Ronnie, Talk to Russia

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
June 28 2011 8:13 AM

Ronnie, Talk to Russia

I took a bit of a departure this week and spent some time with the new, leading, prime time personalities of Russia Today (RT), the proudly Kremlin-funded network. To watch RT is to see an America brought low by triviality, ever-teetering on the edge of collapse. There is an audience for this.

When RT first drew attention here, it was for its coverage of the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict, which portrayed the small republic of 4.6 million people as the aggressor. (One fairly typical segment featured an interview with an American in South Ossetia who blamed America for the violence.) Its coverage of American politics was heavy on interviews with fringe experts and third party candidates; frequent on-air experts included radio host Alex Jones and newsletter reporter Wayne Madsen, who'd discuss too-good-to-check stories about the origins of the swine flu and why WTC Building 7 fell on 9/11.

A couple of years later, the network has a bureau of 70 people in downtown Washington, including veterans of CNN and NBC News; it gets credible guests from places like Talking Points Memo, Reason , the Cato Institute, and the Washington Examiner . Before he got his own show on MSNBC, Cenk Uygur would go on these shows to riff on the news. Talking out of turn, and not for attribution, these guests have no idea what to make of RT's regular content ("it's always some truther crap"). But the network's most visible, popular presence in Washington is that evening line-up. A watcher of RT always got the impression that America was irrational, oppressive, frivolous and in trouble; a watcher of the prime-time line-up gets the same impression, but it's different somehow. It's somewhere between Jon Stewart's monologue and the world that Rowdy Roddy Piper sees when he puts on those special sunglasses in They Live .

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David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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