What Exactly Is "Russia Today"?

Friday, March 07, 2014



If a journalist criticizing the government on Russia Today airwaves is a shock, how much journalism is happening there in the first place? Newsweek says “when it comes to Ukraine, RT is like going to a Cold War theme park, only without the breadlines.” The National Journal calls RT's characterization of the crisis in Crimea an adventure filled with “TV, sandwiches and selfies.” Bob talks with Julia Ioffe, senior editor at The New Republic, about how RT's coverage perfectly balances Putin-promoting and West-demoting. 
If a journalist criticizing the government on Russia Today airwaves is a shock, how much journalism is happening there in the first place? Newsweek says “when it comes to Ukraine, RT is like going to a Cold War theme park, only without the breadlines.” National Journal calls RT's characterization of the crisis in Crimea an adventure filled with “tea, sandwiches and selfies.” Bob talks with Julia Ioffe, senior editor at The New Republic, about how RT's coverage perfectly balances Putin-promoting and West-demoting. 



Julia Ioffe

Hosted by:

Bob Garfield

Comments [11]

reporter from round lake, il

Tom, throwing away the labels I look at the issues and how they are covered. Unfortunately the US media by and large is a business and its purpose is, you guessed it...........business. The more eyeballs or eardrums it can bring in the more it makes. So splitting hair over the coverage of this and that is simply ridiculous. That said NPR and others ( its member organizations) are political influence peddlers aka coyotes they are herding pollos over the border of blissful ignorance. That is why NPR and its crowd has sponsors and whoever pays the bills sends the tone. It was like that under Schiller, the previous clown and it is going to be like that forever. Look at the top and you will see where it is coming from. I have lived on 4 continents and have personal experience to compare the so-called public broadcasting system. US for what it gets (resource wise) and what it puts out is truly pathetic. It is not because people who are doing this are stupid or ignorant (well, some are) but because most like their jobs and are very good in determining political trends and how they translate toward their own career goals. We can split hairs here and there but it is a fact. Also when you quote wikipedia be careful as it is a double edged sword.

Mar. 14 2014 03:22 PM
Tom Roche from Carrboro, NC

@ reporter: "very reductionist ... Madison,WI protests that were completely ignore by US media"

It's also quite "reductionist" to speak of the "US media" as a single entity. E.g., Democracy Now! has covered Madison and Wisconsin extensively[1]. In fact, the diversity of the totality of US media, including its "long tail," *highlights* the ideological homogeneity of the large-scale US corporate-funded media (USCFM), including the major broadcast-TV, cable, radio (looking @ you, National Public Relations :-), and print providers. (Excluding Fox News, which I suspect is able to break with the rest of the USCFM on social and public-health issues--incidentally the only area where the USCFM is at all progressive--because corporate America appreciates how hard FN pushes their economic/military agenda, which is what *really* matters to the 1%.) This is especially sad WRT PBS, NPR, and other entities created (in- or directly) by the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967[2], which *seemed* (or at least some claimed, IIRC) to intend to provide educational and ideological alternatives to the corporate-owned media of its time. Instead, our "public broadcasters" pride themselves on providing the same "responsible," "middle-of-the-road" stenography as their more-directly-corporate-funded (i.e., corporate-owned) counterparts. (Again, with exceptions like DN! and its parent Pacifica[3]--gotta keep that brush from getting too broad :-) But hey! at least NPR spins me with less advertising !-)

Which is what's most sad about this piece on RT: it takes shallow propaganda already available in abundance, and gives it one more megaphone. OTOH, +1 to OTM for at least giving Abby Martin the chance to state her position in the accompanying piece[4]--I suspect she's not gonna be on the Sunday talk shows any time soon :-)

[1]: http://www.democracynow.org/topics/wisconsin
[2]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_Broadcasting_Act_of_1967
[3]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacifica_Radio
[4]: http://www.onthemedia.org/story/rt-anchor-breaks-rules/

Mar. 14 2014 12:37 PM
reporter from round lake, il

I think Jon brings out a valid point and but he is also very reductionist. Disclosure: I was on RT in London recently.
While VOA is all in one pure propaganda machine, RT can be also construed as one to a certain degree but they also do very hard journalism where US completely fails. I am not talking only about international coverage but also (for example) extensive coverage of Madison,WI protests that were completely ignore by US media and gave birth (arguable) to the Occupy Movement in the US. At one point 200,000 demonstrated in WI but did you ever hear or see it on US media. No. So dismissing one outlet vs the other is very simplistic at best. On the other hand there are also interesting developments in the media nobody thought would stick out. Take Stars and Stripes for example whose reporter did a very interesting and brave report on situation with chemical attack in Damascus. He analyzed both sides and his reporting gave a very alternative view on what is being actually reported. Ditto: with radio Free Europe that recently did an analysis of the "revolution" in Kiev and came to the analysis that it was a "coup" and it was "probably" illegal. I did my own analysis and when looking at the appropriate parts of Ukrainian constitution the laws transferring a power was not followed and it was actually broken (never mind the theater at Verkhovna Rada). The law here is very precise about the transfer of power and impeachment process. As much as I can personally dislike Putin I can only say that he is really right on that one and my country is supporting a coup and illegitimate government. It wouldn't be the first time and unfortunately not the last time.

