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“”Every single day we're lying and finding sexier ways to do it.
|—Former RT reporter Sara Firth|
RT (formerly known as Russia Today) is a Russian state-run 24/7 English-language news channel, launched in December 2005. The network aims to present the world with a Russian point of view and "become Russia's version of the BBC". The channel comes off like a state-sponsored Fox News, prone to coverage slanted against "the West" in general and the United States in particular, and indulging in conspiracy theories and other fringe beliefs. The European Parliament has termed it "[an instrument of] international soft power" and "Russia's main international media weapon".
RT's prefered methods of disinformation are lying by omission and treating rumors as fact. This allows RT to further a set of narratives, spins, and rumors, without publishing something that could in isolation be regarded as an intentional lie. The only "news" they publish is re-heated articles from Reuters and other wire services. They sometimes approach real news when they publish stories that don't have any connection to the U.S. or any Russian interests.
Vladimir Putin's merger with RT was the best investment he ever made. Ironically, the channel was founded by a Soviet bureaucrat-turned entrepreneur who merged his private channel with the State channel.
Conspiracy-related posts form the bulk of all comments on the majority of videos published by RT online. Although Fox News has supported conspiracy theorists including Birthers, Russia Today is the only international news organisation that promotes conspiracy theories on an industrial scale. For example there is a compilation of, originally no fewer than 56 Russia Today YouTube videos on 9/11 (7 now deleted). The majority publicise, and clearly support, conspiracy theories. The remainder involve other criticisms of the United States.
RT regularly features interviews with cranks as experts on various subjects. The conspiracy theories that it gives publicity to are generally those that portray the US as deeply amoral, malicious and/or doomed to failure but, as a government mouthpiece of the world’s No. 1 fossil fuel supplier, RT has also featured global warming conspiracy theory proponents e.g. Piers Corbyn, Christopher Monckton, and Patrick Michaels. Other examples are in a compilation of 7 videos on “Climategate.”
RT's news articles have sourced to fake news websites such as InfoWars and WND. Uber-conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been interviewed on numerous occasions by RT, and other conspiracy theorists that have appeared as guests on his radio program and been interviewed (in most cases several times) by RT include Mike Adams, Mark Dice, David Ray Griffin, Jesse Ventura, Lyndon LaRouche and Gerald Celente. It's a needle-thread away from Scopie's Law status.
Peter Lavelle hosts "CrossTalk" on RT. He claimed on his July 23, 2014 show that, "I'm not a conspiracy theorist and I never allow conspiracy theorists on my program." However in the same show, he went on to propose that a conspiracy theory that Ukraine shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in order to gain worldwide sympathy (rather than the consensus opinion that it was a Russian-sponsored militia). PolitiFact has further documented several conspiracy theorists who have appeared on his show on other dates.
Alongside nutty conspiracy theorists, RT had also given voice to genuine whistleblowers from the Western world, like Julian Assange or Edward Snowden, while at the same time (unsurprisingly) ignoring similar whistleblowers or opposition figures (like Kasparov) from Russia.
Funding and objectives
RT's self-described objective is to "show you how any story can be another story altogether." In this, at least, they do not disappoint. Margarita Simonyan, RT's editor-in-chief, has specified that the station was born out of the desire to present an "unbiased portrait of Russia." Ironically (though not surprisingly for anyone who knows about what "unbiased" usually means), most critics share the opinion that the channel's main objective is to present a very biased portrait of other countries.
RT promotes itself heavily on YouTube and has achieved a significant following. A survey published in 2012 by the Pew Research Center's Journalism Project found that RT has the largest percentage of "top videos" from all the other news organization surveyed:
Russia Today has developed a large online following through a combination of factors. The network has actively promoted its online content. The RT YouTube channel has more than 280,000 followers and the videos in its official channel have been viewed more than 740 million times, a number far greater than many other well-known sources such as Al Jazeera English (380 million views), Sky News (52 million) and Fox News (23 million). Other prominent news organizations have far fewer followers, such as ABC News (111,000), the New York Times (78,000) and ITN News (54,000).
