At 9:27pm on Tuesday March 11, the home page of Russia Today, rt.com, highlighted the following stories
* US to violate own laws by financially aiding Ukraine’s coup-installed govt – Moscow
* CBS journalist reportedly resigns over network’s pro-Obama bias
* US uses law on aid to post-coup governments as ‘political football’
* Dead budget walking: Obama abandons hope, gives up on change
* US has ‘no right to fund gangsters’: Yanukovich to challenge $1bn Ukraine aid in courts
* Pentagon whitewashes Gitmo hunger strike as ‘long term non-religious fasting’
The news organization has gained some mainstream recognition in the US recently, and a bit more notoriety, with its workplace controversy around the Ukraine/Crimea affair. On March 5, just after an RT America anchor, Liz Wahl, abruptly announced on-air she was quitting the network due to its coverage of the affair, she gave this interview to her buddy for the Daily Beast.
“It actually makes me feel sick that I worked there,” Wahl says. “It’s not a sound news organization, not when your agenda is making America look bad.”
As noted above, on any given day one can easily deduce the anti-America editorial bent of Russia Today from a visit to its main site rt.com. Wahl and her interviewer James Kirchik see rt.com/usa and its anti-US voice as pandering to cynical American hipsters miffed at US imperialism and hypocrisy. The big problem? Its audience doesn’t realize that it’s run by the Krelim and its brimming with propaganda straight from Red Square. Wahl is quoted as saying “In a way I feel bad for those people because they really believe strongly that we’re telling the truth and we’re on the right side. And that’s crazy to me.” (Rt.com/usa is a tailored version of rt.com with the same articles listed above but less variety)
If this belief is to be believed, it is unfortunate. But the Russia Today bias is not hidden. The network is called Russia Today—it’s inherently pro-Russia. Does USA Today print a lot of headlines suggesting how Russia is better than the West or slamming US foreign policy ? Russia Today almost always features stories critical of Washington—while leaving Moscow alone with regard to foreign affairs.
Clear vs Subtle Bias
That many Americans assume they are getting objective, credible and comprehensive stories from news sources such as the New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN presents a challenge to alternative news sources, especially those with truly worldly perspectives. These powerful corporate institutions set the major media narratives and their seeming ubiquitousness can lead to the belief that they are legitimate. That’s the problem, the insidiousness of the subtle bias from outlets seen as respected by mainstream society.
Following in the footsteps of Fox News, Russia Today simply further drives home that media is biased—especially international coverage—a fact society should be reminded about often. Russia Today, like Fox News, wears its heart on its sleeve, though it is not quite the irreverent caricature the Murdoch/Ailes rightwing operation is (The Russia Today slugline Question More, is not in the same league as the super-ironic genius of the Fox motto ‘Fair and Balanced’) Russia Today is not perpetrating some secret agenda to spur a rebellion against Washington DC or discredit the Founding Fathers. Unlike Fox News, Russia Today has some fair criticisms—and fascinating, if biased, perspectives—about US foreign and domestic policy.
Russia Today should be visited and analyzed by American international relations students and anyone who wants to understand how media is used, for two main reasons.
* Its anti-Americanism is a window into the smarter kinds of anti-American sentiment diffused throughout other parts of the world. For example, it becomes clearer how Moscow trains its population to see the United States.
* You’ll find stories and perspectives there you won’t find among most US media. (I didn’t see anything about “NATO starts air drills close to Ukrainian borders” on nytimes.com or cnn.com. Does it look good for the US to be mobilizing in Poland?) Though it goes without saying that the stories on rt.com should be seen as one-sided and propagandistic, the stories can act as a consistent jumping off point for further research into the latest in American foreign policy actions that might need some exposure and criticism.
In fact, with the ease of access to myriad media outlets, any single media outlet should routinely be viewed as one-sided and propagandistic, if for nothing more than as a critical-thinking exercise.