Russia Today: why western cynics lap up Putin’s TV poison
November 9, 2014 8:28 AM   Subscribe

Russia Today: why western cynics lap up Putin’s TV poison. Suppose instead of trying to sell you Putin, Russia Today were to sell you the idea that Britain is as bad as a dictatorship. You might agree, however foolish the sentiment. (previously)

Putin is about to increase its $300m budget by 40%. Its resources will soon compare with Fox News. But while Fox serves the peculiar tastes of the American right, Russia Today has global ambitions. The channel broadcasts in English, Arabic and Spanish and can reach 600 million people. It claims to have surpassed a billion hits on YouTube, and will add German- and French-language channels. For the supposedly pariah leader of a country whose population is collapsing and mafia economy stagnating, Putin has the best publicity money can buy.

Anyone who writes critically about him soon learns the price of lese majeste. BuzzFeed revealed that state-sponsored Russian trolls maintain a Stakhanovite regime of tweeting and commenting on hostile news pieces as they spread the Kremlin’s message across the web. (Hello down there in the comments, by the way. Hope the sanctions aren’t hurting the pay cheques.)
posted by Nevin (41 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Here's your gift to the world Roger Ailes.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:35 AM on November 9, 2014 [6 favorites]


Heh. As I look at the comments now, the most recent is:
RT does its work fine, as this article testifies in itself. It is keeping up the worldwide freedom of information and a more balanced view of the world. Moreover, the channel is solidly and professionally produced.
A few minutes earlier one which predicts it flawlessly:
Comrades! New source Russia Today is finest in mine country! Putin is strong leader with buttery soft skin and strong like bear. Make for ignoring this slanted article for it is Obama work propaganda. I am from New Jersey.
The thing is, Nick Cohen seems little better than what he disparages, at least in this article. In the last few paragraphs he drags in, for example, Alex Salmond and Julian Assange as being some kind of guilty-because-I-associate-them fellow travellers in Putin's evil, and provides no substance for this accusation, content to just smear it on the wall and leave it there. To some extent he's countering noise not with signal, but rather competing noise.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:45 AM on November 9, 2014 [21 favorites]


Comrades! New source Russia Today is finest in mine country! Putin is strong leader with buttery soft skin and strong like bear. Make for ignoring this slanted article for it is Obama work propaganda. I am from New Jersey.

That's so beautiful. I'm still laughing.
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:50 AM on November 9, 2014 [14 favorites]


George_Spigott, the unqualified remarks about Salmond and others seemed to reveal the author's own resentful bent, and that's when I gave up.
posted by Evstar at 8:54 AM on November 9, 2014


Meanwhile, the CCP's 50-Cent Party, the US's Operation Earnest Voice, and even Fox News' PR department sockpuppets are thoroughly entrenched in this Propaganda 2.0, just in case anyone with any common sense left was still innocently reading blog comments or getting involved in Twitter hashtag conversations.
posted by Doktor Zed at 8:55 AM on November 9, 2014 [9 favorites]


As with most things nowadays, a plague on both their houses.
posted by fullerine at 8:55 AM on November 9, 2014 [4 favorites]


I have a former friend who works for Russia Today. If he can be believed, there are a lot of American citizens (himself included) who started working in Moscow for the network years and years ago, mostly as producers, since they could be relied on for the best English translations. From what he said when he first picked up the gig, it was a good way to travel and get paid absolutely shit-tons of money (for the usual scale on producers in the news business, anyway). He was never a true-believer. But ever since the war in Crimea, it seems like he's been over there long enough to start believing the line he's been toeing. Really scary.
posted by none of these will bring disaster at 9:00 AM on November 9, 2014 [7 favorites]


I find foreign government-sponsored English-language news outlets like AJE, RT and PressTV to be pretty valuable since they run stories that US news sources reflexively pass over. RT often has the best coverage of protests inside the US, and sometimes the only English-language reports of US drone strikes are on PressTV.

