Tag Archives: media

Karma

Did you hear about the fanatical woman who decapitated a four year old? No, no, not in Ukraine! In Moscow. Yes, this actually happened, and it is every bit as horrifying as it sounds. Of course if it had happened in Ukraine, the Russian state media would be all over it. Hell, they’d be all over the story if it never actually took place outside the imagination of some random “Donetsk People’s Republic” official’s imagination. But although Russian state media often isn’t shy about sensational crime stories, they were silent on this one yesterday.

This morning an explanation has emerged as to why the state news agencies kept silent about the barbaric crime of this obviously deranged individual. According to RBK, one motivating factor for not airing the story was the fear inciting ethnic hatred among the viewers, as the woman in question was a hired nanny from Uzbekistan. Now that brings up a few interesting points.

First of all, the Russian media was more than happy to not only stir up ethnic hatred towards migrants, but to do so with a completely fabricated story- so long as this was done outside of Russia’s borders. For those not in the know I am of course referring to the story of Liza, a 13-year-old Russian-speaking girl living in Berlin. As their story lacked any evidence, a major component of the narrative was that the Berlin authorities were deliberately engaged in a cover-up for the sake of deterring racist reactions.

Second, in a way the Russian state media chiefs are rightly concerned about how the story will be received, but for a horrible reason. Some of them must be conscious of the fact that their own media has for years slandered Europe using racist themes, specifically those about hordes of Muslim immigrants displacing and dominating the native population. They might also realize that they have promoted the most primitive worldview, whereby any misdeed by one member of a large group justifies hatred, even violence, towards any other member of that group. We’ve seen this in action in recent times, when Turkish citizens working in Russia suddenly reaped a wave of harassment just because their government shot down a Russian plane which was taking part in a foreign war. Years ago, race riots in Moscow and other parts of Russia typically followed an alleged crime committed by a non-Russian, typically a Caucasian. All Caucasians are expected to answer for the crime of any Caucasian. It’s idiotic in the extreme, but the Russian media played a role in stoking such tribal concepts.

The sad thing is that authorities actually help fuel racism by not publicizing stories like this and making sure everyone knows the circumstances and details. While the Russian state media didn’t report on the killing, it was all over Russian Twitter, and no doubt on VK and other Russian social networks as well. People with ideological motivations also tend to use the internet, so rest assured plenty of people saw what happened. When it comes to far-right, racist narratives, attempts to suppress facts relating to nationality are perceived as a deliberate cover-up by the authorities. This is by no means unique to Russia; authorities in several European countries have had policies about not releasing ethnic or religious details about suspects out of fear of stoking the far right. The problem is that the far right inevitably finds out, often invents their own details, and then uses the “cover-up” as proof that they are being persecuted.

The cat’s out of the bag, whether the Russian state media acknowledges it or not. I’m sure they’ll report on it eventually, assuming they haven’t already started as I write this, but I’m quite certain that they’re all secretly wishing this had happened in Ukraine instead of Moscow.

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Yup, they mad: Russian foreign language media can’t take the heat

RT has been feeling the heat as of late, from critics in the West to Russians fed up with seeing so much of their state’s wealth pissed away on propaganda aimed at foreigners. The response to these critics has come largely in the form of anonymous hit pieces on RT’s website, as well as from RT chief Margarita Simonyan herself on her Livejournal account.

I’ve read plenty of these responses and they’re typically filled with bizarre logic, unsubstantiated claims, and insinuations about the motives of their critics. Personally I’ve found RT’s reactions to be rather amusing because they present a paradox- RT is supposed to be so successful, yet it has to constantly run articles about how popular it is, while its staff, including senior people and even the network’s own chief apparently spend considerable time attacking critics.

Imagine, if you will, that this entire blog was about how much CNN sucks. I highly doubt anyone from CNN would post a special op-ed on their website attempting to refute my claims. I’m quite certain the head of the network wouldn’t bother. I’m damned sure they wouldn’t attempt to smear me as some kind of paid agent, perhaps working for MSNBC. Naturally this is quite laughable, because big successful networks, even those which suck like CNN, don’t feel the need to defend themselves against such criticism.

Now lately I’ve been thinking of making a rule, more accurately a hierarchy, which describes the quality of Russian foreign language media. It goes RT>Sputnik>Russia Insider. And now days, if RT does something stupid, Sputnik’s going to lower the bar considerably. And that’s exactly what they did in this article.

