They say never look at the comments. I try to live by that maxim, but I am only human. While re-reading Paula Schmitt’s article about quitting RT, I got curious as to how people reacted to her article. After all, it wasn’t black and white as RT fans and enemies like to see the world. As I wrote in my own commentary on her story, Schmitt seems to have had the same epiphany that I reached, i.e. the realization that Russia is not a bulwark against anything. Russia portrays itself as the antithesis of Western capitalist hegemony when in fact it is really nothing more than a player in the global capitalist game. The only thing that differentiates Russia from the other leading industrial nations is that Russia is losing the game. In other words, Russia is like that socially awkward guy who puts a lot of effort into his attempts to woo the opposite sex, fails, and periodically declares that he isn’t interested in dating “worthless sluts” anyway. His preferences are meaningless because nobody, including those “sluts,” is willing to sleep with him.
This epiphany is troubling for people who aren’t into thinking. It is particularly disturbing to pro-Russian “geopolitical” wonks, who fervently dream of, if not masturbate to the idea of a “multipolar world.” The other “pole” would naturally be led by Russia even though there is no logical reason why this should be the case when there’s this much more powerful nation called China. I figured that Schmitt’s article would be bombarded by armchair geopolitical nerds and Russophiles demanding that she take a side, and that if she did not return to RT’s camp, at least ideologically, then she was a traitor and a shill for the Anglo-American New World Order or whatever they’re calling it these days. Perhaps there were plenty of such comments, but that’s not what I immediately found.
What I found instead were negative comments sniping at the author for having worked at RT in the first place. Indeed this has not been the first time I’ve seen people attack those who have left RT on these grounds. This is, I feel, a serious flaw in our Western mentality, the idea that people should be attacked for admitting their mistakes, even after they correct them. I often want to ask these individuals what they would rather see. Would they have preferred Ms. Schmitt simply submit to her bosses’ demands and keep working at RT? Should Sara Firth have swallowed her disgust at the channel’s coverage of the Malaysian Airlines disaster and continued to work for the channel? With this kind of smug, self-righteous, and frankly idiotic behavior, is it any wonder that there are so many people out there who will double-down on the most ridiculous claims instead of admitting they were wrong? Where’s the incentive to change for the better if people are just going to attack you for the thing you stopped doing?
Americans in particular have a serious problem with fundamental attribution error, the tendency to attribute people’s behavior to internal, inherent causes rather than circumstantial influences. In layman’s terms, other people fail because they’re lazy, stupid, or immoral, but you’ve always got a long and winding story about all the outside factors and influences which prevent you from achieving success. It’s not that this tale of unfortunate circumstances is necessarily untrue; it may very well be. The problem is that we often fail to emphasize with others and consider the outside influences behind their behavior. This seems to be the case with people who condemn those foreigners that work at RT.
Why would anyone work at RT? Well how about we start with they need a job? Gainful employment isn’t exactly very widespread in the industrialized world these days, and I happen to know that RT pays rather generously. Supposedly, and in fact according to Schmitt’s own article, RT isn’t very stringent about who it hires, but this is good for people who are just starting out in the field. Getting paid to write is not easy these days. Most of the foreigners who work at RT have no illusions about its content; they continue to work there because they need the money. Before you go condemning them for that, you might want to do some research into your own career and its industry as a whole, just to make sure that you’re squeaky clean and not a cog in a corrupt, exploitative, or possibly unethical machine. Likewise, before demanding the resignation of any foreign worker at RT, you might want to consider offering them a better or at least equal job while you’re at it.
What then, of political motives? Can employees be justly condemned on those grounds? From the information I have gathered over the years, many of the people who are attracted to RT for employment purposes aren’t raving America-haters. They tend to be people who justly dissent from the policies of their respective governments, and who are dissatisfied with with the poor quality of their often-corporate-dominated media industries. They are attracted to certain things they on RT, which purposely portrays itself as an alternative to the “Western press.” One should not assume that they are attracted to every aspect of RT or its coverage; obviously the radical leftists who find RT appealing do not do so because it often featured Ron Paul or his supporters. Their rationale, in this case, was probably very similar to my own some time ago. That is to say that while RT often had idiotic guests whose politics are repugnant to people like myself, they also gave a platform to guests who at least in part share my views, and who are generally shut out from the “mainstream” media. You could almost phrase it as a common argument in favor of free speech, namely the claim that true freedom of speech requires accepting the bad along with the good. RT might give a platform to Max Kaiser or Alex Jones, but it also gave a platform to radical leftists. It might have given a platform to me had I so desired it.
