPA is “anti-Ukrainian” or “Ukrainophobic,” and that even Western critics of the organization are out to get Ukraine for some reason. In their mind the whole campaign against the history of Bandera, the UPA, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, etc. is a massive global conspiracy against Ukraine orchestrated by Moscow. We might be inclined to take this a little more seriously were these scholars in question silent about other nations’ atrocities (such as those of Poland, the Soviet Union, etc.), but guess what- they’re not. As it turns out, the world does not consist solely of Ukraine and its eternal enemy Russia.

For one thing, in the past few years the foreign media has spent a great deal of time reporting the rehabilitation of Soviet and to a lesser extent Russian imperial history in Russia. At times it seems that a bus stop ad featuring Stalin is apparently newsworthy material to some of these outlets. In fact, media coverage of Russian historical revisionism far exceeds that in Ukraine, Poland, or anywhere else. To be sure, this is mostly because Russia is a larger and more influential country, but the idea that the most prominent Western journalists or academics are criticizing the OUN and UPA while engaging in apologetics for their main opponent, the Soviet Union, is simply laughable. If such people were attacking Ukrainian nationalists ceaselessly while at the same time dismissing every negative claim about the Soviet Union or Poland, there might be an argument, but that simply isn’t the case with the people I have in mind.

Now we get back to Poland. Poland has been taking a lot of flak lately for the actions of its new conservative government, and justifiably so. Here’s a piece on that. Here’s another. And another. There are other stories I could dig up if I were so inclined, but from what I’ve seen the world media has been far harder on Poland for trying to rewrite its history than it has on Ukraine, though this is largely because the history of Ukrainian collaborationist organizations is far more obscure to the West. In any case, we need not stop in Poland.

Lately Croatia has become the next battleground over history, with its new culture minister who also happens to be an Ustasa apologist who glorifies the 13th Waffen SS mountain division “Handschar.” Coincidentally, the next division in line was the one made up of Western Ukrainian volunteers. Yet it seems that it is in Croatia, and not Ukraine, where we see a popular backlash against this kind of behavior. Perhaps all these people pushing back against the new conservative revisionism are all secretly Serbian agents, seeking to usher in a return of Yugoslavia by “slandering” the Independent State of Croatia? This would surely be the accusation if their discourse on history resembled that in Ukraine.

Naturally there are those who will say, “But Ukraine is at war!” Yes, it is at war, which is why it is far more important that Ukraine get its act together than Croatia, which is at peace. For one thing, in its current situation facing not only Russian aggression but internal corruption, Ukraine can ill afford to descend into childish fantasy concocted by academic frauds whose claims can’t pass peer review in the West. Second, the OUN cult has been the biggest weight around Ukraine’s neck as it struggles with Russia’s information war and the fight for winning international support. In Ukraine they can criminalize critical reading of the OUN or UPA’s history to their hearts’ content, but you cannot stop Westerners from doing proper research into these matters, and they will inevitably find that all Soviet propaganda aside, the OUN did collaborate with the Nazis, even after the arrest of its leadership, and it was involved in atrocities including the Holocaust. As such it remains the biggest target for Russian propagandists.

Additionally, Ukraine cannot hope to win its current war without a far better, more attractive national identity and idea. This idea must unify people across the country, including in occupied territory, and even Ukrainians within Russia and the rest of the world. The West Ukrainian cult of Bandera simply doesn’t do that, as we’ve clearly seen. More importantly, when it comes to the question of what sort of country Ukraine wants to be, the idea of substituting Bandera and Shukhevych for Soviet heroes and enforcing a false historical narrative via legislation is in itself rooted in the Soviet Russian mentality. In reality, Ukrainian nationalism was never the exclusive property of the OUN, which was in fact a relatively unpopular organization by far. There is a far larger, far richer, far more positive tradition of Ukrainian nationalism, much of it radically left wing and progressive, which seems to totally ignored. How does it look on the global stage when some Ukrainians prefer to associate their nation with the paranoid, fanatical right-wing Stepan Bandera instead of the progressive revolutionary Lesya Ukrainka? Tourists in Kyiv by the thousands handle notes with her portrait, having no idea who she is. I wonder how many Ukrainians know that Symon Petliura was a member of two Ukrainian socialist parties- the Revolutionary Ukrainian Party and the Ukrainian Social Democratic Labor Party. I doubt many know about the Ukrainian Communist Party, which fought for a socialist Ukraine apart from the Soviet Union.

Ukrainians have every right to criticize the Polish government for pointing out Polish victimhood while simultaneously denying its own less savory episodes in history, but they ought to realize that this also extends to groups like Ukrainian Jews and indeed Ukrainians themselves who do not want to see their country associated with this cult. Few rational people criticize Ukraine over the crimes of the UPA; this is not only collective guilt, but truly ludicrous considering that the vast majority of Ukrainians did not support the organization and fought overwhelmingly for the Allied cause during the war. What they are criticizing is the efforts to whitewash its history and transform these right-wing nationalists into national heroes.

