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Sputnik and RT Under Investigation

Is it news or propaganda? And what about the First Amendment?

Philip Giraldi • Unz Review • October 10, 2017

Somehow everything keeps coming back around to Russia. In one of its recent initiatives, the Justice Department (DOJ) appears to be attacking the First Amendment as part of the apparent bipartisan program to make Vladimir Putin the fall guy for everything that goes wrong in Washington. In the past month, the DOJ has revealed that the FBI is investigating Russian owned news outlets Sputnik News and RT International and has sent letters to the latter demanding that one of its business affiliates register as a foreign agent by October 17th. The apparent line of inquiry that the Bureau is pursuing is that both are agencies of the Russian government and that both have been spreading disinformation that is intended to discredit the United States government and its institutions. This alleged action would make them, in the DOJ view, a propaganda arm of a foreign government rather than a news service. It also makes them subject to Department of the Treasury oversight under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938.

Sputnik, which is owned by a Russian government media group headed by Putin consigliere Dimitri Kiselyov, has been under investigation due to the accusations made by a fired broadcaster named Andrew Feinberg. Feinberg, the former Sputnik White House correspondent, reportedly took with him a thumb drive containing some thousands of internal business files when he left his office. He has been interviewed by the FBI, has turned over his documents, and has claimed that much of the direction over what the network covered came from Moscow.

RT America, more television oriented than Sputnik, operates through two business entities: RTTV America and RTTV Studios. The Department of Justice has refused to identify which of the businesses has been targeted by a letter calling for registration under FARA, but it is believed to be RTTV America, which provides both operational support of the broadcasting as well as the production facilities. Both companies are actually owned by Russian-American businessman Alex Yazlovsky, though the funding for them presumably comes from the Russian government.

I have noticed very little pushback in the U.S. mainstream and alternative media regarding the Department of Justice moves, presumably because there is a broad consensus that the Russians have been interfering in our “democracy” and have had it coming. If that assumption on my part is correct, the silence over the issue reflects a certain naïvete while also constituting a near perfect example of a pervasive tunnel vision that obscures the significant collateral damage that might be forthcoming.

News organizations are normally considered to be exempt from the requirements of FARA. The Department of Justice action against the two Russian major media outlets is unprecedented insofar as I could determine. Even Qatar owned al-Jazeera, which was so vilified during the early stages of the Afghan War that it had its Kabul offices bombed by the U.S., did not have to register under FARA, was permitted to operate freely, and was even allowed to buy a television channel license for its American operations.

The DOJ is in effect saying that RT and Sputnik are nothing more than propaganda organs and do not qualify as journalism. I would have to disagree if one goes by the standards of contemporary journalism in the United States. America’s self-described “newspapers of record” the New York Times and the Washington Post pretend that they have a lock on stories that are “true.” The Post has adopted the slogan “Democracy Dies in Darkness” while the Times proclaims “The truth is more important now than ever,” but anyone who has read either paper regularly for the past year knows perfectly well that they have been as often as not leading propaganda organs for Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, pushing a particular agenda and denigrating Donald Trump. They differ little from the admittedly biased television news reporting provided by Fox News and MSNBC.

What exactly did the Russians do? According to last January’s report signed off on by the FBI, CIA and NSA, which may have motivated the DOJ to take action, RT and Sputnik “consistently cast President-elect Trump as the target of unfair coverage from traditional U.S. media outlets that they claimed were subservient to a corrupt political establishment.” Well, they certainly got that one right and did better in their reporting of what was going on among the American public than either the Washington Post or New York Times.

Regarding Sputnik, Feinberg claimed inter alia that he was “pushed” to ask questions at White House press briefings suggesting that Syria’s Bashar al-Assad was not responsible for some of the chemical attacks that had taken place. One wonders at Feinberg’s reluctance as Sputnik and RT were not the only ones expressing skepticism over the claims of Syrian involvement, which have been widely debunked. And why is expressing a credible alternative view on an event in Syria even regarded as propaganda damaging to the American public?

There is a difficult to distinguish line between FARA restricted “trying to influence opinion” using what is regarded a fake news and propaganda and legitimate journalism reporting stories where the “facts” have been challenged. Even real journalists choose to cover stories selectively, inevitably producing a certain narrative for the viewer, listener or reader. All news services do that to a greater or lesser extent.