In case you hadn’t heard, or in case you just don’t use Twitter, there was a parody account based on Sputnik that became famous for being near-indistinguishable from the real thing. If you want to see how indistinguishable, try your hand at this quiz. Recently the parody account was shut down for violating certain regulations in Twitter’s Terms of Service agreement, but it was quickly resurrected under a different name.

So what did the real Sputnik do? Well Sputnik is just so successful and widespread that they just had to dedicate an entire article to the parody account, claiming that it is proof of Sputnik’s popularity. This was a real genius move, as it duly informed otherwise unaware readers that there was a parody account. That in turn begs the question as to why there is a parody account in the first place. But that parody account was shut down and the article mentions this, right? Yeah, and it also mentions that it was restored. Just look at this:

“In what could be testament to the growing popularity of this website, Sputnik nevertheless attracted not one, but several parody accounts.
Unfortunately for the people running it, the account violated Twitter’s impersonation guidelines and was deleted, although a new one soon popped up.”

Hmmm…Your serious news site has, according to you, several parody accounts, one of which was so similar it was taken down for “impersonation.” So yeah, that could be a testament to the growing popularity of your website. But it could also be that your content is so redonkulously batshit insane that numerous individuals derive great entertainment out of satirizing it. Again, it begs the question as to why this site has so many parody accounts and why are they often difficult to distinguish from the real thing?

It gets even better though. Sputnicians vow to get to the bottom of this:

“Out of genuine curiosity, we here at Sputnik decided to carry out one of those “open source investigations” employing “digital forensics” to find out, with varying degrees of certainty, who is behind the account.”

Yes, the super popular serious news site conducted an “open source investigation” into the people behind these parody accounts. In other words, they’re doing the same thing they claim is utter bullshit when Bellingcat does it. But then again, they’re not really using the methodology of Bellingcat, which becomes apparent when you see the results they came up with.

“The preliminary results turned out to be pretty uninteresting: an American expatriate in Kiev, who also has some sort of vendetta against Russia’s president; a Finnish systems administrator, who has too much free time at the community college where he is employed; a Russian blogger, who in the recent past was involved in the killing and dismemberment of cats.”

An American expat in Kyiv with a “vendetta against Russia’s president.” I don’t know who this could be, but leave it to Sputnik to call criticism of their glorious leader a “some sort of vendetta.”

Next there’s the systems administrator who “has too much free time on his hands.” First of all, he’s a systems administrator, so the fact that he has time to tweet stuff from work shouldn’t be too surprising. Also it’s a little rich accusing him of having too much free time when these people are claiming they did an actual investigation into the people behind a Twitter account. Maybe they ought to be sending out some people to run down the story behind that hand grenade attack (originally thought to be an IED) at a bus stop on Pokrovka last night.

Lastly I don’t know about the cat-killing Russian blogger, but since no names are given for anyone and only the slightest details appear, we can’t really trust that bizarre claim. If the guy actually killed and dismembered cats I’ll be the first to condemn him, but as it is this just isn’t convincing.

And so those are the results of their big investigation. The article ends with the typical RT-style gloating and obliviousness to irony.

“It may seem like a worthwhile pursuit for three strangers, bored on the Internet, to entertain pundits, in essence becoming a second-rate version of them. Let’s hope that they learn the rules on trademarks and impersonation, or at least gain aspirations to go beyond small-time Internet fame.”

Once again, Sputnik is so successful, unlike these dorks with too much free time on their hands, that it must do an investigation, write and copy edit an article, all in order to not really expose three people who might be behind a Twitter parody account. Not website mind you, Twitter account.

This is all pretty funny because unlike RT, Sputnik doesn’t really have as much reason to panic and defend itself with bizarre polemics and hit pieces. RT has suffered budget cuts and scrutiny over its performance and expenditures. Sputnik on the other hand received an increase in funds. Sputnik is far cheaper than RT as well. Dumping RT entirely would save the Russian government massive amounts of money, and Sputnik would be more or less just as effective. RT’s responses to critics are stupid and often inaccurate, but it’s logical as to why they engage in these tactics. They are indeed exaggerating their popularity and they require a massive budget. What is more, RT’s responses aren’t aimed at parodies but rather serious pundits, analysts, and journalists. The information war narrative remains intact.

Parody is another matter however. The fact that Sputnik found this matter so important as to write an article about it, risking the inevitable discovery of its parody accounts, is because parody and satire are extremely effective. Before I explain why, let’s look at what isn’t effective.

