Pravda Will Set You Free
Russia's answer to Fox News and MSNBC.
RT is cagey about the media; my questions about the prime-time line-up were received but not answered. At the same time, the network relishes in its reputation as propaganda. One of the house ads that runs between segments quotes angry comments from its many YouTube pages, with sentiments like "RT clearly is anti-American propaganda." Sure, these stories about America in steep and hilarious decline are funded by the Kremlin. Why hide it?
"I think people are just so scared of an 'other,' something that might be unknown to them and they can't see past that," suggests Minkovski. "So in their eyes, working for RT de-legitimizes you. If you want to find a channel with an agenda, go to Fox News. They want to dumb down the masses and scare them so they can't put any pieces of the puzzle together."
Kokesh, whose media career has been nurtured by RT, is even happier to talk about this subject. In 2007, as a leader of Iraq Veterans Against the War, he participated in a mock "patrol" of Washington, wearing camo and toting a fake gun. He became one of the most prominent anti-war protesters in the city as the surge built and the rest of the anti-war movement faded, much of its energy moving into the presidential election. Kokesh became a supporter of Ron Paul. He ran for Congress himself in 2010 in New Mexico, and when that sputtered he got a radio show.
This year, the Russian network that used to have him on once a week or so decided to give him a nightly series, Adam vs. the Man. When Ron Paul announced his 2012 exploratory committee, Kokesh saluted him on the air. He got an interview with his political hero and asked him stuff no one on TV ever has: "You've described yourself as a voluntaryist. Can you tell us what that means for the big picture, and what your ideal society would be, as a voluntaryist?"
And the RT model has no prouder defender than Kokesh. "Truth is the best propaganda," says Kokesh, restating the network's pitch in his own terms. "I love it! I really love the concept of that. It's funny: People say we're hiding shit as a network. No, no—we put the fact that this is propaganda right out front. We're putting out the truth that no one else wants to say. I mean, if you want to put it in the worst possible abstract, it's the Russian government, which is a competing protection racket against the other governments of the world, going against the United States and calling them on their bullshit."
Is there a more radical way to say this? Yes, there is. "In Libya, the rebels call for close air support, and they get close air support," he says. "We call for close air support, and they give us a TV show. It's nice to know that in the United States we still have a chance to call for this peacefully. It's got to come from changing the paradigm—taking what we're able to learn from the Internet and being able to see the underlying patterns of exploitation."
How many Americans would agree with that? Lots of them. They read The Nation, Alex Jones, WorldNetDaily. It can seem like the entire Internet was created to convince the paranoid reader that he's right—you can't trust the bastards. RT goes one step further: You can trust the Russians more than you can trust those bastards. If no one else wants to create a TV channel for the despondent, here it is.
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.
Illustration by Mark Alan Stamaty.