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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.