Remember how we heard about the “weaponization of information” and how the EU countries needed countermeasures? There were numerous conferences, meetings, and lectures on this topic. The EU’s solution was to create a sort of “mythbusters” outlet that would debunk Russian propaganda sources. Now this thing actually exists, and here’s what it looks like. Wow.

I found some interesting resources in this and previous releases, but that’s me, a writer, long-term resident in Russia, in short, someone who deals with this kind of crap on a near-daily basis. If you’re a layperson or new to the game, it seems this wouldn’t be very informative. And if this is supposed to convince Russians living in Baltic countries as one of the stated goals was, forget about it. Comments like “No evidence for these allegations given” aren’t going to convince any of them.

The infuriating thing is that this project must cost money, and I shudder to think how much was spent on it. Compare these reports to Stopfake, which survives off grants and consists of about a dozen or so people. Which would you rather read? Which is going to give you more context and background? Stopfake shows what self-organizing people can do on their own initiative.

Just as Stopfake is more effective than dry, state produced reports and documents, parody is effective because it totally deflates the Russian propaganda machine, any propaganda machine really. Already some Russian foreign language media outlets have hurled themselves across the line into self-parody. Russia Insider, for example, did it with this gem about Putin’s Christ like qualities.  RT did it by publishing articles from that very same author, as well as whatever the hell this is supposed to be. Sputnik’s people must have been rightly scared at the idea that their brand was becoming indistinguishable from a parody account. What if someone more educated on Russian propaganda and the Kremlin’s political ideology were to create another parody? What if dozens of such people did?

RT, Sputnik, and the rest are very effective at attracting disaffected Westerners who don’t know much about Russia, its system, or its media. Russia’s propaganda machine paints itself as a voice of truth, a revolutionary voice against Western hegemony. Yet this image is as shallow as a teenager wearing a Che shirt and having no idea who he is. What is more, these people might have their convictions, but when they see that the Russian outlets are all followed by clusters of parody Twitter accounts or websites they’re going to start wondering how trustworthy these sources are. People don’t want to look stupid and thus they’ll be less inclined to associate with sources whose content is routinely mocked.

Panicky speeches about the “weaponization of information” and “information war” in conjunction with “hybrid warfare” only help people behind the Kremlin’s media. If they can show Western academics and leaders in hysterics over the information war, this not only confirms that the information war is a real, objective fact, and that the Russian efforts in information warfare are effective and thus worthy of their inflated budgets. On the other hand, if the Kremlin wants to see results and those results are laughter and mockery, the higher ups might be more than happy to pull the plug on an expensive budget item. Domestic propaganda in Russia is crucial, but foreign language propaganda is expendable.

So don’t panic. Point and laugh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The leg work

One thing I’ve noticed about many people with a conspiratorial worldview is that they rarely seem interested in actually doing any kind of investigation into the things they believe, even if it isn’t necessarily hard to do so. They’d much rather park themselves in front of trusted sources of information, i.e those that confirm their previously-determined view, than go out and verify something they’ve heard. There seems to be no concern over whether their sources are lying to them. Obviously the feasibility of investigation varies depending on the individual and the event or issue being discussed, but I find it odd when people claiming to be journalists seem utterly uninterested in doing any investigation of their own to refute what they say are biased claims of “the mainstream media.”

A perfect case of this is the recent wave of news about the Kremlin’s paid “troll armies” on the internet. “Recent” in this case refers to the English-language news, because in the Russian-language press the story is much older. Naturally the Putin fanboy press is calling bullshit and dismissing it all as propaganda. Former workers coming forward? Lies! Photos and the address of the building where one of the largest troll farm operations takes place? Propaganda! But there’s just something funny about the rapid, off the cuff dismissals from these Kremlin fans, and that is that they never seem willing to actually do their own investigation even when it ought to be easy to do so.

Let’s start with this troll army story. This piece in the The New York Times is the latest and one of the most detailed stories about the operation. Then we have two additional pieces from RFERL (Link 1, Link 2), one of which also has a photograph of the same building that appears in the NY Times article and names the same street. What we see in all three articles is a more or less consistent story about how the operation runs.

