An Afternoon With Liz Wahl, the Reporter Who Quit RT and Hasn’t Heard the End of It

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 19 2014 7:06 PM

An Afternoon With Liz Wahl, the Reporter Who Quit RT and Hasn’t Heard the End of It

Liz Wahl quiets down her dog, Dallas, and opens the door to her home. She excuses herself for a moment.

"It's just been insane today," she says. "I should not be reading those tweets about me. Here, while you wait, read a story that got censored."

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The onetime RT correspondent, who quit the Kremlin-funded network during a live broadcast, had been playing phone tag with me for weeks. I'd wanted to interview her after she quit (the clip became international news in a hurry), but James Kirchick got an exclusive with her for the Daily Beast, and she spent the subsequent week on a New York media tour. A week ago, after receiving a call from a journalist who claimed to be ready to nail him (albeit while falsifying his own employment), Kirchick revealed that Wahl "reached out" to him after his own viral RT moment—an August 2013 interview on RT that he used to "fuck with the Russians" (his words, on a hot mic) and talk about the country's anti-gay law.

So, I figured it would take a while to get to Wahl. We finally connected a few hours after TruthDig ran a story about her and Kirchick. According to Max Blumenthal and Rania Khalek, Kirchick had helped "craft Wahl’s strategy and exploit her resignation to propel the agenda of a powerful pro-war lobby in Washington." Using information that had been public but largely ignored, they reminded readers that Kirchick had spent years working with and for a "cadre of neoconservatives." Because Kirchick's Foreign Policy Initiative had foreknowledge of the Wahl resignation (a telltale tweet "a full 19 minutes before Wahl resigned"), people following the story were the dupes of a plot by discredited hawks to reignite the Cold War.

The rest of the story speaks for itself, but the bit about Wahl as a dupe didn't seem right. Kirchick has never tried to hide his views. Quite the opposite, as anyone reading the piece and seeing links to his columns can see. (I met Kirchick in 2007 when we were covering the New Hampshire Republican primary, and we've remained mostly friendly since then.) According to Khalek and Blumenthal, Wahl had tried to leave RT for Al Jazeera, which is not the sort of thing a neocon puppet would be inclined to do. When the dog is tamed and she has time to sit, Wahl tells me that she had been contacted by Khalek but ignored the request.

"I didn't want to lend credibility to that," says Wahl. "This story perfectly illustrates what I'm dealing with. They publish this article like it's a conspiracy that I talked to Kirchick, when he wrote about it."

She opens her Macbook and shows me a twitpic of Khalek hanging out with RT host Abby Martin, who had denounced the Russian incursion into Crimera on the air but stayed at the network, where she fired off more frequent denunciations of Wahl. In the picture, Khalek and Martin are flipping the bird to a picture of Bibi Netanyahu. The point is that Wahl has some idea who at RT is pushing the counternarrative.

"They cater to this fringe following of people that tend to have this paranoid tendency. These are people who think the government is controlling minds with chemtrails. These are people who think Sandy Hook was a hoax. Abby is RT's puppet, so they used her statement to give themselves credibility."

Wahl joined RT in 2011, when she was 26. Like other young reporters who jumped at on-air jobs at the network, she was encouraged that she could cover major international news from the get-go. "They pitched the job as covering stories the mainstream media ignores," says Wahl. "Yes, I knew it received funding from the Russian government, but at the time Russia was not making waves. The Cold War was over. We're seeing now that Russia is flexing its muscles, and that's changed things."

It's also kept Wahl at odds with a number of current RT employees. Some have been anonymous sources; some have tweeted at her. Martin was among the RT employees tweeting out the TruthDig piece, but there was supposed to be a much more explosive story, days earlier.

When Kirchick reported on his alliance with Wahl, he printed the transcript of a voicemail left by a reporter named Kevin Gosztola. He'd been trying to break the "story." Sitting on her couch, Wahl swipes her iPhone and plays a voicemail that Gosztola left her. It's two minutes and 18 seconds long, beginning with Gosztola's claim that he is working on a "story for First Look" (First Look has denied that he had sold such a piece to them, and he is not on staff) and continuing with his evidence. "We know you were yelling and having some outbursts," says Gosztola. "We know you came into contact with Jamie Kirchick ... we have you in this 'freedom selfie,' posing with him. That does not look good." 

Gosztola concludes by telling Wahl she has "24 hours" to respond to him. Six days later the story has still not run. Wahl doesn't even dispute the facts that were supposed to shock the world. Yes, she clashed with management. Yes, she was sent from the anchor's chair into a correspondent gig because "I didn't feel comfortable pushing the propaganda." She balked at one segment that was going to use the movie Lone Survivor to weave a story of how America's military had been losing morale.

Yes, she was suspended after multiple disagreements. No, she never had a pay cut. The TruthDig story makes much of what the RT resignation did for Wahl's career, but ... well, that was the point. She wanted to get out.

"RT tends to hire people who are young, and who they think are malleable. The station is in a lot of turmoil, and some people on the inside are becoming more resistent," she says. "They're trying to launch new shows, and the clip of me resigning is more popular than anything else they've run. So they're piggybacking off of the publicity of my name. Sadly."

David Weigel is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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