Apparently RT is devoting a lot of time to its own self-defense, and it doesn’t seem to be working too well because it seems their budget is being cut yet again in 2016. Thanks to Stopfake’s Yevhen Fedchenko, I was introduced to this gem on the “Op-Edge” section of RT. First a few preliminaries.
The article is primarily aimed at Michael Weiss, who appears to run in actual neoconservative circles and is the editor of The Interpreter’s blog. It focuses on a recent article that Weiss had published in The Daily Beast, which I had read prior to seeing this RT story. Having got all that out of the way, I must say that I am highly skeptical of Weiss and The Interpreter. While the latter does produce some good work, they seem to give a lot of leeway to people with very strange personalities, behavior, and ideologies. Their site is laden with dozens of articles by Paul Goble, who basically just takes down the rantings of various obscure Russian intellectuals and reprints them without balance or criticism. Some of the individuals there are into personal attacks and paranoid conspiracy theories about other journalists who fail to rigidly follow the line that they have arbitrarily decided to be “right.” In this way, some of these individuals area almost mirror images of the pro-Kremlin pundits who accuse everyone of being neocons or State Department operatives.
Another problem with people like Weiss and Goble is that their fanaticism drives them to engage in behaviors and lines of rhetoric which make them perfect targets for pro-Kremlin propagandists, which is why you see the latter constantly jumping on their work and holding it up as “the mainstream media,” as if they are are the Kremlin’s main critics. The Russian propaganda machine, very similar to the right-wing media machine in the US, acts sort of like a hunting party of lions on the savanna- they pick off the sick and weak. That’s exactly what happened to Weiss here, and while I can find some hilarious flaws in RT’s reasoning and claims in their response, there are a lot of criticisms about Weiss which are indeed valid.
On that note, let me give my quick thoughts on the Daily Beast article in question. To be honest I flat out hated it. In fact I had intended to do a post dedicated to it, but as I was in Kyiv at the time I read it, I had to put it on the back burner. Yesterday’s post on Syria actually encapsulates a significant part of what would have been my response to Weiss.
So what’s wrong with Weiss? He’s all over the place, he rewrites basic history in one part, and he apparently thinks he’s clever by using the phrase “Upper Volga with sanctions.” Weiss, here’s a tip- it’s “Upper Volta with X,” from the quote “Upper Volta with missiles.” Your own buddy Paul Goble can set you straight. In general, after reading it I thought that the pro-Kremlin fan club would be all over Weiss, and wouldn’t you know, they were. Their offensive would have been far more scathing were it not for the bizarre logic Kremlin fans are so known for. That being said, let’s get on with RT’s rebuttal.
It’s worth pointing out here that the Op-Edge has no byline, which is strange. It was my understanding that all these Op-Edge pieces on RT were supposed to have the author’s name on them. Back in the day before they went 100% bullshit, having authors put their names on opinion pieces was a good way to distance themselves from some of the wackier opinions. As for who wrote this piece, I have two good guesses, but that’s unimportant.
Now on to the title: “Hysterical beast: The problem with The Daily Beast’s Russia analysis.” Note the use of the term “hysterical.” This is a classic Russian tactic, and the Westerners at RT seem to have picked up on it well. The idea is that criticism is “hysterics.” Of course all their conspiracy theories and screaming about “Kiev Nazis” or “NATO encirclement” while America was actually reducing its military presence in Europe apparently doesn’t count as “hysterical.” Okay.
But to be fair, Weiss did use the term “propaganda blitzkrieg” in the title of his article, which was a bit much. All the Russian media was doing at the time was switching focus away from the Donbas, which has become a source of major embarrassment and economic woes, to Syria, where the Kremlin stupidly believes they will get back into the West’s good graces by pretending to carry out a war against ISIS. Other authors such as Galeotti and Adomanis showed a far more rational response to all this than Weiss, who used the occasion to run down a laundry list of grievances about Russia.
So shall I get to the funny tidbits? Very well. Let’s start with this:
“In the article, he accuses the Russian media of doing exactly what CNN and other US news networks do in times of war. That is, giving a lot of attention to the story, embedding reporters with the military and delivering news from the perspective of ‘our side.”