While we’re on that topic, those who insist on condemning former RT employees also ought to consider their own favored media for a moment. Recently I wrote on the differences between the Western and Russian media, and it is true that for the most part, they are not equal. This does not automatically mean, however, that the Western media is good. The difference between the Western and Russian media can be likened to the difference between eating a discarded sandwich found in a dumpster and eating a freshly-killed cat off the side of the road. One could argue that the Western media’s advantage isn’t so much that it has ethics and standards, but rather that at least it believes in these ideals, even if it often falls short. Sure, RT has some ridiculous guests and will give out authoritative titles like candy, but ask yourself if this is really that far removed from how our US media still gives a platform to pundits such as William Kristol, a man famous for being absolutely, totally wrong on almost every issue he’s ever pontificated on? Why does the US media still listen to Dick Cheney, a man who really should have just stopped talking to people, any people, years ago? Why does our media still take Thomas “So I was talking to a cab driver in Santiago” Friedman or Timothy “Just found out about WWII a couple years ago” Snyder seriously? Yes, it’s ridiculous how RT will dub some grad student a “political analyst” so he can give us the latest regurgitated Russian fantasies about how the BRICS countries will soon defeat the Anglo-American alliance. But is it not equally ridiculous to give credence to a man who writes our spouts off with the most absurd theories or revisions of well established historical fact in spite of his high academic credentials?
As if that weren’t enough, the Western media is indeed guilty of repeatedly oversimplifying complicated conflicts, taking sides, and uncritically accepting the statements of official sources. Nothing I’m saying here is particularly controversial. Numerous documentaries have been made on the subject, featuring some very respected academics and veteran journalists. Whereas the Russian press actively fabricates news, the Western press typically lies by omission. The distortion is the same, if not even worse, because Russia’s fakes are so ridiculous at times that they often totally discredit the Russian narrative. By contrast, it’s hard to indict coverage based on what they’re not showing you.
None of this excuses RT or erases the fact that the network has long since crossed the line from a potentially useful alternative source of information into a circus of propaganda and nonsense. I am making these points because I want people to better understand what might attract certain people to work at RT. I highly doubt many RT employees ever joined up because they believe Vladimir Putin’s system to be superior to Western liberal democracy. Many of them are quite aware of Russia’s problems, but they mistakenly buy into the lie that Russia somehow limits their own governments, that its existence somehow restrains Western leaders from going on an all-out imperialist offensive and establishing a corporate-dominated police state. If that is what draws them in, what right has anyone to condemn them when they realize they had been duped and refuse to continue living the lie? Would it be better for them to suppress the truth and keep espousing RT’s line? Again, where is the incentive to change if self-righteous people, many of whom might also be guilty of espousing or perpetuating false ideas and propaganda, immediately start pointing fingers and screaming about what you used to do?
If we want to live in a better world ruled by reason, we had better start doing something about this cultural failing we have, the tendency to condemn people who admit to wrongdoing instead of encouraging them to improve. When someone sincerely admits their mistakes and takes real steps to change, they deserve credit and not scorn. Otherwise we should not be confounded when people persist in promoting the most ridiculous or reprehensible ideas, doubling down every time they are challenged. Yes, some people just passionately believe in wrongheaded ideas, but some other people are just trying to protect themselves from self-righteous hypocrites who always seem to leap out of the woodwork when someone has the courage to stand up and say, “I was wrong. Here’s what I learned.”
People evolve over the course of their whole lives. Is it morally right to hold a grown adult responsible for the foolish things they believed as children or as teenagers? Of course it is not. Nor is it any more just to hold someone in their 30’s responsible for the stupid, arrogant ideas they held in their early 20’s. The learning process, the evolution, does not stop once you reach the age of majority. Changing for the better, even abruptly so, is far more admirable than being wrong solely for the sake of consistency.
Schmitt has done all of us a great service not only by exposing the bizarro-world mindset of the people who run Russia’s propaganda organs, highlighting for example their preference of the “perception of truth” over actual truth, but also simply by sharing her realization that RT and Russia are not against the system, but rather part of it. She deserves commendation and encouragement for her actions, not derision and hypocritical condemnation.