Now naturally the Russian Insider and Sputnik News crowd would dismiss this as coming from “the mainstream media” in the case of the NY Times piece, and naturally RFERL is straight up CIA in their book. The thing that gets me though, is in this case it would be so easy to refute these stories by doing one’s own investigation. Numerous articles have photos of the building in question plus the street address. We’re talking about a place in St. Petersburg, which is roughly four hours from Moscow if you take the new Sapsan train. How hard would it be to investigate this building and monitor it in the same way that the other journalists did? Wouldn’t this be the best way to come up with bulletproof evidence that the evil Western media is lying? Actually I think there’s an even better way.

Russia’s information warriors constantly insist that the Western media lies about Russia. Most of the time they make little effort to actually confront the claims in question, but rather they prefer to pull a Glenn Beck and explain how the authors are supposedly connected to the CIA or Western NGOs. They never address the fact that Russian media gets routinely busted for producing obviously fabricated stories either. Nonetheless, they insist that it’s the “Western” press, i.e. any press that doesn’t agree with Russia’s line, that lies and fabricates claims against Russia rather than vice versa.

Remember when NBC used poorly-faked satellite photos on the news and nobody was fired for it? Me neither.

Remember when NBC used poorly-faked satellite photos on the news and nobody was fired for it? Me neither.

The thing that strikes me as odd about all this is why, after all these years of claiming that the Western press is nothing but propaganda, none of these truth warriors have ever bothered to prove their point by doing an inside investigation. These days a lot of major news outlets use freelancers. Why don’t they try pitching a totally fabricated story, perhaps something about MH17 for example, to various news agencies? If the pitch is accepted without question, then we have proof that they don’t care about fact-checking. If they ask about verification, our investigator can “admit” that it’s unconfirmed, but then point out how this would make a really good anti-Russian narrative or words to that effect. I’m betting they’ll be shocked by the reaction. Welcome to actual journalism, pal.

After a brief and nightmarish stint in a state-run news agency of a country that makes Russia look like a model of sound governance, and having numerous close friends or acquaintances who work in the news media, I’ve come to realize that a major part of the problem when it comes to this conspiratorial thinking is that most people simply have no idea how the news is made, and how media works. Anyone who actually does their research can rattle off dozens of real-life examples of the “Western” or let’s say American press getting things wrong. The reasons are manifold. Sometimes it’s about preserving access to official sources. Often times it’s sensationalism winning out over fact-checking and sober analysis. Sometimes it’s an ambitious journalist crossing the line and fabricating details.

What’s important to remember however, is that there are limits to how bad it gets. Journalists who fabricate stories get fired- some get publicly humiliated. Years of biased right-wing cable news created a niche market for “liberal” media to counter it. Though it leaves much to be desired, the system has elements of self-correction. This is simply not the case with Russian media. If they get busted, they will usually admit that they had no evidence for the story, but they don’t apologize and they don’t stop. In fact RT is proof of this; there are tons of ridiculous stories which appear on Russia domestic media, but none of them will appear on outlets like RT unless they are heavily refined first. This is why, for example, the flash about Ukraine shooting down MH17 thinking it was Putin’s plane was quickly pulled from RT’s site after it appeared, and why they didn’t do an English-language story about the mysterious satellite photo of the Mig-29 shooting at the Malaysian airliner. Since RT has to compete with real news organizations, they can’t just be a non-stop bullshit factory like a Russian domestic channel.

News will always have bias, but not all bias is equal. What I don’t get is why so many of these truth seekers are so quick to dismiss journalism as lies and propaganda without actually doing any themselves. It seems like the easiest thing in the world for someone who has been working for a Russian English-language media outlet for years to set up an inside investigation of a “Western” media outlet and see how readily they accept unconfirmed reports that make Russia look bad. Better yet, see how willing they are to endorse a story that is a total fabrication.

In fact, let’s do a quick thought experiment on that right now- A Kremlin-supporting expat “geopolitical expert” and myself each write fabricated news stories. Mine is anti-Ukrainian, his is anti-Russian. I pitch mine to Sputnik News, they pitch theirs to The Guardian, NY Times, Al Jazeera, or whatever other organization is now part of the evil “Western media hegemony.” Be completely honest- Which story is likely to be accepted without question or at least with virtually no confirmation? Anyone doubting the outcome I’m implying here is welcome to try the experiment themselves. You’ve got nothing to lose but time, and if a major Western publication publishes your bullshit story, imagine what a coup that would be.

