Russia Today Anchor Quits Over Ukraine Coverage; Former Host Says Network’s Credibility Is “Destroyed”

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 5 2014 6:25 PM

Russia Today Anchor Quits Over Ukraine Coverage; Former Host Says Network’s Credibility Is “Destroyed”

One of the odd features of covering libertarians and conservatives in Washington is that you bump into RT. The Kremlin-funded news network has been here for years, building up staffs of young reporters, with some of its talent finding work at HuffPost Live and MSNBC. Easy to see why; when, you know, Russia isn't currently invading a sovereign nation, RT is covering America from a declinist, civil libertarian perspective. RT's all over the WikiLeaks and Snowden stories; RT's covering Rand and Ron Paul whenever they make a peep.

Currently, Russia is invading a sovereign nation. Its coverage of the Crimean crisis has been as slanted to the Putin side of things as the average Boston fan blog is favorable to the Bruins and Red Sox. So far, two of RT's American on-air talents have revolted. First, Abby Martin (whose previous reporting and activism had delved into conspiracy theories about 9/11) told her viewers that she opposed "state violence" and Russia's war.

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Today, RT reporter Liz Wahl ended her broadcast by condemning the invasion and announcing her resignation, effective then and there.

Shortly after Wahl did this, as the video was getting around, I talked to former RT host Adam Kokesh. In 2011 the libertarian anti-war veteran and activist had hosted a series called Adam vs. the Man. It didn't last long. He returned to activism, eventually getting arrested for purposefully violating D.C's gun laws (he held a gun, on camera, coincidentally across the street from the D.C. Council), then getting out of jail. 

"I've seen some of the horrendously biased coverage that's come out recently on RT," Kokesh told me over the phone. "When a news organization's becomes so that it challenges its credibility, people don't want to associate with it. I think that's what happened here. Their credibility is destroyed, and people who want to preserve their credibility will dissociate with them."

Kokesh had joined RT a while after the network covered Russia's intervention in Georgia. Had that bothered him, that association, at the time?

"When I was at RT, I maintain my standards and my editorial integrity absolutely," said Kokesh. "They knew that, and that was the primary reason they ended the show."

UPDATE: Jamie Kirchick, who definitely has earned dibs on all RT stories, talks to Wahl. She is torching anything that looks vaguely like a bridge.

“It actually makes me feel sick that I worked there,” Wahl says. “It’s not a sound news organization, not when your agenda is making America look bad.” As much as Wahl had to suppress her guilty conscience during the two-and-a-half-years she worked for RT, she believes it’s the networks viewers—1.2 billion on YouTube—who are hurt most by its constant and deliberate distortion of the truth. “In a way I feel bad for those people because they really believe strongly that we’re telling the truth and we’re on the right side. And that’s crazy to me.”

And Rosie Gray has a statement from RT, which labels its former host a grandstander who wouldn't "quit like a professional."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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