I mean, yeah, buyer beware and all that, but that's a good attitude to cultivate when consuming any media. The only entities that found large media organizations are those with an axe to grind.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:04 AM on November 9, 2014 [7 favorites]


Everyone sucks, amirite?
posted by wuwei at 9:06 AM on November 9, 2014


Hail Hydra!
posted by Catblack at 9:11 AM on November 9, 2014 [11 favorites]


I get the impression that UK readers will be familiar with Nick Cohen, and draw no assumptions from the fact that this appears in the Guardian. To me the name is only vaguely familiar as a kind of unreliable narrator with his own agenda. Also gleaned from the comments, this link to a take of his on anti-Iraq-War activism bears this out. And that it's in the Torygraph seems a little more representative.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:25 AM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


The thing is, Nick Cohen seems little better than what he disparages

Of course. Where would the Obama/Cameron security states and their media apologists be without Putin and North Korea to point to and yell "BUT SOMEONE SOMEWHERE IS SLIGHTLY WORSE!!" whenever someone tries to bring up the real issues we in the west are personally responsible for and could change if we wanted. If the log in the eye of the Western media since 2001 was any bigger 1950s tourists would be driving their cars through a hole in the middle.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:29 AM on November 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


News outlets have gone from trusted curators to providing one side of the story. While that sounds terrible, it may be OK. We just need to adjust our mental filters. When news outlets were "trusted curators", they were still biased, but less overtly so. For example, see how most trusted US news organizations were cheerleaders for the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Now at least we know of their biases, by following the money.

It's kind of like a trial, where you have the prosecutor telling the jury how evil the defendant is, while the defense attorney tells them that the alleged crime was really a tragic misunderstanding. Both are exaggerations, but by hearing both, we can arrive at something close to truth.

And when all else fails, we can always fall back on the BBC.
posted by Triplanetary at 9:32 AM on November 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


You would think that someone who has studied Putin's propaganda machine as expertly as Cohen evidently has, could produce a text that doesn't read like the works of a old school propagandist. I mean, doesn't Western Cynics read like something you would expect from old Soviet propaganda? The entire language of the piece is designed to enrage and remove any nuance from the discussion; either you believe that Putin and RT are part of an evil propaganda machine with the intent of harming West, or you're a Western Cynic who lap up Putin’s poison. Cohen is using the oldest trick in the book but maybe it's too old a trick for anyone to fall for.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 9:37 AM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


And when all else fails, we can always fall back on the BBC.

Hah, good one.
posted by knapah at 9:52 AM on November 9, 2014 [14 favorites]


Of course. Where would the Obama/Cameron security states and their media apologists be without Putin and North Korea to point to and yell "BUT SOMEONE SOMEWHERE IS SLIGHTLY WORSE!!"

Of course. How would murderous dictators with the blood of thousands on their hands be able to transition into true global villains with the blood of millions on their hands without useful idiots willing to lap up their shit and characterize them as only "slightly worse" than the US or the UK.
posted by Behemoth at 10:10 AM on November 9, 2014 [16 favorites]


It's kind of like a trial, where you have the prosecutor telling the jury how evil the defendant is, while the defense attorney tells them that the alleged crime was really a tragic misunderstanding. Both are exaggerations, but by hearing both, we can arrive at something close to truth.

That's certainly the theory, but in practice we tend to get "jurors" who irrationally give more weight to certain arguments than to others. And there are certain questions and criticisms that neither side will raise because neither side would itself benefit, even if their audiences might.
posted by kewb at 10:12 AM on November 9, 2014


You would think that someone who has studied Putin's propaganda machine as expertly as Cohen evidently has, could produce a text that doesn't read like the works of a old school propagandist.