So in the end- yeah, we get it, all those Western hacks aren’t “real” journalists. Then you go out and be a real journalist, goddammit. Show them how it’s done. I’ve caught all kinds of flack from leftists who have never been to Ukraine or Russia because of my stance on the Donbas, once I had sufficient facts. And yet unlike them, instead of just countering their news links with my own, I eventually decided to take some of my hard-earned money, got on a damned plane, and went there without guides, a fixer, or anyone to see what was going on. And you know what? If all goes well in the next few months I’ll probably go back and get more info and opinions from the locals. That’s not exactly Pulitzer material, but it’s a lot closer to “real” journalism than the textwalls of crap you get from the office chair-bound “truth seekers” out there.. If I’m kicking your ass in the investigative journalism department, you’re not a journalist.

Distractions

Recently I was thinking about how folks love talking about how the media “distracts” us with celebrity gossip and sports while not reporting on major issues. In a way, that is true. Of course many times if you ask why this is, the real reason is monetary. The fact is that the media puts this out there because people watch it, and people watching things is how they make their money. What is more, hard-hitting news is likely to contradict someone’s worldview, thus turning them off and ensuring that they won’t go to that source for news anymore.

Seeing as how many of the people who make this criticism of media tend to be a bit more politically radical, however, I sometimes wonder if they are guilty of indulging in another form of sensationalist, frivolous, and ultimately distracting news. Let’s start big, with Alex Jones. Here he is screaming about how the media distracts us with Justin Bieber.

Sure, celebrity gossip, entertainment news, and sports are not serious issues and people should try to avoid spending undue amounts of attention on any of them, but who is Alex Jones to judge here? Alex Jones distracts the populace by talking about serious issues and distorting them into idiotic conspiracy theories. At other times he talks about issues that don’t even exist. What is worse than with the mainstream media and their celebrity gossip, Jones is telling his audience that they are informed, in fact more informed than the rest of the populace. Jones’ conspiracy theories about the Federal Reserve actually distract people from learning about how the Federal Reserve and monetary policy actually work. Conspiracy theories about 9/11 don’t teach people about decades of shortsighted American foreign policy and the various ideological struggles in the Middle East. While people are busy “prepping” for the upcoming economic collapse/FEMA concentration camp roundup, they are ignoring all kinds of real issues they could actually have an impact on if they took the time to find out what they can do and went out and did something. They could do this, but instead a few of them will occasionally attend unrelated protests with signs reading “INVESTIGATE 9/11” or they will stump for Ron Paul. The vast majority of Alex Jones fans don’t do jack.

Of course the American mainstream media is more selective in its conspiracy theories. Aside from those you will see on Fox, most of the conspiracy theories you see will appear on supposedly “educational” channels like the History Channel. These American networks can’t risk alienating viewers with 9/11 conspiracies, but a lot of other things are fair game, from Nostradamus predictions to Templar-linked secret societies.

Russia Today, of course, isn’t necessarily bound by the same concerns as American media corporations. The conspiracy theories you see peddled on RT are but a small fraction of those which appear on Russia’s domestic TV channels, but despite this one can’t help but notice that many of the “alternative” viewpoints or conspiracy theories on RT aren’t necessarily related to Russia’s foreign policy goals. This is the case with domestic Russian TV as well; it’s not all political. Why is this the case?

My guess is that conspiracy theories, paranormal stories, and pseudoscience are basically just an equivalent to celebrity gossip and sports. If you aren’t into the latter, the former will get you. Of course unlike sports and entertainment, these materials serve another purpose- they break down critical thinking abilities. Like RT says, question more. But it doesn’t necessarily mean challenge things critically. I like to interpret it as “question reality.” As myself and others have pointed out before, Russian propaganda isn’t about getting you to believe a different viewpoint, but rather it is about destroying the very idea that any viewpoint could possibly be right.

Clearly the men who devised this kind of strategy consider themselves to be very clever. Indeed various Russia-watchers seem to stand in awe of their “information warfare.” I’m not going to doubt its efficacy, at least at the moment, but in the long run it will fail. Russia’s war on reality won’t simply lead to its downfall, but it will prevent it from creating a coherent political, cultural, and social system for quite some time. Like the child who keeps lying about their schoolwork, that report card is still coming.

In the mean time, I suggest people stop looking at chemtrails, fed conspiracy theories, or 9/11 “truth” as being anything significantly different from celebrity gossip or major league sports. And to the latter’s credit, at least it doesn’t break down your critical thinking skills and make you think you have superior knowledge to everyone else. Ultimately, you’d be better off watching the news about Justin Bieber than taking people like Alex Jones or networks like RT seriously.