First of all, check off “CNN” on your RT bingo card. There are multiple problems with this claim. First of all, American news agencies don’t claim to deliver news from the perspective of the American side, whereas RT’s writers and bosses have openly admitted that they deliver news from the “Russian point of view.” By contrast, other media outlets do attempt to get the other side of the story. For example, CNN became famous for broadcasting from Baghdad as it was getting bombed during Operation Desert Storm. Was that the perspective of “our side?”
Now the bias of these media outlets is indeed a real thing, and during the Iraq War of 2003 the US media behaved in a way that can only be described as despicable. But before you RT fans start stuffing your hands down your pants, hold up a second. The author of this very article, as well as other RT defenders, just claimed that RT was no different from CNN and other US outlets. Okay then- if those are biased propaganda networks, what does that make RT? If RT is claiming to be a biased propaganda network, what leg have they got to stand on when they criticize others’ “journalism?”
One last note on this. A typical Russian response on this topic after they paint themselves into a corner is to claim that there is no such thing as objective reporting and all news is propaganda. To that my only response is: Just because you say something doesn’t make it so. You can tell yourself that all news organizations are just as biased as RT, but then you are first, supporting biased propaganda as though it’s a good thing, and second, deluding yourself.
Also interesting that they only mention US news outlets, because there are plenty of foreign publications that also call the Kremlin out on its bullshit. Of course when that happens, we’re supposed to believe that all these foreign outlets are somehow in cahoots with the US State Department in a worldwide conspiracy to make Russia look bad.
Anyway, a few more fun tidbits:
“Weiss mangles quotes. He claims that “the collapse of the Soviet Union, as (Vladimir) Putin notoriously said, was the 20th century’s greatest tragedy.” Putin never said this. The Russian President said “the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geo-political catastrophe of the century.” This is an entirely different matter.”
As a friend pointed out, they’re both wrong. Here’s what Putin actually said:
“Above all, we should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century.”
Yes, it is an entirely different matter, because “major” and a superlative “greatest” are pretty different. In fact, RT’s mangled quote is actually more open to sinister interpretation by the dreaded neocons like Weiss. So much for the hard-hitting “old school journalism” of RT.
And speaking of fuck ups:
“Many news sites have abandoned the practice of sub-editing copy before it’s published. It appears that Weiss is not cut out for this “brave new world.” He mentions somebody called ‘Gatov.’ There’s no first name and no indication of who ‘Gatov’ is. An elementary school teacher would reprimand a child for that.”
The “Gatov” in question is Vasili Gatov. This is how he’s identified for the first time in Weiss’ article:
“On the domestic side, Russian state television, “just repeats the same trick as it did in Ukraine,” according to Vasily Gatov, a former employee of Russia’s now-disbanded RIA Novosti news agency and an expert on propaganda.”
I’ve never heard of journalism being taught in elementary schools, but I’m pretty sure elementary school teachers would reprimand a pupil for such sloppy reading skills. (UPDATE: I’ve received a screenshot showing that the quoted passage above was in fact missing from Weiss’ article, and it was supposedly added after this RT article was published. My own personal opinion is that the paragraph was left out by mistake, possibly a technical reason, because otherwise there is a really strange shift of topics between the preceding and following paragraphs. The reader may check the article and decide. I should also point out that the DB didn’t print any correction regarding the missing paragraph.)
Next comes one of my favorite gems, where RT shoots itself in the foot:
Another bizarre quote is from “nationalist” Dmitry Bobrov: “Now we’ll see if the national-betrayer, Putin, is ready to flush down the toilet all (the) Russians in Novorossiya.” For real Russia experts, this individual wouldn’t be a credible source. Bobrov was imprisoned for organizing a neo-Nazi group called Shulz-88 in St. Petersburg in the early 2000’s. Shulz-88 members brutally assaulted foreigners – including students from African countries and Vietnam. Yet, it appears that for Weiss, anybody willing to criticize Putin is kosher. That’s pretty rich for someone who in the same piece is attacking RT about commentators that appear on the channel.
It’s really indicative of how oblivious these people are when they just demonstrated how this violent neo-Nazi is apparently a fanatical Novorossiya supporter. No surprise since the project has always been associated with the far right inside and outside of Russia. Strange that this racist chose to support Russia and, conditionally, Putin, rather than join the Nazi-Banderite army of the Kyiv junta.