Mar. 12 2014 09:26 PM
Jon from South Korea

I was glad to hear people talking about RT. As an American living abroad I have only encountered RT online and have been curious about what the reaction to it or exposure to it people had in the States. I have been even more curious about the lack of discussion about it among media critics, so it was about time. That said, I did feel like some of this piece fell flat and rather short compared to the level of journalism I expect from OTM, particularly when the comparison to VOA came up. There are a great many differences between VOA and RT, but to dismiss any comparison is ridiculous. Particularly since the dismissal seemed to be that VOA is up front about what it is while RT tries to pretend to be real journalism. Garfield should have pushed this point.

I recently finished Alan Heil Jr's love letter entitled "Voice of America: A History," and it seems that the central struggle within the Voice was between those who pushed for it to be solely propaganda and those who struggled to "get it straight." It was Heil's contention that the success of the Voice was that people trusted them to present accurate reporting, but that those who pushed for it to be propaganda often prevailed.

Mar. 11 2014 01:16 AM
kaori from boston, ma

Yes, Ms Ioffe has some issues, unfortunately. She once was on NPR last year I think when she complained how badly she was treated by a clerk at the Moscow Dept store when she needed to return an item. At that time I thought it was really weird why NPR would give anyone air time for such ridiculous story. Now I know as the people in the US media are very much like a mafia clique. You scratch me and I will............ You know how it goes.
BTW, The New Republic used to be a very interesting publication like 6-7 years ago and I think now they are under some new ownership. The material is crap, waste of paper to be printed on.

Mar. 10 2014 06:42 PM
Pablo Schenk

Julia Ioffe has an axe to grind with all Russian's as they were antagonistic
towards her ethnic background especially so when Stalin took over.

I sense her misguided comments are a holdover from the Soviet Era which
Putin was so very prominent.

Abby Martin is a true journalist, unlike 90% of the folks that claim independence from sponsor pressure here in the USA.

On media , New Republic Julia Ioffe indicates RT only on Internet?

Time Warner Cable channel 159;Augusta, ME- Time Warner Cable channel 195;DC Metro AreaComcast - channel 274;Verizon Fios - channel 455; Cox Cable ..

RT broadcast through 30 satellite and 500 cable operators to 550 million people

RT America is pleased to announce that our television channel is now available for all subscribers to Dish Networks from coast-to-coast. Dish customers across the US can now tune to station 280 to catch live and late-breaking news from RT America.
Additionally, RT America has expanded its coverage in two other markets this month. Fans can now tune their television sets in the greater Sacramento, California and Seattle, Washington regions. In Sacramento, Davis, Stockton, Modesto, Fresno and surrounding cities, viewers can catch RT America on channel 103 if you subscribe to Comcast Cable. Comcast customers in Seattle, Tacoma, Bellingham, Spokane, Olympia and elsewhere can pick up RT America on channel 81.

Maybe Julia should talk to Juan Williams about political censorship, Jeez, bet she won’t, go figure.

Williams joined NPR in 2000 as host of the daily afternoon talk show Talk of the Nation.[3] He then served as senior national correspondent for NPR.[7] NPR's President and CEO Vivian Schiller requested that Fox stop identifying him as an NPR host in 2009 after Williams made the following comment on January 26, 2009, to Bill O’Reilly and Mary Katharine Ham, while appearing on Fox News' O'Reilly Factor:

Mar. 10 2014 08:58 AM
reporter from round lake, il

I suggest if Mr Garfield and Ms Gladstone would really like to ask some hard questions about Ukraine they watch this new German documentary about EuroMaidan. They should then take some clues on how US media frames the narrative about the situation there and where is the money coming out of National Endowment for Democracy,USAID, CIA among many others,winds up at.
Wir learnen Deutsch zusammen!


Mar. 09 2014 12:11 PM
Susand Davis from Burlington NJ

One of the journalists being interviewed said that RT was only available in Hotels here in the US - WRONG!

Just so you know,we do not have cable or DSL and get our TV program over the air (yes it works) and we do get RT over the air plus almost 50 other channels on our SMART TV.

