Recently I was discussing the popularity of Russian foreign language media (or lack thereof) with Noodle Remover Alexei Kovalev and my old friend over at Russian Avos (no, not at the same time). When it comes to why there is so much cynicism in the English-speaking world, so much so that some people are willing to give Russian foreign language media a free pass in spite of dozens of debunkings, an incoherent, contradictory message, and its state sponsorship, there’s really one word that comes to mind- Iraq. Yes, neo-liberal markets-over-morals policies were largely responsible for creating the Frankenstein monster that is currently flopping about in a sad attempt to play superpower, but when it comes to the propaganda war, it all goes back to the spring of 2003. That was America’s deliberate destruction of its own credibility, paired with the utter failure of nearly all major American news outlets. This would turn out to be a sort of savings bond for Putin, and with economic troubles on the horizon and his power becoming more precarious as a result, he cashed it in.
If your skeptical about this theory, go straight to the horse’s mouth and look at their own advertisements. This ad campaign was in 2014, over ten years since the invasion of Iraq, which took place roughly two years before RT even existed. This time frame, plus the fact that in that year Russia was engaged in its own war of aggression that very same year might lead some critics to dismiss the campaign as typical Russian whataboutery. This would be a mistake, however. RT’s exploitation of Iraq invasion-era memes goes beyond those posters. Constant use of labels like neocon and hawk are also throwbacks to the G.W. Bush administration’s military debacle.
Nobody can deny that the US media failed miserably in the run-up to the Iraq War. Numerous documentaries and books have been produced solely on the topic of the media’s complicity in the war. Moreover, major networks’ responses to the accusations, when they were forthcoming at all, were not satisfying. This is particularly true because the Iraq invasion was by no means the first time the media helped sell an unnecessary war. Norman Solomon’s War Made Easy is a handy resource if you want a summary of American war propaganda.
Naturally, RT and the Russian media don’t really believe in real journalism, journalism as a check on state power, objective truth, or “second opinions.” When they say “question more,” they’re only talking about questioning the statements and claims of opponents of the Kremlin regime. Still, some folks in the US are just so desperate to hear someone rip into both American parties over their foreign policy mistakes, even those that are several years old, that they’ll dismiss inconvenient facts about Russian media. “So what if Russia is a dictatorship and the government controls virtually all major media in the country. I don’t live in Russia. I’m not going to move there.” That’s the mentality.
While Congress and other institutions discuss what to do about Russia’s propaganda offensive, I recommend they look to their own population’s needs. Obviously they cannot go back in time and undo the Iraq War. What they can do, however, is address the severe economic and social impact of that war in the US. Raising minimum wages, exploring a universal basic income, fixing infrastructure, and student debt relief are just a few of the many things the government could look into in order to appeal to legions of disenfranchised working Americans. Of course many of these ideas are anathema to many American politicians, but they will have to make a decision. Help their fellow Americans or risk more disenfranchisement, cynicism, and everything that comes with that.