Propaganda

Is Russia Today Just Propaganda for Uposcrabblenyk?

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Accuracy in Media puts together a wonderful highlight reel of Pravda-style denunciations of the U.S.A., culled from the English-language feed of the state-funded RT news network: 

You may spot a familiar face or two from Reason and the larger liberpunk universe. We're not the ones making anti-American statements, however. We're red-blooded Americans who just pretend to be parasitical coastal cosmopolitan pantywaists because that's where the media money is. 

Call it Cold War nostalgia, but I still think there are few things funnier than making fun of Russians in exactly this way. I have just two beefs with AIM. First, that we are all standing on the bear-sized shoulders of SCTV's "CCCP1" simulcast from the early eighties, which introduced North America to such Soviet favorites as Uposcrabblenyk and What Fits Into Russia, a newsmagazine demonstrating the vastness of a Soviet Empire that could swallow up whole countries and even continents. ("Too bad for capitalist convicts and kangaroos who inhabit this godforsaken place Australia… Giant continent? Ha ha ha! Giant joke!") And of course, the unforgettable Hey Giorgy!

I'm also not sure about AIM's criticism of RT as lacking not only "journalistic integrity" but also the "lavish funding of its competitors." I'd prefer that governments not fund media of any kind, but RT has made a perfectly respectable entry into the American news market. 

Vasily Tyorkin, great Soviet hero of Soviet greatness

And it's done much better than our own government-funded efforts in the Arabic news market. In the last ten years you have paid for the Al-Hurra TV network, the Sawa radio network and the teen magazine Hi, among other State Department media ventures in the Arab nations. The TV network has failed to gain viewers and its costs have been going up. The State Department's inspector general says the radio station has failed to fulfill its mandate. At least the teen magazine was allowed to go out of business. (Anecdotally, I've never heard Sawa on local radio or seen Al-Hurra on TV, and the only evidence of Hi I ever saw was a billboard advertising it in Beirut.) 

RT, by contrast, gets wide distribution in the Arab world, and produces the same kind of close-enough news selection it does in English, with the same electric-green branding. The channel caters to Russian interests, but not rigidly so. Its Syria coverage, for example, has turned anti-regime at about the same rate as other Arabic media. This puts RT about on par with that Great Game propaganda organ Vogue, which only recently got around to disappearing its February puff piece on first lady Asma Assad from its site. 

But if you want to mock RT as a Kremlin foghorn, you would do better to skip its coverage of Libya or the deficit or the permanent warfare state. These are topics on which RT's bias is pretty much the same as that of the majority of Americans. RT's special Putinovian concerns really come through when it is covering news related to Russia. When RT reports on the arrest of the true killer of Anna Politkovskaya or the imminent downfall of the tie-chewing dictator Saakashvili, it truly sounds as clumsy and strident as the original TASS. But so what? Why would anybody expect a hard-hitting exposé on Russian interests from a Russian news network? Nor is all of RT's Russia coverage propaganda. I don't think anybody could watch the network's human interest report on the Moscow woman who became both mother and grandmother of twins when she was implanted with ova fertilized by her dead son, and not come away changed for the worse. 

Taking what you want from opposition literature is an American tradition older than the republic, dating back at least to Benjamin Franklin's conversion to deism as a result of reading anti-deist pamphlets. "It happened that they wrought an effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them, for the arguments of the deists which were quoted to be refuted appeared to me much stronger than the refutations," Franklin wrote in his autobiography. "In short, I soon became a thorough deist."