I have considerable personal experience of RT in particular and, to a lesser extent, with Sputnik. I also know many others who have been interviewed by one or both. No one who has done so has ever been coached or urged to follow a particular line or support a specific position insofar as I know. Nor do I know anyone who has actually been paid to appear. Most of us who are interviewed are appreciative of the fact that we are allowed to air views that are essentially banned on the mainstream media to include critique of maladroit policies in places like Syria and Afghanistan and biting critiques of the war on terror.

Sputnik, in my opinion, does, however, lean heavily towards stories that are critical of the United States and its policies, while RT has a global reach and is much more balanced in what it covers. For sure, it too criticizes U.S. policies and is protective of the Russian government, but it does not substantially differ from other national news services that I have had done interviews for. I find as much uniquely generated negative reporting about the U.S. (usually linked to violence or guns) on BBC World News, France24 and Deutsche Welle as I do on RT International. To describe it as part of an “influence campaign” driven by a “state-run propaganda machine” has a kernel of truth but it is nevertheless a bit of a stretch since one could make the same claims about any government financed news service, including Voice of America. Governments only get into broadcasting to promote their points of view, not to inform the public.

There is a serious problem in the threats to use FARA as it could advance the ongoing erosion of freedom of the press in the United States by establishing the precedent that a foreign news services that is critical of the U.S. will no longer be tolerated. It is also hypocritical in that countries like Israel that interfere regularly in American politics are exempt from FARA registration because no one dares to take such a step, while Russia is fair game.

Going after news outlets also invites retaliation against U.S. media operating in Russia and, eventually, elsewhere. Currently Western media reports from Russia pretty much without being censored or pressured to avoid certain stories. I would note a recent series that appeared on CBS featuring the repulsive Stephen Colbert spending a week in Russia which mercilessly lampooned both the country and its government. No one arrested him or made him stop filming. No one claimed that he was trying to undermine the Russian government or discredit the country’s institutions, even though that is precisely what he was doing.

And then there is the issue of the “threat” posed by news media outlets like RT and Sputnik. Even combined the two services have limited access to the U.S. market, with a 2014 study suggesting that they have only 2.8 million actual weekly viewers. RT did not make the cut and is not included on the list of 100 most popular television channels in the U.S. and it has far less market penetration than other foreign news services like the BBC. It can be found on only a limited number of cable networks in a few, mostly urban areas. It does better in Europe, but its profile in the U.S. market is miniscule. As even bad news is good news in terms of selling a product, it probably did receive higher ratings when the intelligence agency report slamming it came out on it in January. Everyone probably wanted to learn what RT was all about.

So it seems to me that the United States’ moves against RT and Sputnik are little more than lashing out at a problem that is not really a problem in a bid to again promote the Russian “threat” to explain the ongoing dysfunction that prevails in America’s democratic process. One keeps reading or hearing how the American government has “indisputable” proof of Moscow’s intentions to subvert democracy in the U.S. as well as in Europe but the actual evidence is still elusive. Will Russiagate end with a bang or a whimper? No one seems to know.

October 10, 2017 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Fake News, Full Spectrum Dominance, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , | Leave a comment

Are you, or have you ever been, an RT or Sputnik pundit?

By Neil Clark | RT | September 19, 2017

The demands from the NATO/military-industrial complex-funded Atlantic Council and neocon hawks for RT and Sputnik to be forced to register as ‘foreign agents’ in the US, brings to mind similarly disturbing events which took place in the ‘Land of the Free’ in the early 1950s.

The question asked by the original McCarthyite witch-hunters to people who held the ’wrong’ views back in the era of Rosemary Clooney and the Andrews Sisters was “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?”

Today, in the era of Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift, the neo-McCarthyites ask: “Are you now, or have you ever been, a guest or pundit on RT or Sputnik?” The wording might be slightly different, (and the background music more in your face), but the aim is the same. Namely, to try and scare people from speaking out against a foreign policy which relies on war and the threat of war, for fear they’ll be branded a Soviet, or Russian ‘agent’.

