Oh how we Russia watchers love RT’s chief editor Margarita Simonyan, the Other Iron Lady, the Gourmet. I’ve even given her a theme song, if only because this gets stuck in my head any time someone mentions that name too many times or when I order the drink.
Whenever Tungsten Maggie gives an interview you can almost set your watch to it. Today’s interview was with Financial Times. I was expecting whataboutism, and she delivered! Rick Astley would let me down before she ever does. Check it out:
“We are far less critical of western policy than western media are critical of Russia. When was the last time you read anything good about Russia? Anywhere? Name me one publication,” she says. “That’s why this cliché that Russia Today is an anti-western channel brings a smile to my face.”
HA HA HA HA! No. When it comes to criticizing government policy, RT is 100% anti-Western, almost exclusively anti-American. Take a look at their Op-Edge page some time and you’ll find article after article slamming America’s leadership, foreign and domestic policy, the supposedly monolithic “mainstream Western media,” etc. Westerners are useful to RT only insofar as they attack their own governments without ever turning the same scrutiny to the Kremlin.
Now as for Margarita’s challenge, it took me less than a minute to find not one, but two positive stories about Russia. One from Bloomberg and another from The Guardian. In fact while writing this I remembered a piece from The Daily Beast of all sources, which seems to echo Russia’s line on Syria so closely that it was actually cited by Russia Insider. In fact, my own reprinted article in The Guardian seems to have been interpreted by the Russian state media, including RT’s Russian site, as a positive piece on Russia for shattering stereotypes about the country.
Now it is true that you’re apt to see more bad news out of Russia than good from most Western publications, but there are two simple reasons for this. One reason is that even now, most Westerners, especially Americans, do not care about Russia. If I write a story about say, the wonderful benefits of Moscow’s recent craft beer revolution there’s a very limited audience there. On the other hand, if I speculate on how Trump might be a secret puppet of Putin, warn about an impending world war, or accuse Putin of destroying the liberal world order, I’m not only more likely to get published, I’ll probably be offered a staff position at a major publication.
But there’s another good reason why the Western media is often hostile to Russia. Margarita might not yet be aware, but Western media publications have correspondents in Moscow who speak Russian and they have access to Russian experts. We know about how the Kremlin portrays the West as an enemy bent on taking over Russia for some idiotic reason or another. Europeans know that your domestic media is calling them limp-wristed perverts and reveling in their misfortune. Westerners know about how often Russian leaders or media personalities talk about reducing their countries to “radioactive ash” or otherwise imply that they wouldn’t hesitate to start nuclear war if they don’t get their way. They saw Russia’s tantrum when it lost Eurovision this year, and they know about the doping. We know how your leaders live in unimaginable luxury at the expense of their own people, and yet they blame all of Russia’s problems on the US State Department. We can see you. We can hear you. Now you combine that with the annexation of another country’s territory in violation of international law and several treaties signed by Russia, and a war which Russia’s leadership doesn’t have the guts to even admit after overwhelming evidence of their involvement. When you look at the big picture, is it really so hard to understand why Western media coverage of Russia tends to be negative?
But Margarita’s complaint fails on another level. Yes, Western media outlets tend to report negative news about Russia, but that’s what they do everywhere. Here’s a little trick you can try, one which apparently escapes Ms. Simonyan and the entire fanbase of RT. Using this wonderful site known as “Google,” take a major international sporting event in the past decade or so, type in its name, and add something like “problems” or “controversies.” Some of you have probably already seen examples of this regarding the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. You no doubt remember it from the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. If you focus on all these articles about problems and controversies associated with such events, you’d assume they must have been disastrous. In the run up to the 2014 World Cup, also held in Brazil, the media coverage alone would make you think that mass upheaval would take place.Some powerful favela gang leader, possibly with the assistance of a professional marketing team, promised a “World Cup of Terror” ahead of the games. It would seem the launch didn’t go so well. And in the case of Sochi, corruption was a major issue and the facilities were rife with amusing deficiencies, but it was nowhere near the disaster that some people predicted prior to the games. And here we’re only talking about sports, something that ought to be non-political.
Western media, which contrary to Margarita’s belief is not monolithic, is constantly focusing on the negative everywhere. Terrorism, violent crime, and in particular sex crimes get top billing. Look at it this way- over a period of about 30 years, a significant portion of Americans have become convinced that they live in what is rapidly deteriorating into a Third World shithole, contrary to nearly every credible statistic one can find. Where did they get that idea? Almost entirely from the American media. Forget Russophobia- Americans are far more afraid of each other than anyone else save Islamic terrorists and illegal immigrants.
