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TNR vs. RT

[ 26 ] March 27, 2012 |

Jesse Zwick at TNR engages in some policing of the left side of the political discourse:

What is surprising, however, are the number of decidedly non-crazy American experts and journalists who appear regularly on the channel’s news programs as guest analysts. Indeed, whether it’s playing host to contributors from respected outlets like The Nation or Reason or the Center for American Progress, RT has excelled in cultivating American liberals and libertarians eager to criticize the United States for its adventurism abroad and sermonizing posture toward other nations.

Between the outrage following allegations of fraud in Russia’s parliamentary elections last December and the country’s more recent veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Syria, it’s clear why RT would want Americans to supply a counter-narrative that makes the United States look out of line for lecturing Russia. The bigger mystery is why American journalists and academics continue to go along for the ride.

I’ll take this seriously for a second, given that some commenters here have also raised eyebrows about my own appearances on RT. Some thoughts:

  1. Although Zwick doesn’t frame it precisely in these terms, part of the issue clearly lies with a discomfort for standpoint journalism, resting on the notion that otherwise accurate observations about American foreign policy run the risk of taint due to the clear biases of RT’s funding sources. Beyond that, however, there’s a clear sense that RT represents the wrong sort of standpoint; Russia is a semi-authoritarian country, and de facto facilitation of Russian criticism of US foreign policy helps undercut American criticism of the Putin regime, or something. However, since I strongly doubt that anyone who watches RT doesn’t appreciate what RT is, it’s hard for me to take this very seriously. It’s also worth noting that there aren’t a lot of American networks that offer the same standpoint as RT, or really any at all. Even on MSNBC serious leftish critique of American foreign policy is limited in both space and scope. And of course, it’s rather rich for the organization that provides a platform for the international politics musings of Marty Peretz and Leon Wieseltier to criticize…. well, anyone or anything.
  2. Zwick points out a number of problems with RT’s international coverage; they’re sometimes a bit given to conspiracy mongering, they reflexively defend Russian foreign policy decisions and the Putin regime, they draw unflattering (and sometimes inaccurate) comparisons between the US and Russia, and so forth. Having seen Fox News now and again, it’s hard for me to take these criticisms seriously. If there’s a difference between RT and Fox, it’s only of the mildest degree. I didn’t watch RT during the South Ossetia War, but I did read TNR, which set an astonishingly low standard for fair and accurate reporting. Moreover, the Alyona Show is genuinely good, comparable to news/talk programs on respectable stations.
  3. That said, I haven’t been pleased with all of my appearances on RT; in a couple of cases I just haven’t been happy with the direction that the conversation has gone.  I suspect, however, that this is true of any set of media appearances on any network. For my part, I prefer to stick to questions of American foreign policy or of general international interest, and would be uncomfortable talking about Russian foreign policy. An American criticizing some aspect of US foreign policy on a Russian-funded station feels to me wholly unproblematic; an American defending Russian foreign policy to an American audience feels more sketchy, depending on the foreign policy in question. But then I don’t recall that they’ve ever asked me to do so.

Overall, I’m pretty comfortable in saying that RT enriches the American marketplace of ideas, and provides space for political voices that would otherwise never be heard. I hope that RT builds in the right direction, allowing for editorial independence while also maintaining a distinct identity. There’s nothing whatsoever wrong with making a Russian view of American politics available to a US audience, especially given the nature of extant media offerings in the United States.

Comments (26)

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  1. oldmtnbkr says:

    I don’t watch tv: whathfck is RT?

  2. joe from Lowell says:

    Having seen Fox News now and again, it’s hard for me to take these criticisms seriously. If there’s a difference between RT and Fox, it’s only of the mildest degree.

    Yeah, but Fox News sucks. It’s completely biased hackery, utterly unconcerned with the truth, and existing only to push a party line, irrespective of accuracy or fairness. People here bitch about it all the time, for, among other things, being harmful to our political discourse and actually making its audience dumber and less informed.