“”Globally, you're probably the most popular man in modern history... you are looked on as a savior of sorts.
|—RT's Peter Lavelle to Putin|
Russian political dissident Boris Kagarlitsky described RT as a "continuation of the old Soviet propaganda services." The channel is also accused of having close ties with the Russian state authorities and of helping the Kremlin to project an overtly positive image of Russia by refraining from criticizing the government, particularly Vladimir Putin.
Other criticism includes claims that RT is deliberately and incessantly engaging in US/NATO/EU-bashing through "interviews" in which only Russian ultra-nationalists or exuberantly critical, anti-Western "experts" are interviewed — without any probing questions or challenges by the RT reporters, and without even bothering to hear opposing points of view. The following RT's "news" titles may provide some examples of this:
Some Western interviewees have found the experience of an RT interview weird. They fish extremely hard for the quote they're looking for and are prone to just completely making shit up in the resulting story. Other Russian networks (e.g. NTV) don't weird interviewees out like this.
RT was also the only network to broadcast The World Tomorrow, a.k.a. The Julian Assange Show, considering it as "rallying a global audience of open-minded people who question what they see in mainstream media." The irony is not lost to anyone.
A European Parliament briefing said:
RT brands itself as a platform for provocative and original perspectives (its slogan: 'Question More'), raising sometimes legitimate concerns – for example over fracking, austerity policies, the EU's democratic deficit, NSA surveillance – that resonate with a heterogeneous mix of environmentalists, civil liberties campaigners, eurosceptics, far-right parties, and various disaffected groups. Its reports feature the Occupy Wall Street movement, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, and Scottish Nationalists – precisely the kind of dissenting voices whose counterparts within Russia are ignored by the Russian domestic media.
While RT focuses on attacking the US and EU rather than defending Russia, the methods it uses are very similar to Russian domestic media. Like her domestic counterparts, RT chief editor Magarita Simonyan admits to having a hotline to the Kremlin, and she echoes Dmitry Kiselev's disregard for 'objective reality'. Conspiracy theories are a staple both on RT and domestic media – one Spanish-language RT article (since withdrawn) speculated that the US may have been to blame for spreading the Ebola virus.
Due to its status as an "Alternative media outlet", RT UK and RT America enjoy a large degree of sympathy from both the far-left and the far-right in Europe. RT America is noted for employing several actual left wing journalists and reporters, who take the time to criticize militarism, corruption, and money in politics in the United States. They include the co-hosts of the Ring of Fire network (journalist Farron Cousins and lawyer Mike Papantonio), former MSNBC host Ed Schultz, progressive radio talking head Thom Hartmann, Alyona Minkovski (who left and joined The Huffington Post), Abby Martin (who left and joined teleSUR[note 1] with Chris Hedges), frequent guest Sam Seder of the Majority Report, even Larry King of all people. David Pakman, Benjamin Dixon, Martin, Seder, and Hartmann are also part of the Ring of Fire, but other than the last two, they don't appear at all on RT America; which means they have complete autonomy over their own shows.
Over in the UK, some of the comedic "progressive" voices include George Galloway on his show Sputnik (although his comedy is unintentional), Sam Delaney's News Thing and fake newsreader Johnathan Pie. Despite being partially funded by the Russian government, these individuals have a degree of autonomy over their own shows: Pie, for example, has used his platform to criticise Russia's anti-LGBT laws and attitudes, alongside other countries. Alex Salmond, former first minister of Scotland for the centre-left Scottish National Party, started a chat show in November 2017, which in early episodes featured Labour and Conservative politicians and discussed Catalan independence, Brexit, and LGBT rights; Salmond says the show is editorially independent because it is produced by his own company. Given the sexual misconduct allegations that have plagued Salmond recently, it remains to be seen if the show will survive.
This is actually a very calculated move on RT's part. Plant genuine left wingers on their English-language outlet, and allow them to give legitimate criticisms of the United States without allowing them to talk negatively about Russia (unless they have their own shows to do that without RT breathing down their throats). This means they can look at the average public and say "See? We're not totally bullshit!" so they can claim a veneer of credibility. We recommend ignoring RT altogether, of course.