It reads like a rabble-rousing Sunday newspaper opinion column, which is exactly what it is. I don't think you should take Cohen super-seriously, but he's usually got a decent point somewhere, and someone who recently described George Osborne as looking like "a Victorian factory owner who had got the chambermaid pregnant and was about to throw her on the streets" can't be all bad.
posted by sobarel at 10:15 AM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


Having said all that, and with plenty of tu quoque caveats, it must be said that he's not even a little bit wrong here:
The disbelief that oozes through much of public debate in our time is rarely in the service of any cause, however. It is radical indifference; a furious determination to condemn accompanied by an equally determined refusal to commit. Like Russell Brand, millions of people don’t want to say what change they want to see, because a commitment would force them to take a position and lay them open to attack.

They aren’t cynics but pseudo-sophisticated innocents. They shout “liar” automatically at everyone who tries to rule over them – and doubtless they are right more often than not. But to dispense with the search for proof – the need to demonstrate that the politician or banker is lying – leaves the supposedly wised-up open to capture by cults, conspiracy theorists and Russia.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:18 AM on November 9, 2014 [27 favorites]


That quote is what motivated me to posy this link to MetaFilter.
posted by Nevin at 10:21 AM on November 9, 2014


In fairness though, he lays too much blame at the feet of the befuddled masses and not on their well-funded manipulators. That we know something's wrong but can't get the traction to do something about it is in a sense the point of the official narratives and counter-narratives on each side and is essentially the problem. And he's definitely part of the problem rather than the solution.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:26 AM on November 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


to posy this link to MetaFilter.

Seems like it ought to be a verb. Perhaps the short form of "I'm just going to leave this here."
posted by dhartung at 10:39 AM on November 9, 2014 [8 favorites]


I don't know that he's part of the problem. He's a) an Observer columnist and therefore of negligible importance to whatever's going on in the real world, and b) broadly correct in his analysis of who the villains are. Besides sticking the boot into Putin, the Tories, UKIP and Prince Charles his truck historically has been more with those on the Left who he feels should know better rather than the "befuddled masses".
posted by sobarel at 10:48 AM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


In that context, his railing at figures like Salmond makes a lot more sense as a concern about the formation of a Western pro-Putin claque.
posted by dhartung at 10:56 AM on November 9, 2014


Nick Cohen would be the Grauniad's rightmost regular columnist; sort of their equivalent. Of the Times having Caitlin Moran or something.
posted by acb at 11:09 AM on November 9, 2014


Russians gone an stole the freedom from FOX news, the buzz from Buzzfeed and the Huff from the Huffington Post. What next.
posted by vicx at 11:20 AM on November 9, 2014 [5 favorites]


On a much less nationalist angle, isn't The Christian Science Monitor one of the finest American newspapers around, despite the fact of being linked to another American sect with rather dubious medical practices?
posted by Apocryphon at 11:22 AM on November 9, 2014 [3 favorites]


Both are exaggerations, but by hearing both, we can arrive at something close to truth.

The problem is the truth is not always someplace in the middle. If one side says this man perpetrated the crime and the other says mistaken identity, he was at home watching TV, it doesn't mean he was at some third place committing 45% of the crime.
posted by fings at 11:22 AM on November 9, 2014 [11 favorites]


Nick Cohen: a poor man's Christopher Hitchens
posted by criticalbill at 12:02 PM on November 9, 2014


But while Fox serves the peculiar tastes of the American right, Russia Today has global ambitions

Ummmm You might have heard of a man called Rupert Murdoch. Some small business he owns called New Corporation. He owns a few small papers that he reckons don't sell a lot and just cost him money. He has some Journal about Walls and Streets and a few small city newspapers in England and America. I think there are some some Suns, Mails and Posts. Granted he does own ALL the newspapers in Australia but it is just a hobby. He might own Fox news but he would only have bought it because it has Fox in its name. He actually owns almost everything in the world that is named FOX ... including foxes. He just cannot go past something with f,o, or x in it's name.

He used to lean right but now he doesn't have to, he has people do it for him. He just sits at the computer and reads twitter. He just isn't interested in politics and the media the way he used to be. He doesn't watch or read the news anymore - he has a twitter account now. I mean this tweet of his from 5hours ago sums up his disineterest.

