Not buying it

Those who have followed my work on RT and similar Russian propaganda organs know that while I respect and appreciate the analysis of people like Peter Pomerantsev, I simply cannot take Russia’s propaganda machine as seriously as he does. Pomerantsev is, as near as I can tell, a fairly centrist Western liberal. Nobody holding such views should see RT as a threat, but as a mild annoyance instead.

Luckily I’m not alone it seems. Mark Adomanis has written an article casting doubt on the efficacy of Russian propaganda. Recently I was made aware of this article by Daniel Kennedy, who does a more thorough analysis and gets into the technical details of RT’s alleged success.  I particularly like his likening of RT’s audience to “balkanized echo chambers.” Indeed, RT appeals to many diverse groups, a great number of which hold contradictory ideologies. Hardcore right-wingers and neo-Nazis watch RT because they think that Russia is the last bastion of “traditional values,” while very confused leftists believe that Russia is somehow holding back the neo-liberal “hegemony.”  Now one could argue that this doesn’t matter, because both sides put pressure on their government to varying degrees. I have to object to that, however, because such contradictions among the audience make it impossible to form any coherent movement which might actually exert pressure on their government. Perhaps more importantly, RT sells that cheap, conspiracy theory propaganda which is anything but conducive to the formation of revolutionary political movements. It’s more suited for people whose activism takes place mostly on Facebook.

Anyway, I highly recommend the reader check out Kennedy’s article. RT is a clown, a laughing stock, anything but a menace.  Voice of Russia is even more ridiculous. Everything below that is basically Stormfront. Does Russia’s media offensive need to be challenged? Sure. People like me have a very good reason to stand up to the Kremlin’s bullshit. When it comes to Western nations, however, I feel the panic of people like Lucas, Pomerantsev, Snyder, etc. is really just their horror at the way Russia has learned to use their beloved system against them.  It has learned that when you impose arbitrary narratives on society, it doesn’t necessarily matter how believable or accurate they are.


2 thoughts on “Not buying it

  1. Asehpe

    I agree to large extent with what you said. RT stuff is often so obviously staged and biased that it is easy to spot and dismiss. Yet… even people like Lucas or Pomerantsev will say that RT or Sputnik are not out there to convince the masses, but just to muddy the waters, to add noise to the system. And consider similar outfits, like Fox News, actually quite successful mostly due to their peddling a consistent narrative, often stooping to RT level by employing false pundits (Sarah Palin an authority on something?…) and even using your occasional “wrongly labeled” photo or video. Their influence appears to be real: apparently, the conservatives who invest in it are getting something for their dollars. Couldn’t RT be, or evolve into, something similarly influential–especially in a climate of disappointment with the US (‘they spy on us! they torture!’) and euroscepticism (‘we’re actually worse off now with the EU than we would be if we could keep all our money to ourselves!’ say the Dutch)?

    Also, I’ve noticed that the efficiency of outfits like RT, or even the actually Russian language TV propaganda channels, depends on where you are. In Latvia, the Russian-speaking channels are much more efficient, since there is a considerable Russian-speaking minority who identifies with Russia and is willing to believe what the propaganda says, under the guidance of local ‘leaders’ like Kabanovs or Lindermanns. In Ukraine, they even outlawed the Russian channels. RT apparently also finds more listening ears in places like Greece or Italy (or even France) than in Germany or the US. Couldn’t this “local gradient” also help RT achieve more influence, even if locally, in the long run?

    1. Jim Kovpak Post author

      The conservatives in America have a much better advantage though- they converse like a phalanx around whatever talking points they are using at the moment. These may be contradictory from time to time, but there is one message underneath all of that. They’re not so much muddying the waters as they are ensuring uniformity among their base and making sure they get them to the polls when they’re needed.

      RT and Sputnik are different, because Russia doesn’t have any coherent ideology or message. Of course its founders probably believe that sowing confusion will help them in their “information war,” but you have to remember that all these high up people in the Kremlin who work on their anti-Western strategies rarely know dick about the countries their talking about. In fact I think deep down they realize this and they don’t want to know.

      In the US, for example, if you want to be looked at someone knowledgeable about Russia, you need to have some foundation. In my case I’ve spent about a decade here, I speak the language, and I’ve read countless books and talked to numerous people, including those who have far more experience than me. By contrast, in Russia you can be the head of a university department who constantly lectures on America, its politics, its alleged strategy, and what its plans are without ever having visited America or without even speaking English.

      It’s people like that who are responsible for the “information war.” I wouldn’t worry too much about them.

      Another factor is that constantly muddying the waters and sending out incoherent, contradictory messages will eventually just destroy the country’s credibility everywhere. Even people sympathetic to the message will roll their eyes and say, “Well that’s just Russia.”


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