Mar. 09 2014 12:07 PM
reporter from round lake, il

As someone that recently did an interview with RT in London I can say I had no pressure whatsoever what to say and how to frame my ideas. Frankly speaking I couldn't be on any mainstream media in the US presenting the view what I saw on the ground in Kiev. OTM is really part of the problem and it is utterly and completely corrupt as much as WNYC and NPR. The New Republic unbiased and doing journalism? You have got to be kidding.
Tom Roche's comment is 100% on point and correct and if it was up to me he should be doing a segment on OTM and not your usual suspects. As for propaganda value and name calling you can below check out the link that BBC did on situation in Kiev (of course many will also accuse them of taking Russian money) which is incidentally exactly what I saw at EuroMaidan. It is even more ironic that some OTM producers who also are Jewish have no problem with the official US/corporate line coverage although they do have Holocaust survivors in their families. Unfortunately we live in strange times and personal courage as presented by Ms Martin of RT or Mr Hedges of NYT is completely missing in action.

Mar. 09 2014 09:43 AM
David Gespass from Birmingham, Alabama

I generally find OTM to be one of the best NPR shows, but the interview with Julia Ioffe was guilty of all she accused Russia Today of. The media in the US has reported -- without irony -- the unbelievably hypocritical comments from John Kerry and Barack Obama about violating international law and invading other countries on thin pretext. I do not mean to justify what Russia has done or promote Russia Today, but why is its reportage without irony and the coverage in the west anything else? US policies have enabled other countries seeking to violate international law because they have the strength to do so.

And what real distinction is there between Russia Today and Voice of America, Fox News or MSNBC? The difference with the latter is that Russia Today reflects the views of the government while Fox reflects the views of its management and MSNBC those of the Democratic Party. As to the distinction she draws with Voice of America, even the names are similar. Each unabashedly reflects the view of their respective governments.

Finally, why is there not at least some commentary on the fact that there was a coup in Ukraine, however distasteful the president was, and no commentary at all about the nature of the new government? Why is the vote in Crimea unconstitutional and the removal of the president and installation of a US-approved chief of state not?

Mar. 08 2014 04:35 PM
Tom Roche from Carrboro, NC

(hoping this formats correctly) OTM "buried the lead" here, which is how the Web allows consumers to fill-in the "blind spots" (or the "nothing to see here, move along now spots") of state- and corporate-funded public relations. Julia Ioffe says RT "is perfectly balanced between promoting Putin and ridiculing the West." One could just as easily point to

- WNYC and The New Republic, balancing ignoring and smearing critics of Israel's nuclear program, Israel's Lebensraum policy, growing Israeli theocracy, ...

- National Public Relations, balancing smearing Snowden and smearing Assange (who can defend himself courtesy of RT[1])--while, of course, cynically availing itself of content from each if its funders would not be too upset

- US corporate-funded media more generally, balancing praise for violent protest against a democratically-elected government in Ukraine and in Venezuela[2]

- ... and balancing ignoring US environmental protests and ... ignoring US environmental protests[3]

"Humans got blind spots": the universe is complex, there is no "view from nowhere"[4], we are all prone to cognitive biases[5]. (Commenters[6] have noted the hilarity of Garfield's pretense otherwise.) We compensate by aggregating multiple sources. We can now *somewhat* balance (given differential distribution) OTM with CounterSpin[7], and NPR with Democracy Now![8] and The Intercept[9]. At least, as long as ISPs cannot control content--but that's another story, on which OTM has provided much better coverage.

One needs to educate oneself regarding the cognitive deficits of one's media. E.g., for a balanced view of Russian foreign policy, look not solely to RT (comically pro-) or NPR (comically anti-). But combine the two with some DN! and knowledge of modern history, and one can see that recent events in Ukraine are just bad-old-fashioned sphere-of-influence power politics. Russia in 2014 is protecting its base in Crimea just like the US in 2011 (thanks to the Saudis and UAE) protected our base in Bahrain, and Russia is doing to Ukraine what the US has done to just about every nation in the Western Hemisphere. What would happen if the Chinese offered the Canadians or the Mexicans an "Association Agreement" including a "Common Foreign and Security Policy" with provisions similar to those offered Ukraine? US special forces would cross the border before you could say "tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de los E.U."

[1]: https://assange.rt.com/
[2]: http://www.fair.org/blog/2014/03/04/the-good-kind-of-protesters-and-the-bad-kind/
[3]: http://www.fair.org/blog/2014/03/05/a-protest-in-the-capital-and-a-media-blackout/
[4]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/View_from_nowhere
[5]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases
[6]: http://www.onthemedia.org/story/rt-anchor-breaks-rules/#commentlist
[7]: http://fair.org/counterspin-radio/
[8]: http://www.democracynow.org/
[9]: https://firstlook.org/theintercept/

Mar. 08 2014 01:34 PM

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