Ukrainians have a choice to take criticism of the UPA or OUN as an insult against their nationality, for these things are not inherently connected anymore than I as an American am connected to the Confederacy or the KKK. When you declare these people national heroes and associate them with your nationality, that is a conscious choice and effort. One could just as easily do the opposite and say that associating the crimes of these organizations with Ukraine as a whole is simply idiotic and irrational. Objections that this would somehow aid Russia and its efforts in Ukraine are simply ridiculous. We’ve seen from 2013 onward how the Russian propagandists surely burst with glee at the news of Bandera memorial parades or the renaming of a street in his honor. Without boneheaded moves like this, they’d be stuck dreaming up new stories about crucified children or Poroshenko getting drunk.

Margaaariiita!

Oh how we Russia watchers love RT’s chief editor Margarita Simonyan, the Other Iron Lady, the Gourmet. I’ve even given her a theme song, if only because this gets stuck in my head any time someone mentions that name too many times or when I order the drink.

Whenever Tungsten Maggie gives an interview you can almost set your watch to it. Today’s interview was with Financial Times. I was expecting whataboutism, and she delivered! Rick Astley would let me down before she ever does. Check it out:

“We are far less critical of western policy than western media are critical of Russia. When was the last time you read anything good about Russia? Anywhere? Name me one publication,” she says. “That’s why this cliché that Russia Today is an anti-western channel brings a smile to my face.”

HA HA HA HA! No. When it comes to criticizing government policy, RT is 100% anti-Western, almost exclusively anti-American. Take a look at their Op-Edge page some time and you’ll find article after article slamming America’s leadership, foreign and domestic policy, the supposedly monolithic “mainstream Western media,” etc. Westerners are useful to RT only insofar as they attack their own governments without ever turning the same scrutiny to the Kremlin.

Now as for Margarita’s challenge, it took me less than a minute to find not one, but two positive stories about Russia. One from Bloomberg and another from The Guardian. In fact while writing this I remembered a piece from The Daily Beast of all sources, which seems to echo Russia’s line on Syria so closely that it was actually cited by Russia Insider. In fact, my own reprinted article in The Guardian seems to have been interpreted by the Russian state media, including RT’s Russian site, as a positive piece on Russia for shattering stereotypes about the country.

Now it is true that you’re apt to see more bad news out of Russia than good from most Western publications, but there are two simple reasons for this. One reason is that even now, most Westerners, especially Americans, do not care about Russia. If I write a story about say, the wonderful benefits of Moscow’s recent craft beer revolution there’s a very limited audience there. On the other hand, if I speculate on how Trump might be a secret puppet of Putin, warn about an impending world war, or accuse Putin of destroying the liberal world order, I’m not only more likely to get published, I’ll probably be offered a staff position at a major publication.

magicmargarita

But there’s another good reason why the Western media is often hostile to Russia. Margarita might not yet be aware, but Western media publications have correspondents in Moscow who speak Russian and they have access to Russian experts. We know about how the Kremlin portrays the West as an enemy bent on taking over Russia for some idiotic reason or another. Europeans know that your domestic media is calling them limp-wristed perverts and reveling in their misfortune. Westerners know about how often Russian leaders or media personalities talk about reducing their countries to “radioactive ash” or otherwise imply that they wouldn’t hesitate to start nuclear war if they don’t get their way. They saw Russia’s tantrum when it lost Eurovision this year, and they know about the doping. We know how your leaders live in unimaginable luxury at the expense of their own people, and yet they blame all of Russia’s problems on the US State Department. We can see you. We can hear you. Now you combine that with the annexation of another country’s territory in violation of international law and several treaties signed by Russia, and a war which Russia’s leadership doesn’t have the guts to even admit after overwhelming evidence of their involvement. When you look at the big picture, is it really so hard to understand why Western media coverage of Russia tends to be negative?

But Margarita’s complaint fails on another level. Yes, Western media outlets tend to report negative news about Russia, but that’s what they do everywhere. Here’s a little trick you can try, one which apparently escapes Ms. Simonyan and the entire fanbase of RT. Using this wonderful site known as “Google,” take a major international sporting event in the past decade or so, type in its name, and add something like “problems” or “controversies.” Some of you have probably already seen examples of this regarding the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. You no doubt remember it from the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. If you focus on all these articles about problems and controversies associated with such events, you’d assume they must have been disastrous. In the run up to the 2014 World Cup, also held in Brazil, the media coverage alone would make you think that mass upheaval would take place.Some powerful favela gang leader, possibly with the assistance of a professional marketing team, promised a “World Cup of Terror” ahead of the games. It would seem the launch didn’t go so well. And in the case of Sochi, corruption was a major issue and the facilities were rife with amusing deficiencies, but it was nowhere near the disaster that some people predicted prior to the games. And here we’re only talking about sports, something that ought to be non-political.

Western media, which contrary to Margarita’s belief is not monolithic, is constantly focusing on the negative everywhere. Terrorism, violent crime, and in particular sex crimes get top billing. Look at it this way- over a period of about 30 years, a significant portion of Americans have become convinced that they live in what is rapidly deteriorating into a Third World shithole, contrary to nearly every credible statistic one can find. Where did they get that idea? Almost entirely from the American media. Forget Russophobia- Americans are far more afraid of each other than anyone else save Islamic terrorists and illegal immigrants.