    Does appearing as a friendly expert of RT make one different in “only the mildest degree” from those who do the same thing on Fox News?

  3. Erik Loomis says:

    The idea of The New Republic doing any policing of the left in 2012 is a total joke. Walter Lippmann is puking in disgust.

  4. sleepyirv says:

    When a reasonable person might know the biases of RT, a conclusion they can reach is to just ignore RT.

    And there are many unreasonable people in the world who will be able to say, “Farley appeared on RT a pro-Putin authoritarian anti-American television channel which discredits everything he has ever said.”

    There are tradeoffs.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      “And there are many unreasonable people in the world who will be able to say, “Farley appeared on RT a pro-Putin authoritarian anti-American television channel which discredits everything he has ever said.”

      I am skeptical that many people will say this.

  5. Doug says:

    “I hope that RT builds in the right direction, allowing for editorial independence while also maintaining a distinct identity.”

    The evolution of al-Jazeera as a possible point of comparison.

    • ironic irony says:

      Excellent point. Unfortunately, al-Jazeera is still has a terrible rep with most Americans, even though they probably had the best coverage of the Arab Spring last year.

      • BobS says:

        On the other hand, their coverage of Libya and Syria tend to tow the GCC line (my apologies, JR- and WTF is JR?).
        I live in the United States, where a news media critical of neoliberal economics and American military hegemony is essentially non-existent. MSNBC and Current are good on some issues, but both tend to leave their more robust criticism at the line separating Democrats from Republicans. It’s also virtually impossible to find any honest discussion of the important topic of Israel on either of those channels. RT (and al-Jazeera to a lesser extent) provide news less affected by US Government/Democratic Party/Republican Party propaganda. Watch both those channels knowing you’re not likely to get rigorous criticism of their sources of funding. I’m more skeptical watching al-Jazeera due to the fact their sponsor shares more mutual interests with the US government than does the sponsor of RT.

  6. Grocer says:

    I don’t want to dis Vice ironically (cause I know they’ll use that as an excuse to do a line off my ball sack), but the last quote in the article rings true, “Some of these people just don’t deserve to be debated.” Your appearances could be used against you in the sense that Obama lived in Chicago and so did Ayers therefore all of Obama’s writings are one with the Weather Underground and he is a terrorist. Clearly you sir, are a shill for the Putin regime and are eagerly awaiting the invasion of Alaska. Probably to usurp Palin’s house for a Mr. D. Noon.

  7. wengler says:

    I watch two programs on RT(The Alyona Show and the Thom Hartmann Show). The hosts are American and the producers are American(from what I’ve seen). TNR wants to pretend that it is Pravda, when it’s really not. These shows rarely touch on Russia, and when they do they don’t carry water for Putin.

    Actually, The Alyona Show, which Farley appears on, does a lot of the same media criticism as The Daily Show, and has a very strong focus on civil liberties and the wars.

    If Russia truly wanted the US to destroy itself, Putin would just staff RT like Fox News.

  8. Sebastian Dangerfield says:

    Robert,
    I’m quite glad that Zwick’s hilarious exercise in TNR un-self-awareness provided an occasion to address RT and your own appearances there. RT is, for me, a guilty pleasure. I very much agree that the “anti-American” coverage — i.e., the coverage of our misbegotten foreign adventures, attendant war crimes and decimation of civil liberties, etc. — is generally good and accurate. Alyona and Hartmann in particular do great work, cheesy production values aside (WTF? all that Kremlin gold and we still have ’80s graphics?).

    It is unsettling, however, that you will not see, I think, any appreciable coverage of Russia from Alyona and Hartmann. To be sure, their focus is generally on what’s happening in the U.S. and what the U.S. is doing or not doing abroad, so that makes some sense. But I’ve never seen Alyona or Hartmann touch American foreign policy on matters that are of particular sensitivity to Russia — e.g., Syria (the news coverage of which on RT is pure propaganda). This has led me to the unsettling speculation that there is some explicit or implicit understanding that those shows won’t go in directions that would depart markedly from Russian interests, where those interests are particularly acute.

