Apparently Russia has just unveiled its latest pipeline of bullshit to the English-speaking world, known as Sputnik. I am still terribly confused as to why the government has so significantly increased its budget for foreign propaganda. Domestic propaganda at least makes sense, but the foreign service is basically money down the toilet. One by one, each major Russian news organization, from RT to Voice of Russia has basically abandoned any pretense of journalism. RT defends itself by claiming that it presents an “alternative viewpoint,” but in reality they don’t so much present an alternative but instead apply a shotgun approach. A myriad of disjointed and incoherent claims are launched at the audience, and the final conclusion is always that we can’t really know anything.
Miriam Elder at Buzzfeed covered the launch of the new service, which was presented by the always credibly Dmitriy Kiselyev. Kiselyev summoned all of his mental capacity so as to momentarily stop thinking about dicks just long enough to get through his presentation, in which The Moscow Times quotes him as saying,
“We are against the aggressive propaganda that everybody is fed with and that imposes a unipolar model of the world,…” “We will say what others are silent about. The world is tired of one country thinking of itself as exceptional.”
If you’re new to this topic let me decode Kiselyev’s jargon for you. The Kremlin and Russian intelligentsia is full of these “geopolitical experts.” Geopolitical experts in Russia are very much akin to what you would get if you could somehow mix the game Risk with Dungeons & Dragons. In other words, they like to stare at maps, invent strategies, and this all takes place in a fantasy world. When they refer to the term unipolar, they are talking about a commonly known idea, namely that after the Cold War the US emerged as the only superpower, i.e. pole. That view by itself isn’t terribly controversial, but in the 21st century it’s certainly debatable. More importantly, Kiselyev is referring to media here, not military or economic power. In that sense, the world has been multipolar for quite some time. Qatar is a tiny country, yet Al Jazeera in the early 2000’s presented what many considered to be a powerful alternative to the American media. Even the BBC presents a radically different viewpoint from American domestic media, at least.
Of course none of that matters because Qatar and the United Kingdom are not Russia, and this is where the geopolitical fantasy comes in. In the minds of these deeply paranoid people, only Russia can be the other pole in a multipolar world. Sure, they talk about various geopolitical alliances and what-not, but they expect Russia to lead just like the Soviet Union. This sadly betrays how little they understood the nation many of them actually grew up in, but that’s a topic for another time. The point is, one could make a strong argument that we do actually live in a multipolar world today, or we are at least close to living in one. However, Russia is not that other pole, and in its present state it doesn’t stand a chance of achieving that status. The other superpower in the world today is China, and Russia is already on its way to being its neo-colony.
Getting back to the topic of media and Kiselyev’s quote, he merely demonstrates the paranoia and delusional attitude of the people who occupy Russia’s circle of power. They know there is an information war against them. They ignore the vast diversity of foreign media outlets. They justify spreading the most ridiculous lies and conspiracy theories by assuming that Western media outlets do the same thing. To be fair, major Western media outlets do vastly distort many stories, especially narratives during wars and low-intensity conflicts. The reasons for this, however, differ greatly from what pro-Kremlin Russians think. There is this idea that the US government hands CNN its orders and the latter goes out and reports it as truth. In reality, when this happens there are several processes at work, none of them involving journalists being ordered to report something in a particular way. Luckily, the West has massive grassroots movement of media watchdogs and alternative publications which keep an eye on the corporate-owned media’s behavior. In Russia the most ridiculous stories are reported with impunity.
I myself remember that the Western coverage of Euromaidan was, as usually, quite slanted and superficial. However, I can also remember articles questioning the wisdom of pinning all Ukraine’s hopes on the EU, as well as pieces which raised eyebrows about some of the factions involved in the movement. Oftentimes these articles ran in the same publications which also produced pro-Maidan stories. By contrast, when have we ever seen RT present any alternative views on Ukraine? In fact, the UK regulator Ofcom all but asked that very question when it warned RT of possible future sanctions due to its slanted coverage. The only strong statements against Russia’s actions in the Crimea and Ukraine came from certain journalists resigning, or in the case of Abby Martin, making a public statement that was seen as something of a scandal. Had RT truly been a balanced network, Martin’s dissenting opinion would not have been so memorable or controversial.