The question about his credibility is rather hilarious considering that he wasn’t really making a claim, nor was Weiss using him as some kind of source. Here’s the passage that the anonymous RT author obviously skimmed:
“Indeed, when he was photographed clinking rose glasses with Obama during an awkward UN dinner last week, the impression given to many Russians was that of a deal in the offing. To ultranationalists, wary that Putin isn’t quite the imperialist he plays at by Anschlussing his way through Europe, this scene of forced comity constituted “a moment of truth,” as Dmitry Bobrov wrote on his blog. “Now we’ll see if the national-betrayer, Putin, is ready to flush down the toilet all Russians in Novorossiya,” referring to the aspirational blood-and-soil Russian imperium that was to have started in the Donbas and fanned out from there.”
Weiss is merely referring to a well known fact that Putin has, throughout his career, often played both sides- a globalist peacemaker and a nationalist empire builder. Since Russians, even of the nationalist variety, are not as stupid as the Kremlin and RT thinks they are, it naturally causes discontent when they see their leader on TV, apparently “betraying” them.
Nowhere in this passage does Weiss refer to Bobrov in a positive way. He was just another far right-winger caught up in the Novorossiya propaganda, going through a moment of disillusionment. But it obviously struck a nerve with RT because that topic ends with: “That’s pretty rich for someone who in the same piece is attacking RT about commentators that appear on the channel.” Weiss doesn’t call Bobrov a “political analyst,” conceal his real politics, and present him as some kind of democratic opposition figure. By contrast, RT has put multiple far right wing people on the air, given them titles, and often failed to point out these ties. Here’s an example of one from Germany, and another from the US. RT has on more than one occasion misrepresented members of far right parties as “election observers” as well.
So Bobrov isn’t “Weiss'” source, nor is he even making a claim; he was expressing an opinion. That elementary school teacher ought to send a letter home with this pupil.
And then this happened:
Incidentally, some copy and paste anti-Russia websites reproduced the article verbatim, without correcting Weiss’ mistakes. Including Ukraine’s hilarious stopfake.org.
You done fucked up, son. I will say this though, they were kind enough to link to Stopfake.org, so that visitors can check out many fine examples of phony, often poorly-fabricated stories from the Russian media, including RT. Yes, Stopfake is hilarious, when you read about the Russian media’s bumbling attempts to pass off photos from other wars as coming from the Donbas, or example.
Interestingly, the latter’s mission statement reads: “The main purpose of this community is to check facts, verify information, and refute distorted information and propaganda about events in Ukraine covered in the media.” If it’s not about Ukraine, it seems facts don’t matter. How very Kafka-esque.
Actually, genius, articles like Weiss’ are published with a disclaimer attributing all opinions to the author, unlike your response. Weiss’ article doesn’t really contain any glaring factual errors save for one which is not really relevant (and it was stupid of Weiss to shoehorn it into this article). Moreover, in case you were wondering, Stopfake does in fact expose fake stories from Ukrainian media outlets.
And I think I’ll end this train wreck with this beauty:
“The Daily Beast can’t seem to live with or without RT. Its hysterical propaganda is amusing in many ways, but it also exposes a worrying truth: there are some segments of the American media that cannot tolerate the idea of a genuinely free press when it’s not promoting their own agenda.”
This is essentially the media equivalent of “LOL U MAD BRO?” That’s literally all they can muster up at the green and black. I’ll tell you what’s amusing- “a genuinely free press.” Sure. See the thing about the West is that all the failures of the big corporate giants led to a vibrant independent media, which was in turn helped by concepts like the constitutional freedoms that make it possible for virtually anyone to print and publish things. Contrast that to Russia, where media restrictions seem to increase on a yearly basis, and all the while Roskomnadzor is ready to smack down independent media sources over the most ridiculous infractions.
I’ve seen some RT fanatics scream about how they don’t face censorship at RT. Incidentally these are the same people who never criticize the Russian system and basically express exactly the same line on foreign policy that the Kremlin does. Please, if you want to show how independent RT is, maybe produce a documentary where you actually talk to a broad spectrum of people involved at Maidan and challenge the bullshit conspiracy theories you spread about it. There’s still plenty of opportunity to smut up the Western media in the process, since they too misrepresented Maidan. Why not challenge the Kremin’s claims about the Crimean annexation, as other independent journalists have? Why not run a good investigative documentary about Putin and his inner circle, showing how they live and what wealth they have. Maybe you could contrast that with the lives of most Russian citizens from across the country. Go ahead and pitch something like that at your next editorial meeting.
