Confessions of a Former RT Employee

A freelancer explains why he went to work for the Kremlin-funded network.

National Journal
Lucia Graves
March 5, 2014, midnight

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?

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
These (Supposed) Iowa and NH Escorts Tell All
35 minutes ago
NATIONAL JOURNAL AFTER DARK

Before we get to the specifics of this exposé about escorts working the Iowa and New Hampshire primary crowds, let’s get three things out of the way: 1.) It’s from Cosmopolitan; 2.) most of the women quoted use fake (if colorful) names; and 3.) again, it’s from Cosmopolitan. That said, here’s what we learned:

  • Business was booming: one escort who says she typically gets two inquiries a weekend got 15 requests in the pre-primary weekend.
  • Their primary season clientele is a bit older than normal—”40s through mid-60s, compared with mostly twentysomething regulars” and “they’ve clearly done this before.”
  • They seemed more nervous than other clients, because “the stakes are higher when you’re working for a possible future president” but “all practiced impeccable manners.”
  • One escort “typically enjoy[s] the company of Democrats more, just because I feel like our views line up a lot more.”
Source:
STATE VS. FEDERAL
Restoring Some Sanity to Encryption
35 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

No matter where you stand on mandating companies to include a backdoor in encryption technologies, it doesn’t make sense to allow that decision to be made on a state level. “The problem with state-level legislation of this nature is that it manages to be both wildly impractical and entirely unenforceable,” writes Brian Barrett at Wired. There is a solution to this problem. “California Congressman Ted Lieu has introduced the ‘Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016,’ which we’ll call ENCRYPT. It’s a short, straightforward bill with a simple aim: to preempt states from attempting to implement their own anti-encryption policies at a state level.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
What the Current Crop of Candidates Could Learn from JFK
35 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Hillary Is Running Against the Bill of 1992
35 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

The New Covenant. The Third Way. The Democratic Leadership Council style. Call it what you will, but whatever centrist triangulation Bill Clinton embraced in 1992, Hillary Clinton wants no part of it in 2016. Writing for Bloomberg, Sasha Issenberg and Margaret Talev explore how Hillary’s campaign has “diverged pointedly” from what made Bill so successful: “For Hillary to survive, Clintonism had to die.” Bill’s positions in 1992—from capital punishment to free trade—“represented a carefully calibrated diversion from the liberal orthodoxy of the previous decade.” But in New Hampshire, Hillary “worked to juggle nostalgia for past Clinton primary campaigns in the state with the fact that the Bill of 1992 or the Hillary of 2008 would likely be a marginal figure within today’s Democratic politics.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Trevor Noah Needs to Find His Voice. And Fast.
1 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

At first, “it was pleasant” to see Trevor Noah “smiling away and deeply dimpling in the Stewart seat, the seat that had lately grown gray hairs,” writes The Atlantic‘s James Parker in assessing the new host of the once-indispensable Daily Show. But where Jon Stewart was a heavyweight, Noah is “a very able lightweight, [who] needs time too. But he won’t get any. As a culture, we’re not about to nurture this talent, to give it room to grow. Our patience was exhausted long ago, by some other guy. We’re going to pass judgment and move on. There’s a reason Simon Cowell is so rich. Impress us today or get thee hence. So it comes to this: It’s now or never, Trevor.”

Source:
×