Before moving on I’d like to tackle one more harebrained idea from the previous Kiselyev quote. He says the world is tried of one country presenting itself as exceptional. This of course, is a reference to American exceptionalism. Russians like Kiselyev just can’t stop obsessing over this concept. For the rest of the world, it’s not such a salient issue; most countries, especially industrialized countries, see themselves as unique and exceptional. The Russian government apparently sees Russia as being highly exceptional, clearly believing that Russia is somehow not subject to basic laws of economics. Yes, of course there is this idea of American exceptionalism, but the truth is that there are millions of Americans who either don’t know what this term actually means, or they just never think about it because they realize it’s bullshit. Many people in the rest of the world are equally ignorant of the actual concept of American exceptionalism, or if they do know about it they simply do not care. It’s only people like Kiselyev who obsess over what Americans supposedly think.
Interpreter magazine quotes Kiselyev on the topic of how Russia should be presented in the new, reorganized media empire.
“[I]f we are to speak about traditional politics, then of course we would like it to be associated with love for Russia,” he told employees. “That does not mean that we cannot talk about problems. One hundred percent. I have not said that, and I am emphasizing this. But a hostile attitude…can be left to private media, if someone is prepared for everything.”
This is the typical patriotic doublespeak one comes to expect here. First of all, I cannot imagine such a statement about love or the USA emerging from the mouth of any American news editor. Sure, there’s Fox News, but it’s common knowledge that many people in the US do not consider Fox to be an actual news organization. True, the US media has become increasingly lazy and dependent on official sources for information in the past decade or so, but if we asked ourselves what events in journalism are held up as ideals, they are almost all serious scandals that embarrassed the US government. There’s Katrina, there was Watergate, there were the Pentagon Papers. In other words, whenever you hear American journalists or journalism professors lamenting the state of the American press today, the ideal with which they compare this present state is a media which supposedly served as a check on political power, something adversarial to politicians. Whether that was actually true is beside the point. The point is that it was an ideal, and Kiselyev’s ideal is different.
The second part of the quote shows how tricky these Kremlin hacks can be on the topic of negative news. Oh sure, report problems! Report all the problems you want. Just don’t have a hostile attitude. Now to be fair, many Russian news outlets do report negative news. What they don’t do is tie that in with anything systemic. They do often remain curiously silent on some issues, however. The key thing to take away from this, however, is contained in the term “hostile attitude.” This is just another equivalent of “Russophobia,” “propaganda,” “information warfare,” etc. These are debate-killing terms which are designed to justify censorship and limit free speech. I know from personal experience that discussing anything negative in Russia can lead to accusations of Russophobia or propaganda. Are you appalled by the conditions in Russian orphanages? Don’t expect your concern for Russian children to be appreciated. You’re obviously anti-Russian! Do you really think there is no child abuse in the West? Here’s a story about a child who got molested by a gym teacher! See? It’s a problem everywhere! It’s all the same and there’s no need to address problems like systemic child abuse and neglect!
Elder’s article shows an example of Sputnik’s content, specifically a story about how Miami is supposedly considering secession from Florida. I only highlight that part of the story because once again, we see how the people behind Sputnik fail due to the fact that they live in a fantasy land. As much as folks like Kiselyev and Dugin obsess over America, they have almost no knowledge of the country or its culture. Dugin supposedly doesn’t even speak English. Their sources from America are bitter, alienated people who prefer the privileged lifestyle they have here. To them, separatist movements in America seem really significant because they want them to be. For nearly 25 years they’ve fervently hoped that the US would somehow collapse just like the Soviet Union. It matters not to them how or why the USSR truly collapsed, nor does it matter how to truly rebuild Russia and see to it that her citizens live in dignity. All that matters is that the US is destroyed. All that matters is what Americans allegedly think, and that they one day suffer.
The circle jerk mentality in the pro-government intelligentsia is why they make these bombastic statements which tend to leave many Westerners confused and awestruck. All these buzzwords and concepts have meaning to them, but often it’s lost on their audience as Holly Baxter’s article for Vice demonstrated. That’s why I wrote this article about Sputnik and Kiselyev’s statements- Russia’s “journalists” and intellectuals have a tendency to be like some weird uncle who shows up at family functions and starts ranting about Bohemian Grove, the rapture, and the need to stock up on gold and silver. You normal people without the prerequisite experience in Russia are like a significant other, coming to meet the family for the first time. I’m just trying to give you a heads up about my one crazy uncle.