The point I’m making here, and I’ve made it plenty of times, is that when you look at the “mainstream media,” if you actually pay attention you will find all kinds of different opinions and critical looks at things like Euromaidan, Ukraine, or Syria. Just yesterday I linked to a Daily Beast article that raised serious questions about the wisdom of trying to support “moderate” rebels in Syria. I have a virtual collection of articles from a broad spectrum of “Western” sources which are highly critical of the Ukrainian government’s failure to deal with the far right, and fanning the flames with bone-headed laws aimed at garnering their support. I saw a lot of different opinions about dealing with Putin, some of them quite sympathetic to Russia, and almost every pundit I saw who weighed in on arming Ukraine was against the idea. What I don’t see is this kind of variety in RT or the Russian state-owned press. Of course the latter is far worse, but if RT is such an example of a “free press,” let it demonstrate it by putting out more varied content and having more debate on its air. Because they can say its just like some biased Western network, but at the end of the day they’re admitting that they’re biased and not attempting to be objective.
As for worrying, it’s clear from all the attacks coming out of RT and its head Margarita Simonyan that they are the ones who are worried, and with good reason. Propaganda and military were the two budget items which saw major increases in spending in 2014. Unlike the military, the propaganda arm wasn’t spared from the budget cuts in the wake of the economic crisis, but it is still extremely valuable to the regime. Better said, the domestic media is extremely valuable to the regime. RT is more expensive and promises far lower returns. Now that RT’s efficacy has been publicly called into question, they could end up on the chopping block.
As hilariously bad as it is, the article makes one good point about Weiss- he apparently doesn’t speak Russian and has no experience in Russia. I’m sorry but I really have a problem with that. You can surround yourself with the right experts and come to proper conclusions if you’re well informed, but you have no frame of reference to determine which sources are more valuable than others, and which are worthless. This is why Weiss’ interpreter includes dead on work at times, which is offset by loads of crap from someone like Goble. This isn’t just about Russia critics. There are many Kremlin fans who also have virtually no significant experience in Russia, don’t speak the language, and yet are convinced they have an idea of what is going on over here.
To me, Weiss has a sketchy political agenda which drives him to become a crusader in conflicts he knows little about. If he repeats the words of someone who knows what they’re talking about, he’s right. If he regurgitates something stupid, he’s wrong. I don’t really see him as a serious source. More of an aggregator of sorts.
While we’re on the topic of credentials, check out the final passage of the article, which is about how Weiss disrespects Stephen Cohen.
According to his Wikipedia entry, “Cohen is well known in both Russian and American circles. He is a close personal friend of former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, advised former US President George H.W. Bush in the late 1980s, helped Nikolai Bukharin’s widow, Anna Larina, rehabilitate her name during the Soviet era, and met Joseph Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana.” This is akin to a regional soccer correspondent throwing mud at Michael Jordan.
Cohen is a genuine Russia expert, with the credentials to prove it. He has forgotten more about the country than Michael Weiss will ever know. The fact that the latter gets far more attention right now, tells you all you need to know about the tragic state of the contemporary American media when it comes to coverage of Russia.
Remember folks, real journalism means quoting Wikipedia on a guy who is a published author. You really couldn’t read the author bio off one of his books? Just say what the guy is, and people can Google him if they’re not sure.
Also, I find this reference to academic credentials rather hilarious, because in the very same article Weiss quotes Timothy Snyder, who also has serious academic credentials in this topic under his belt. Academic credentials deserve respect, but nobody should cower under the weight of some academic’s diploma. It should be remembered that Cohen is old, and studied a state that hasn’t existed in quite some time. Cohen clearly has sentimental affection for a country which is nothing more than an illusion in his memory. Don’t believe me? Look what happens when emotions overwhelm facts.
Honestly though, if RT wants to help out Stephen Cohen, maybe they could start by not handing out “political analyst” titles to anyone who can regurgitate the bullshit on any one of dozens of “geopolitics” blogs. Maybe stop giving air time to 9/11 truthers and other conspiracy nuts for a change.
Meh…Fuck it. If the Kremlin wants to keep flushing money into this toilet, who am I to stop them? And I actually think a lot of folks in high places at RT have got a sweet deal for themselves. Milk it for everything you can, Mr. Anonymous RT Op-Edge writer!
Alright, enough of this bullshit. Let me cap this one off with this gem I found in the comments section:
UPDATE: An English translation of the article on budget cuts in the Russian media is now available.