RT Defends Host Abby Martin, Responds to Accusations of Pro-Putin Propaganda

In an interview, the Kremlin-funded television station defended the RT host’s right to condemn the Russian incursion into Crimea.

National Journal
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Lucia Graves
March 4, 2014, 7:41 a.m.

In the past few days Rus­si­an me­dia out­lets, par­tic­u­larly the Krem­lin-fun­ded Eng­lish lan­guage out­let RT, have been widely mocked for their rosy por­tray­al of the Rus­si­an in­va­sion of Ukraine (in­clud­ing in a story by me). Ex­amples in­clude a dis­patch about how Crimea has “ac­tu­ally be­come more stable,” some highly sus­pect chyrons, and an in­ter­view with Aikido black belt Steven Seagal about the West­ern me­dia’s cov­er­age of the crisis in Ukraine.

Then last night one of its lead­ing hosts, Abby Mar­tin, took to the air­waves to de­nounce Rus­sia’s ac­tion in Ukraine and pro­claim her “journ­al­ist­ic in­de­pend­ence.” Though she said she doesn’t “know as much as I should about Ukraine’s his­tory or the cul­tur­al dy­nam­ics of the re­gion,” Mar­tin said, “mil­it­ary in­ter­ven­tion is nev­er the an­swer” and “what Rus­sia did is wrong.” She ad­ded that her “heart goes out to the Ukrain­i­an people, who are now wedged as pawns in the middle of a glob­al power chess game.”

While it’s clear the net­work main­tains a strong pro-Rus­si­an bi­as, Glenn Gre­en­wald on Tues­day de­fen­ded RT’s cov­er­age, say­ing it isn’t so dif­fer­ent from what we saw on Amer­ic­an me­dia out­lets in the lead up to the Ir­aq War. “For all the self-cel­eb­rat­ing Amer­ic­an journ­al­ists and polit­ic­al com­ment­at­ors: Was there even a single U.S. tele­vi­sion host who said any­thing com­par­able to this in the lead up to, or the early stages of, the U.S. in­va­sion of Ir­aq?” he wrote. Of course the Amer­ic­an hy­po­crisy charge doesn’t make RT’s cov­er­age bet­ter, just more fa­mil­i­ar.

So how does RT pos­sibly de­fend it­self? We sent a query to the head of RT’s D.C. bur­eau, who for­war­ded the re­quest to headquar­ters in Rus­sia. In a Q&A con­duc­ted over email, RT’s Mo­scow-based press of­fice backed up Mar­tin’s as­ser­tions of ed­it­or­i­al in­de­pend­ence and prom­ised to dis­patch the D.C.-based host to Crimea to help her learn more about the con­flict.

The fol­low­ing ex­change has been lightly ed­ited for clar­ity.

Some worry Abby Mar­tin will suf­fer re­crim­in­a­tions for her pub­lic de­nun­ci­ation of Rus­sia’s ac­tions. Does RT stand be­hind Mar­tin’s state­ment?

Con­trary to the pop­u­lar opin­ion, RT doesn’t beat its journ­al­ists in­to sub­mis­sion, and they are free to ex­press their own opin­ions, not just in private but on the air. This is the case with Abby’s com­ment­ary on the Ukraine.

We re­spect her views, and the views of all our journ­al­ists, presenters and pro­gram hosts, and there will be ab­so­lutely no rep­rim­ands made against Ms. Mar­tin.

In her com­ment Ms. Mar­tin also noted that she does not pos­sess a deep know­ledge of real­ity of the situ­ation in Crimea. As such we’ll be send­ing her to Crimea to give her an op­por­tun­ity to make up her own mind from the epi­cen­ter of the story.

How will you cov­er the un­fold­ing story in Crimea and Ukraine?

We will con­tin­ue to provide the most com­pre­hens­ive pic­ture of events there as we have been do­ing all along—from Kiev, from Crimea, the Ukraine in gen­er­al. Some out­lets chose to high­light just one story on Crimea, but for months RT has been cov­er­ing the protests, vi­ol­ent clashes, polit­ic­al man­euv­er­ings, and opin­ions of com­mon people on both sides of the con­flict in the Ukraine as we did here.

How do you re­spond to charges of pro­pa­ganda?

The charges of pro­pa­ganda tend to pop up every time a news out­let, par­tic­u­larly RT, dares to show the side of events that does not fit the main­stream nar­rat­ive, re­gard­less of the real­it­ies on the ground. This happened in Geor­gia, this is hap­pen­ing in Ukraine. Some of the most strik­ing facts about the ac­tions of the op­pos­i­tion, such as its ex­treme right wing and anti-Semit­ic lean­ings, were be­ing glazed over by most of the West­ern press. The fact that the pro­test­ers were re­ceiv­ing sig­ni­fic­ant aid from abroad in vi­ol­a­tion of Ukrain­i­an sov­er­eignty was also ig­nored. Ditto how vi­ol­ent the pro­test­ers were, how they at­tacked the se­cur­ity per­son­nel and re­fused in­jured po­lice­men ac­cess to med­ic­al aid. No, the story across the West­ern main­stream me­dia was all about peace­ful, demo­cracy-lov­ing op­pos­i­tion be­ing bru­tal­ized by the po­lice. This was simply not the case, and it is our duty to show the truth on the ground.

Does RT have a point of view on the un­fold­ing news cycle? If so, what is it?

RT’s point of view is based on the facts and de­vel­op­ments on the ground, and we will stick to that as the news cycle un­folds.

Mar­tin’s full state­ment, which aired last night as part of her Break­ing the Set pro­gram, is here.

UP­DATE: Abby Mar­tin says she’s not go­ing to Crimea “des­pite the state­ment RT has made.” After the Krem­lin-fun­ded sta­tion told Na­tion­al Journ­al and oth­er out­lets it would send her over­seas, the D.C.-based host tweeted out that she was de­clin­ing the of­fer:

A source tells Na­tion­al Journ­al that Mar­tin and her team first heard about the of­fer when they read re­ports of it in the me­dia.


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