Rupert: NY State, outside city, in miserable condition. Big test for Cuomo who could transform vast area with fracking, , ignore ignorant Greens.

I think he's talking about a NY sports team, some sports terminology, some strategy for beating the green team. Yeah he just tweets sports stuff now and has a few hobby newspapers.
posted by vicx at 12:14 PM on November 9, 2014 [7 favorites]


RT's sycophantic coverage of North Korea, as seen here and here (bonus George Galloway in second link) is truly revolting.
posted by dhens at 1:55 PM on November 9, 2014 [4 favorites]


That's so beautiful. I'm still laughing.

If you like that you'll love the Russian tenant in A Dirty Job .
posted by fivebells at 3:34 PM on November 9, 2014


bonus George Galloway in second link

I never thought I'd see Galloway doing something more embarrassing than this.
posted by sobarel at 3:55 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


They aren’t cynics but pseudo-sophisticated innocents. They shout “liar” automatically at everyone who tries to rule over them – and doubtless they are right more often than not. But to dispense with the search for proof – the need to demonstrate that the politician or banker is lying – leaves the supposedly wised-up open to capture by cults, conspiracy theorists and Russia.



I feel no obligation to "prove" why "everyone who tries to rule over" me is a group unworthy of my trust, or to suggest to them (or anyone else,) who or what I might prefer instead. A cynic is someone who's not buying whatever it is that the person who is calling him a cynic is trying to sell him. Now, I'm no cowboy, but I would feel confident saying, "He just fell off his horse," when I saw one do it, without having the slightest idea of what to tell anybody who asks me how the poor fella could have stayed on. A year in the Cub scouts when I was eight gave me lifelong immunity to cults.
posted by carping demon at 4:33 PM on November 9, 2014 [2 favorites]


Putin's plans for Russia Today and his military expansion were built on the idea that oil would stay at $105 per barrel. With most analysts predicting prices will be in the $70-80/barrel range the Russian budget is fucked. This eliminates $100 billion from the Russian economy, which is 5% of gdp. This is before you factor in the sanctions, capital flight, inflation and 9.5% interest rate at the central bank. Russia could see at least a 8-10% drop in GDP in the next year. Russia is heading for an economic depression.
posted by humanfont at 6:10 PM on November 9, 2014


I don't really care much about the politics of RT as long as they keep Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert on the air pumping out good stuff. Anyone who openly calls for the hanging of the bankers who crashed the economy in 2008 can't be all bad.
posted by MikeWarot at 6:26 PM on November 9, 2014


To move out of the English-language domain, Russia has been allying with far-right European parties like France's Front National that are eager to tear up the equality-before-the-law stuff that is the core of old-fashioned liberal democracy, using immigration and same-sex marriage as their wedge issues. I say a pox on their houses first before we abandon all hope in civil society.
posted by homerica at 8:37 PM on November 9, 2014 [1 favorite]


Civil society is more than just good manners.
posted by vicx at 4:03 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]


So while UK regulators warn RT of sanctions because of biased reporting, a new Russian state-controlled media channel is launched : sputniknews.com . (Not to be confused with state-controlled search engine sputnik.ru)

Sputnik News claims it will "broadcast in 30 languages, with over 800 hours of radio programming daily, covering over 130 cities in 34 countries. Sputnik's exclusive content is designed for a global audience of billions of people who are tired of aggressive propaganda promoting a unipolar world and want a different perspective."

The Interpreter expects to see just more of the same RT-style biased reporting from Sputnik.

It's headed by Dmitry Kiselev, famous for suggesting that homosexuals should be banned from donating blood and that their organs should be burned before ever being used for transplants. So yay for "different perspectives."
posted by Kabanos at 9:16 AM on November 10, 2014 [1 favorite]




it's useful for seeing the arse-end of your own country, just as all 'enemy' media are
posted by maiamaia at 6:13 AM on November 16, 2014


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