Propaganda Network Not Actually That Great at Journalism

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 21 2014 2:57 PM

Propaganda Network Not Actually That Great at Journalism

Based on the social media widgets attached to these blog posts, there's not all that much interest in RT's flailing campaign to discredit its critics. Still, as a longtime gawker at the Kremlin-funded network, I'm amused to see how flatfooted it's been in responding to Liz Wahl's resignation. In James Kirchick's very first piece about Wahl, he disclosed that he had been in touch with her for months. It took RT two weeks to notice that, after TruthDig ran a story by Max Blumenthal and Rania Khalek that described Kirchick's role in the neoconservative cosmos. Nobody at RT thought to Google the guy, or read his story, or his byline that describes him as a fellow at the Foreign Policy Initiative. 

This has led to darkly entertaining television. Abby Martin, the 9/11 truth activist-turned-RT pundit, devoted a segment to the Kirchick connect that was NOT calling it a "conspiracy," if you ask—in which Kirchick's May 5 disclosure was never mentioned. Martin marvels at how Kirchick got up an exclusive interview with Wahl "just an hour after" the resignation, and credits TruthDig with "revealing how my former colleague's resignation might have been pre-coordinated."

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On Twitter, after I derided the Martin report, Blumenthal chimed in.

Blumenthal does this quite frequently, truncating or mischaracterizing what someone else has written in the hopes of moving the argument into his parallel universe. In the two Slate items I wrote about this slapfest, I noted that "Kirchick revealed that Wahl 'reached out' to him after his own viral RT moment" and that Kirchick had "declared quite proudly that he'd inspired Wahl to quit." Nobody, least of all Kirchick, has denied that he coordinated with Wahl. TruthDig just connected the dots between Kirchick and the friend/source group cultivated by lobbyist Michael Goldfarb, then portrayed Wahl as a frustrated and publicity-hungry dupe.

RT defenders cry foul at the coverage of this story, because not all the media writing about Wahl noticed that she'd coordinated with Kirchick. Just this week the Hollywood Reporter called Wahl's resignation "spontaneous." Hey, that's their fault, for not doing some basic research. But you can understand why that detail got lost. People aren't laughing at RT because the neocons told them to. They're laughing at RT because it's RT.* Other news organizations are working on their own stories about the network and its Crimea coverage, and it's going to be tricky to tie them all to the neocons.

*I'm coming at this after years of covering politics, where there are frequently/always agendas behind explosive stories. Democratic trackers, not independent journalists, were the first to notice that Todd Akin had mused about "legitimate rape" in a live interview. Their behind-the-scenes work was part of the story, but the quote itself was the story.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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