Not only does the news media criticize society (often unfairly- just look at the coverage of “millennials”), but it also criticizes government policy and leaders as well. This is a key distinction between RT and the “Western media.” While RT’s news department doesn’t ignore bad news coming out of Russia, go back to that Op-Edge section and see if you can find anything seriously critical of Russia’s leadership and their policies. As I’ve noted before plenty of times, any speech by a US leader is almost instantly followed by “fact checking” articles which take apart their claims. Do we see something like this from RT after Putin’s direct line or annual press conference? Do we see RT actually investigating the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine to see if their president is lying? If you name a NATO or US action somewhere in the world, I guarantee you I will find critical voices on it from some major, trusted source. It’s simply impossible for any US effort abroad to be without some negative effect. Yet if we look at how the Russian state media relates to Putin- what a surprise! Turns out he’s the one politician in the world who actually never lies, nothing is his fault, and he’s picked on for no reason!
And this is all without getting into the political divide in Western countries. For example, I can find all the scathing criticism I’ll ever need against Obama simply by heading over to the Fox News Channel’s website. Now at this point, an RT defender might be inclined to object. “But that’s not fair! Fox News is a conservative network, a media wing of the Republican party! Of course they would viciously attack Obama and the Democrats! They’re supporting their party. They want their party to win elections!” And my reply to that or any similar argument? Yes, exactly. As the “Western media” is almost entirely privately owned, various networks and outlets do have biases towards certain political parties. Some are comfortable admitting it as well.
It’s called diversity of opinion, and it’s proof that there is a significant difference between the two systems in question. When a US president somehow buys up all the major news outlets in America and uses ever-tightening regulations to squeeze out independent voices (including popular blogs), and when those independent outlets that remain are continually labeled treasonous and subject to harassment by unknown assailants who are never caught or punished, then we can start comparing Russia’s media to that of the US.
While certainly not the meat of the interview, it seems every story on Simonyan has to include her making highly questionable claims about the network’s exposure. This time she said this:
“RT is also proud of its presence on YouTube, where it was the first news channel to crack a billion views. “Let’s be fair, we don’t have cats and Beyoncé, but politics and news stories,”
I don’t mean to sound like a dick here, but I’m not sure many major satellite networks put as much emphasis on their Youtube channel. Whenever RT brags about their Youtube success I can’t stop thinking of Pewdiepie, the Swedish man who screams at video games and has over 46 million subscribers on his channel. Also, we’ve already established that defending RT means losing the ability to use search engines, so Alexey Kovalev did what must have been literally three seconds of “research” to discover that RT’s Youtube channel does apparently have “cats.” A lot of cats, 136 in one story in fact.
Now she’s absolutely right about one thing- they don’t have Beyonce. Just one clip that is six years old, apparently. That is a shockingly low amount of Beyonce. If RT was a person and Beyonce was vitamin C, the conspicuous deficiency of Beyonce would cause RT’s teeth to fall out.
I really feel like I’m going around in circles with these people. We never get anything new out of Simonyan or her boss Kiselyov because, I’m sorry to say, journalists never press them enough. Like most Kremlin supporters, these people make a priori judgments about the world in order to justify their own actions in advance. “The Western media lies and they’re not objective, so it’s okay if we lie.” Rarely do they actually put it that bluntly, but that’s the gist of it, and no one who speaks with them seems to challenge them on their assumption. I mean this is a measurable, quantifiable thing. We can count negative stories. We can look for heavily distorted or even totally concocted stories. We can look for and count the number of stories that criticize a certain leader or his policies. This is by no means entirely subjective. Even when they do manage to seize on a poorly reported story from a particular outlet, you often find that firstly, the journalist in question suffers in some way, and secondly, another media source attacks or debunks the claim. Remember that infamous story from the first Gulf War, the one where an ambassador’s daughter testified to congress about Iraqi soldiers stealing incubators from hospitals and leaving the infants to die on the floor? Guess who debunked that- the mainstream media in the form of ABC and The New York Times.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again and again as long as I have to. Yes there are serious problems with our media. Yes they failed us again and again. In this post alone I pointed out how the American media has managed to convince a significant portion of the population that they are living in a rapidly declining country when in fact the opposite is true in almost every aspect. There are plenty of think tanks, independent media outlets, journalists, and academics all throughout the West (and some in Russia as well) who raise these issues and talk about solutions. One thing that definitely isn’t a solution is relying on a network whose staff believe it’s alright to lie and spread propaganda because they just arbitrarily decided that the rest of the world media does the same. Fast food may be bad for you, but the alternative isn’t eating out of the dumpster in back. Like following a healthy diet, being properly informed means going beyond headlines, looking at a diverse array of sources, learning about how the media works and how news is made, and using critical thinking. Uncritically accepting anything claiming to be non-mainstream or peddling information “they don’t want you do know” is going to the dumpster buffet.