Not only does the news media criticize society (often unfairly- just look at the coverage of “millennials”), but it also criticizes government policy and leaders as well. This is a key distinction between RT and the “Western media.” While RT’s news department doesn’t ignore bad news coming out of Russia, go back to that Op-Edge section and see if you can find anything seriously critical of Russia’s leadership and their policies. As I’ve noted before plenty of times, any speech by a US leader is almost instantly followed by “fact checking” articles which take apart their claims. Do we see something like this from RT after Putin’s direct line or annual press conference? Do we see RT actually investigating the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine to see if their president is lying? If you name a NATO or US action somewhere in the world, I guarantee you I will find critical voices on it from some major, trusted source. It’s simply impossible for any US effort abroad to be without some negative effect. Yet if we look at how the Russian state media relates to Putin- what a surprise! Turns out he’s the one politician in the world who actually never lies, nothing is his fault, and he’s picked on for no reason!

magicrt

And this is all without getting into the political divide in Western countries. For example, I can find all the scathing criticism I’ll ever need against Obama simply by heading over to the Fox News Channel’s website. Now at this point, an RT defender might be inclined to object. “But that’s not fair! Fox News is a conservative network, a media wing of the Republican party! Of course they would viciously attack Obama and the Democrats! They’re supporting their party. They want their party to win elections!” And my reply to that or any similar argument? Yes, exactly. As the “Western media” is almost entirely privately owned, various networks and outlets do have biases towards certain political parties. Some are comfortable admitting it as well.

It’s called diversity of opinion, and it’s proof that there is a significant difference between the two systems in question. When a US president somehow buys up all the major news outlets in America and uses ever-tightening regulations to squeeze out independent voices (including popular blogs), and when those independent outlets that remain are continually labeled treasonous and subject to harassment by unknown assailants who are never caught or punished, then we can start comparing Russia’s media to that of the US.

While certainly not the meat of the interview, it seems every story on Simonyan has to include her making highly questionable claims about the network’s exposure. This time she said this:

“RT is also proud of its presence on YouTube, where it was the first news channel to crack a billion views. “Let’s be fair, we don’t have cats and Beyoncé, but politics and news stories,”

I don’t mean to sound like a dick here, but I’m not sure many major satellite networks put as much emphasis on their Youtube channel. Whenever RT brags about their Youtube success I can’t stop thinking of Pewdiepie, the Swedish man who screams at video games and has over 46 million subscribers on his channel. Also, we’ve already established that defending RT means losing the ability to use search engines, so Alexey Kovalev did what must have been literally three seconds of “research” to discover that RT’s Youtube channel does apparently have “cats.” A lot of cats, 136 in one story in fact.

 

Now she’s absolutely right about one thing- they don’t have Beyonce. Just one clip that is six years old, apparently. That is a shockingly low amount of Beyonce. If RT was a person and Beyonce was vitamin C, the conspicuous deficiency of Beyonce would cause RT’s teeth to fall out.

I really feel like I’m going around in circles with these people. We never get anything new out of Simonyan or her boss Kiselyov because, I’m sorry to say, journalists never press them enough. Like most Kremlin supporters, these people make a priori judgments about the world in order to justify their own actions in advance. “The Western media lies and they’re not objective, so it’s okay if we lie.” Rarely do they actually put it that bluntly, but that’s the gist of it, and no one who speaks with them seems to challenge them on their assumption. I mean this is a measurable, quantifiable thing. We can count negative stories. We can look for heavily distorted or even totally concocted stories. We can look for and count the number of stories that criticize a certain leader or his policies. This is by no means entirely subjective. Even when they do manage to seize on a poorly reported story from a particular outlet, you often find that firstly, the journalist in question suffers in some way, and secondly, another media source attacks or debunks the claim. Remember that infamous story from the first Gulf War, the one where an ambassador’s daughter testified to congress about Iraqi soldiers stealing incubators from hospitals and leaving the infants to die on the floor? Guess who debunked that- the mainstream media in the form of ABC and The New York Times.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again and again as long as I have to. Yes there are serious problems with our media. Yes they failed us again and again. In this post alone I pointed out how the American media has managed to convince a significant portion of the population that they are living in a rapidly declining country when in fact the opposite is true in almost every aspect. There are plenty of think tanks, independent media outlets, journalists, and academics all throughout the West (and some in Russia as well) who raise these issues and talk about solutions. One thing that definitely isn’t a solution is relying on a network whose staff believe it’s alright to lie and spread propaganda because they just arbitrarily decided that the rest of the world media does the same. Fast food may be bad for you, but the alternative isn’t eating out of the dumpster in back. Like following a healthy diet, being properly informed means going beyond headlines, looking at a diverse array of sources, learning about how the media works and how news is made, and using critical thinking. Uncritically accepting anything claiming to be non-mainstream or peddling information “they don’t want you do know” is going to the dumpster buffet.