On Deaf Ears: The Wasted Potential of Russia Today

Finally I have had the time to write my response to Peter Pomerantsev’s article in The Atlantic, entitled “Russia and the Menace of Unreality.” The author examines the nature of Russia’s new media, and how there is no longer any concern whatsoever as to the credibility of their coverage. Russian media, particularly that aimed at foreign audiences, isn’t concerned so much with presenting an alternative point of view, but rather a myriad of different points of view until the waters are sufficiently muddied. Instead of presenting a lie as truth, the strategy seems to be to make truth unknowable by bombarding audiences with multiple, sometimes mutually exclusive theories or claims.

The downing of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine was a perfect example of this. RT and other Russian media sources posited numerous different explanations of the event, including:

-The first claim, that Ukrainians shot down the plane believing it to be that of Vladimir Putin. Of course no evidence was presented to support this theory and it was quickly taken down.

-Another claim, from the Russian defense ministry, alleging that a Ukrainian military plane shot the airliner down. Oddly enough, they claimed that the plane in question was a SU-25, a ground attack aircraft and not an interceptor. Why any military aircraft would have been sent to intercept a plane which had spent some time in Ukrainian airspace and flew in from the West was never really dealt with.

-A claim that the airliner was indeed shot down by a Buk SAM system, but that it was the Ukrainian army’s SAM and not that of the rebels.

-A claim which admits that the rebels shot down the plane, but only because it was being escorted by Ukrainian fighter planes, implying that they thought it was a military flight.

All of this serves to distract from key questions such as how the rebels managed to get their hands on this system and operate it in the first place. If they did have the know-how to properly operate it, it suggests Russian military involvement. If not, then they were negligent.  Even if we accepted the unlikely idea that the Ukrainian military downed the plane, this would not change the fact that the rebels were responsible due to a conflict they started and continued even after the first cease fire and the offer of peace talks which went unanswered.

So it is with Russian media. Rather than actually present some coherent, alternative message, the new direction seems to be aimed at merely confusing every new story until nobody has a clue what is going on.  If Russia is called out for wrongdoing and they can’t concoct any conspiracy theories to explain the accusations away, the response is typically whataboutism- not because the Russian government is terribly concerned about the rights of people living in Detroit or Ferguson, but simply because they trying to say, “Yes, we are bad, but everyone else is bad too, so we should all just mind our own business and continue being bad.”

Of course the obvious parallel to RT, in the US at least, would be Fox News, but this is somewhat inaccurate. First of all, while Fox is known for neck-breaking political line shifts from time to time, the overall message is pretty much always consistent. Fox is a conservative network. It champions supply-side economics, deregulation, and neo-liberalism by gift-wrapping these concepts in patriotism, nostalgia, “family values,” and other trappings of American conservatism. How radical Fox News can be seems to be based on the party of the administration in the White House, but there has always been limits for Fox. The network will only follow libertarian populism so far. Its pundits have publicly repudiated birtherism.  Fox News promotes a sort of worldview which is, while invincibly stupid, quite simple and coherent. It generally consists of the following concepts:

-Liberals are destroying America and undermining its values.

-Religion, particularly Christianity, is under attack by secular humanists.

-The world is full of evil people who are trying to kill you, rape you, or possibly invite your daughter to a rainbow party.

-Look at this outrageous act that some liberal did!

-Certain people(wink, wink) are trying to cheat you by leeching off welfare. Also they like to play the knockout game.

-Guns are awesome and owning them makes you manly.

-MUSLIMS! OH NO!

I could go on, but by this point you could probably fill in the blanks yourself at this point.  Sure, Fox can be contradictory. When Bush was president we were told it was wrong, if not treasonous, to criticize the president during wartime. It was wrong to question the expansion of government surveillance; if you had nothing to hide there was no reason to worry. And anti-war protesters were limp-wristed cowards who wanted to see our troops lose. Then Obama was elected and the line reversed. It was patriotic to criticize the president. We were only a few precarious steps away from a full-on dystopian tyranny. And the pencil-neck hippies of the Bush years suddenly transformed into goose-stepping union “thugs” who were poised to form Obama’s new paramilitary force, designed specifically to root out Christians and strip them of their firearms.  Contradictory, indeed, but look closely. Positions shifted, but the general line is intact. Conservatives are under siege by godless liberals and their Muslim allies. They went from defense of Bush’s administration to an offense against that of Obama, but the narrative remains consistent.

