Confessions of a Former RT Employee

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

National Journal
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?

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