Meet Sam Knight, the Washington-based journalist and acerbic tweeter who, before he turned to freelancing, spent a summer working for the English-language outlet for RT. The network, formerly known as Russia Today, has been the toast of the media this week as events in Ukraine continue to unfold.
First it was lampooned for going soft on Putin, as when it called Russia a "stabilizing force in Ukraine." Later its D.C.-based host, Abby Martin, was praised for denouncing Russia's invasion of Ukraine on air and proclaiming her editorial independence from the network (later still, and this is not totally related, it was revealed that she's an avid 9/11 truther!).
As someone who worked for RT, Knight couldn't read with a straight face RT's statement about letting its journalists freely express themselves. In a conversation with National Journal, he discussed his personal experiences with the network.
So what was it like?
I remember being told that certain topics were out of bounds. Russia wasn't making headlines in the summer of 2012 (when I was there) like it is today. But when we wanted to cover China, for example, we were warned against critical coverage of foreign countries—an affront to journalism for domestic consumption, if you think about it, when Beijing suppressing independent labor unions and gutting environmental regulations has a direct effect on American workers. Yet there was a lot of coverage of the Quebec student protests and anti-austerity protests in Spain and Greece and such. And they were important stories and well worth covering, to be fair, but the implicit message was clear: Foreign affairs from an American perspective were acceptable as long as they weren't offensive to Moscow.
So why did you work for them?
I knew what show I was working for: Alyona Minkovski is honest and was a great boss and host. She had a great team, and when the Huffington Post snapped her up I felt vindicated. All of the stories we did about targeting killing, surveillance, the Trans Pacific Partnership, the crackdown on the Occupy movement, the prison industrial complex, etc. were all well ahead of the curve, if you look at some of the headlines today. I did feel a little weird working for a network with ties to the Kremlin, sure, but the journalism job market is tough these days—particularly if you're an American seeking to cover your own government in a non-superficial manner.
Would you warn people away from working there?
There's going to continue to be a steady supply of people ready to both work for and watch RT. The corporate media is staffed with fleshy bags of walking sycophancy—pathetic excuses for journalists, really—and a lot of these stories about RT reek of projection and insecurity. These "Neo-nazis in Kiev are overstated," or "Putin is just doing this because he can" stories are childish and absurd, boiling the entire conflict down to black and white "democracy vs. authoritarianism" or a cartoonish pantomime portrait of a guy, who, in reality, has support that can't be easily dismissed—both at home and in Crimea. This doesn't excuse RT's coverage of the conflict. But it's state-owned. What are these jingoistic American hacks' excuses?