Not so with Russia Today. RT’s line often varies from story to story. There is only one consistent feature. Everything is anti-Western. Whereas Fox News at least claims to stand for something, RT and much of Russia’s media, if not the Russian state itself, can only present itself as standing against things. None of these institutions actually stands for anything. Even when its ideologues babble on about “Russian civilization” or the “Russian world,” the words have no meaning. A few years ago it was “Eurasia” or “Russia’s special unique path.” Whatever the words, it’s always the same. They all boil down to being “anti-something;” it’s never about what Russia actually should be, but rather what it shouldn’t be. When you take that message to foreign audiences, you are setting yourself up for problems. This is particularly so in Russia’s case, where the type of propaganda which is needed to woo Russian citizens tends to clash ideologically with RT’s main foreign audience.

It’s no secret that RT mainly appeals to conspiracy theorists, right wing populists, neo-Nazis, fascists, and terribly confused leftists. Each of these groups sees in Russia some kind of champion for their cause against their own government, which they hate. From RT’s point of view, as well as those in the state who hold the purse strings, this seems like success. Nobody can deny the success of the network in terms of exposure, ratings, views, and followers. But as is the case with so many Russian government ventures, short term, low-value gains are favored over real substance. In other words, RT sets the bar low to attract masses of people who are largely useless to Russia’s interests, while simultaneously turning off anyone in the West who could exert influence on their governments in a manner more conducive to the interests of Russia.

RT’s main audience is numerous indeed, but largely ineffective, marginal in their own society, self-defeating, self-isolating, and ultimately impotent. On the internet, these people tend to be extremely vocal and active, creating the idea that there are masses of fed up Americans, Canadians, and Europeans who will at some point exert pressure on their governments. It has been theorized that some ideologues in Kremlin circles believe that they can create enough dissent in Western countries so as to bring down governments or at least highly cripple them and prevent them from blocking any sort of Eurasian ambitions of Russia. If they indeed believe this, they are at best naive, and at worst totally delusional.  For as loud as those “dissidents” are on the internet, I can say from experience that the vast majority of them are totally worthless from a political point of view. Think about it- If someone has thousands of posts and comments on multiple forums, often carrying on endless debates and arguments with random people from around the world, how much time do you think that leaves for real world activism. HINT: None.

Most of these people don’t get out in the streets, and they often have a myriad of excuses as to why. If they do anything in the real world, it usually involves joining some organization which inevitably consists of a handful of men who meet at a local restaurant once a month to bitch about how the world is screwing them. They feel marginalized, and they act marginalized. Some of them have achieved modest financial success, but a great many of them are either unemployed or work in dead-end jobs. Now I want to say at this point that I am not pointing that out in a pejorative sense. Whatever their beliefs and however abhorrent we may find them, the fact is that these people are highly alienated by life and that alienation is often what attracts them to bad ideas in the first place. But I point out their economic status because let’s be frank- We live in a capitalist society which puts more faith in the words and ideas of financially successful people than it does in those of people who work at Subway.

The other failure of RT is ideological. One thing about RT that I always found to be hilarious is that it is so beloved by libertarians in spite of being a state-run TV network. Libertarians have often served as guests on RT, and some even had their own segments. Libertarians as a whole reject the free-market, corporate-dominated Western media, preferring instead the state run network of a country which has a massive state sector, lots of government regulation, and even state-owned enterprises. Now I realize that any libertarian could simply say that it isn’t their concern as to what system Russia actually has, but this does not change the fact that they prefer what must be, according to their definition, a product of a “socialist” society. Furthermore, the libertarians and similar ideologues who so deeply adore RT do not acknowledge the contradiction between Russia’s system and their beliefs.

These people will typically dismiss any talk of Russia’s lack of freedom as propaganda, and then go on to insist that living in the US is real tyranny. Look, I’m the last guy who likes throwing the word freedom around without qualifying or defining it, but Russia is objectively less free than the US and many other countries. People have been investigated and sometimes arrested here, simply for writing the most innocuous things on their personal blogs. Some unfortunate individuals have been actually jailed or beaten by unknown assailants. I’m terribly sorry but this generally does not happen in the US or other Western countries. The Westboro Baptist Church enjoyed the protection of the First Amendment. The National Socialist Movement has often enjoyed police protection for its marches on dozens of occasions. Alex Jones runs a highly successful business based on telling people to prepare themselves to resist the government whenever they get around to implementing martial law and rounding people up into FEMA-run concentration camps. The two dipshits who made Loose Change, essentially accusing the government of murdering 3,000 people on 9/11, are still alive and well.