    If true, this wouldn’t impugn the stuff that, say, Alyona and Hartmann do cover (and I’m glad they have a platform regardless) but it would be quite unsettling. As for RT’s news coverage, I think “sometimes a bit given to conspiracy mongering, they reflexively defend Russian foreign policy decisions and the Putin regime” is a somewhat kind evaluation, but sophisticated media consumers will apply appropriate filters. I’m not, however, convinced that everyone who watches RT with regularity is sufficiently sophisticated to be able to make the necessary adjustments — Hartmann and Alyona in particular seem to aim at persuading the young, confused Ron-Paul curious to lean in a more progressive direction — but I’d be pleased to be wrong about that.

  9. JR says:

    Again, a guy asks first thing out of the box – “What the H is RT?” I second what is TNR – The New Republic? The National Review? I understand it is a political mag, what is their political slant?

    I try to stay informed, I read blogs and news sources, but I also work hard at my chosen tasks. I don’t follow news or politics professionally, and I need a hint what you professionals are trying to say.

    Hinting that TNR (what ever that is?) isn’t a valid news source or has some undefined political slant is not helpful to 98% of the English speaking world, including progressive activists who have a busy life.

    Come on, spell things out first use, which is style in every professional journo style book – then tell us that The Negative Reverse is a spokesman for the Koke political machine. That will help me understand what the heck you are saying.

    Thanks, all

  10. I-can't-believe-I'm-a-liberal-hawk says:

    Now that Bush is out of office, and I’m in a humanities PhD program where I’m well to the right of center by their standards, I am finding myself much more sympathetic to TNR (at least when they shut up about Israel). Holding Ron Paul-ish positions has become practically de rigeur on the “progressive left”, and those who support a Clintonian approach are increasingly branded as neocons and imperialists. There needs to be someone out there who sticks up for the likes of Samantha Power. Who doesn’t dismiss all development aid as a tool of neocolonialism (the recent critique of Invisible Children turned into “NGOs are bad” with surprisingly little pushback). Who’s willing to critique the notion of “anti-imperialism” when it merely means anti-Westernism–the last refuge of countless non-Western scoundrels who want to prop up their own dictatorships or engage in their own imperialist projects. Above all, who don’t consider the words “liberal democracy” to be a curse–a very dangerous and self-undermining tendency on the academic left is to reject liberalism.

    OK rant over, I’m not even sure TNR is what I’m looking for. Maybe I am exhibiting the worst tendencies of liberal hawks, even if I never supported the Iraq War. Maybe I just can’t adjust to all the heroes of my precocious 90s childhood becoming villains, and vice versa.

    • Uncle Kvetch says:

      Holding Ron Paul-ish positions has become practically de rigeur on the “progressive left”

      ??

      Above all, who don’t consider the words “liberal democracy” to be a curse

      ???

      • joe from Lowell says:

        ??: He means Ron Paulish foreign policy positions. Go back and read the comment threads about the bin Laden raid. Hell, go back and read mizner calling us all racists who want to burn brown people for not seeing the brilliance of Glenn Greenwald’s Ron Paul gambit.

  11. oldmtnbkr says:

    Okay, I admit I’m lazy. I spool up the Google and I get this: RT is a 24/7 English-language news channel. We are set to show you how any story can be another story altogether. Broadcasting over six continents and 100 …
    Rotten Tomatoes – Movies, Movie Reviews, Critic Scores, Showtimes and Movie Trailers – The Ultimate Movie Database!
    Sign up for Twitter to follow RT (@RT). RT loves her SF-techy-artsy life.
    And, I’m too lazy to click to the 2nd page. Bite me!

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