Mindful of RT's unfortunately accumulating reputation as bat-guano insane propaganda, the same government department has launched the totally unrelated SputnikNews, which will surely not gather a similar image as the home of gibbering delusion, with headlines like "US Anger With RT Will Start World War Three". Possibly. Or given that SputnikNews quickly established itself as more overtly conspiratorial and biased in favor of the Russian government than RT, it could be that it was created to make RT seem reasonable in comparison.
Andrew Feinberg, a US citizen and SputnikNews' former White House correspondent, was interviewed by the FBI in September 2017; he also turned over to them "a thumb drive containing thousands of internal Sputnik emails and documents." The FBI investigation was with regard to whether SputnikNews was "acting as an undeclared propaganda arm of the Kremlin in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act", but may have also been in connection with Russian tampering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Much to our surprise, the French-language version of RT published a debunking of "2 Russians pursued their aggressors from Le Bourget to Saint-Denis" (unsurprisingly fake news from...French far-right Pro-Putin websites!).
- RT's official website
- RT's YouTube channel
- How the Truth is Made at Russia Today
- Who’s afraid of Russia Today?
- basically Venezuelan RT
- , Gawker
- Russia Today to be 24-hour, English TV station, CBC
- Briefing 2015: Russia's disinformation on Ukraine and the EU's response (European Parliament)
- Fox News' conspiracy theory obsession, Media Matters
- "Fox Promotes Birther Myth In At Least 52 Segments", Media Matters
- A playlist
- RT interviewing quack Piers Corbyn
- RT interviewing the Lord!
- "The great climate change swindle: global warming is not manmade!"
- Patrick Michaels on climate change
- Another playlist
- Alleged US Army doc: Re-education camps and psy-op missions aimed at activists RT. May 3, 2012.
- ‘Absolutely easy’: Global train systems are vulnerable to hacking, warn security researchers RT. December 31, 2015.
- RT interviewing Jones on FEMA concentration camps
- RT interviewing Alex Jones on Gulf oil spill conspiracy
- RT interviewing Alex Jones on CIA creating Al-Qaeda
- RT showing Alex Jones demonstrating against Bildeberg conference
- The US government deliberately created e-coli!
- Mark Dice on secret think tanks to further “American imperialism”
- David Ray Griffin on 9/11 conspiracy theories
- Jesse Ventura on American conspiracies
- Lyndon LaRouche alleging that the Russo-Georgian War was a “British-American operation intended to crush Russia”
- 'America lives in a fascist state' — Gerald Celente
- RT's Peter Lavelle says he doesn't allow conspiracy theories on his show, then utters one by Katie Sanders (Wednesday, July 30th, 2014 at 5:32 p.m.) PolitiFact.
- How Russia's independent media was dismantled piece by piece, The Guardian.
- Anatomy of nonresistance, Lenizdat
- About Us, RT
- Journalism mixes with spin on Russia Today: critics, CBC
- Russia: New International Channel Ready To Begin Broadcasting, RFE/RL
- YouTube Video Creation – A Shared Process, Pew Research Center
- Might be regretting saying that in a few years.
- Russia Today Built on Kremlin Ties, Kommersant
- Russia Pumps Tens of Millions Into Burnishing Image Abroad, Washington Post
- "No country can legally invade another country without UN approval" Oh.
- In this case, one RationalWikian and people he's asked
- Assange TV Presented by the Kremlin, New York Times
- Everett, Chris (August 4, 2016). "The 'alternative' right has a Putin problem". Comment Central.
- See: "Sputnik" stories on the RT website.
- See: "News Thing" stories on the RT website.
- Bish, Joe (June 9, 2016). "The Cult of Jonathan Pie, Facebook's Dire Political Satirist". VICE.
- "A slice of GAY Pie", via Johnathan Pie's official YouTube channel.
- "'Be ashamed, Alex': Salmond courts controversy with RT", The Guardian, 17 Nov 2017
- "Alex Salmond resigns from SNP after sexual misconduct claims", The Guardian, 29 August 2018
- Sputnik, the Russian news agency, is under investigation by the FBI by Hunter Walker & Michael Isikoff (September 11, 2017) Yahoo News.