Meanwhile, in Russia, an activist was jailed for running a social media page demanding the same federalization rights that the Donbass rebels demanded in Ukraine. That’s right, you can be jailed for demanding the same kind of autonomy Russia was demanding for the Donbass and the Crimea, according to a law that was actually approved after the whole separatist mess started.  So no, I’m terribly sorry Mr. RT viewer, but it isn’t the same in America. As far as I know, nobody from the anti-government militia known as the Disciples of the New Dawn has been arrested for their Facebook page, one of many anti-government militia pages on the social network. None of them will be arrested until they actually break a law.

Props to Russia for not putting up with bullshit like this.

Props to Russia for not putting up with bullshit like this.

Another ideological conflict comes up when it comes to treatment of the Soviet Union. In Russia, the authorities haven’t managed to fully come out against the USSR. Of course their reasons for this have nothing to do with sympathy towards socialism. On the contrary, Russia has a reactionary regime with staggering wealth inequality and workers have few avenues to air their grievances. The government treats ordinary people with utter contempt. What they glorify in the USSR is the authoritarian side, the Cold War, and basically all the bad sides of the Soviet Union which eventually compounded until its demise. Of course this glorification creates unease with RT’s mostly right-wing audience, many of whom aren’t just anti-Communists but open neo-Nazis. If it weren’t for the tragedy that has taken place in Ukraine, one would almost be amused at the utter confusion of Western fascists as they observe the ongoing conflict with absolutely no background understanding of the two factions or their history. Indeed, watching them discuss it calls to mind a group of people watching a foreign film with no subtitles, in a futile effort to determine what is really happening. Which side do they choose? Sure, the Western media is always bashing Russia, meaning Russia must therefore be good, but then again Russia glorifies the Soviet Union and claims to be fighting fascists, specifically fascists who wear their old anti-Communist symbols and even Waffen SS insignia in some cases.  But Russia is, of course, bigger, and it’s anti-Western, anti-EU, anti-NATO. Which country is run by Jews, Ukraine or Russia? Which one is more under the control of Jews? And one need not be a neo-Nazi to have a knee-jerk negative reaction to the Soviet Union and Communist symbols. Indeed, it must take a great deal of fortitude for many RT viewers to side with the country that laments the destruction of Lenin statues and Red Army monuments, both being symbols that they hate.

All in all, RT’s audience consists largely of an incoherent mob; it is an alliance of convenience and little else. Russia has staked a lot on RT, and does seem to be putting more into its foreign news services, and therefore it is all the more tragic that these resources are so readily pissed away. RT could have been a decent alternative to networks like CNN or the BBC, which quite frankly are often biased on many issues.  Most American networks, for quite some time, have become utterly enthralled to the official press release, and there is a genuine fear, at least in the US, of challenging official information lest a network’s reporters be cut out of the loop for asking too many difficult questions. Up until recent times, Russia was an up and coming player in the world, with legitimate positions to put forth, and RT could have been the vehicle to articulate those positions. In the end, RT could have reached a new generation of movers and shakers, people seen as successful and influential in their respective societies, as well as people who are perceived to be intelligent by their peers. RT could have also broadcast a more realistic view of Russia, its problems, and its potential for success.  What a pity that this isn’t what we got.

No, what the Kremlin got for its money, indeed what they got for the Russian taxpayers’ money, is the network which willfully and enthusiastically chases the most useless, ineffective people. Worse still, it doesn’t offer anything to enlighten those people. It doesn’t present an alternative viewpoint, but rather it just spreads utter confusion among an audience consisting of people who spend most of their time on the internet and who are constantly angry about anything and everything. They are not critical thinkers, nor are they people with any influence, much less influence which could help Russia in some way. They certainly do not “question more,” to use RT’s motto, as they unquestioningly swallow anything that confirms their prejudices and is presented to them as counter-mainstream.  Hence, RT’s potential to benefit Russia was wasted when it could have been useful, and now it looks as if it has passed a point of no return. It will still rake in the ratings, the views, and the likes, but none of those loyal fans will be there to save the regime’s ass when the inevitable collapse happens.

Also…This.