A 79-year-old piece of legislation, the Foreign Agents Registration Act, initially passed to counter Nazi propaganda activities before the start of World War Two, is the latest weapon being utilized by the ‘Pro-Freedom and Democracy’ Imperial Truth Enforcers, in their campaign against news organizations which don‘t toe the line. All genuine supporters of free speech and media pluralism, whether or not they are fans of RT or Sputnik, should be alarmed at recent developments.

You don’t have to be the owner of a giant magnifying glass or possess the detective skills of Sherlock Holmes to see whose fingerprints are on the ’Get RT and Sputnik to register under FARA’ operation. You don’t have to be Albert Einstein to understand why they are so keen to tarnish the RT and Sputnik brands.

Let’s go back to January 13th. On that day, the Atlantic Council, whose donors include leading US arms companies, NATO, several foreign governments, as well as lobby groups such as AIPAC, posted an article on its website entitled ‘US Should Require Russia’s RT to Register as Foreign Agent’ by one Elena Postnikova, a JD candidate at Georgetown University Law Center and a former DC Events and Outreach Officer at the US government-funded Freedom House.

Postnikova’s article of 13th January was republished by Newsweek and the Kyiv Post.

Then on 1st September, the Atlantic Council published a longer report by Ms. Postnikova entitled ‘Agent of Influence: Should Russia’s RT Register as a Foreign Agent?’

The Atlantic Coundil explained:

“In Agent of Influence, author Elena Postnikova, not only argues that RT should register with FARA but makes a legal case for it while laying out recommendations for policymakers. At a minimum, RT’s activities warrant a thorough investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ).”

You can just imagine Senator Joe McCarthy punching the air on hearing that last statement, can’t you?

In her paper, Postnikova mentions the benefits of the DOJ getting RT to register. “FARA registration means that RT would need to conspicuously label its information as ‘distributed by an agent on behalf of the foreign principal’ and include these statements on its website, social media accounts, and in all broadcasts.” This would, she says be “warranted to alert the US public about the origin of RT’s information.” Showing that she possesses a fine sense of humor, Postnikova claims that getting RT to register as a ‘foreign agent‘ would actually boost free speech. “The disclosure would serve the First Amendment by supplementing information about the agent and ensuring that the public is not misled that it represents a disinterested source.”

A week after the 1st September publication, the Atlantic Council held a special meeting in Washington to discuss the paper (giving a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘AC/DC‘).

Then a few days after that the news broke that the FBI was getting involved, to question an ex-Sputnik employee called Andrew Feinberg. Feinberg, it was reported, had handed over to the FBI a thumbnail containing hundreds of internal emails and documents.

The anti-Russian media crowd couldn’t conceal their excitement.

Jamie Kirchick, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, who had spoken at the 8th September Atlantic Council panel, and who had been high-fived by other neocons on social media for ‘ambushing’ RT live on air a few years back, tweeted triumphantly “Three days after our Atlantic Council panel both RT.com and Sputnik under investigation as foreign agents.”

If the McCarthyite hawks of the Atlantic Council get their way and the authorities in the US do force RT and Sputnik to register under FARA, under threat of a large fine and/or civil/criminal prosecution, then a disturbing precedent will have been set. FARA wasn’t designed to target bona fide news or press services not directly controlled by foreign governments, so to take action the authorities will have to find that RT and Sputnik aren’t kosher.

Of course, claiming that RT and Sputnik are not “proper newsgathering organizations” like CNN and the BBC and that the journalists who work for them are ‘fakes’ too, is standard fare for War Lobby propagandists and their fart-smelling groupies. If the robotic nature of these smears strikes you, then all you need to do is to turn to Sharyl Attkisson’s new book The Smear for an explanation. You can read my review of the book here.

Having aggressively pushed the case for FARA registration, those responsible are now keen to stress that it’s really no big deal. The Colombia Journalism Review ran a piece by one Jon Allsop, entitled ‘Concerns over FBI investigation into Russian ‘news’ are overblown.’ (Note how ‘news’ is put in inverted commas).

“FARA doesn’t add up to press censorship in this case: Outlets like Sputnik and RT aren’t conventionally seen as ‘the press,’ and the law in no way prohibits their activities,” Allsop explained. He cites Jamie Kirchick, who says “There is no concern about slippery slopes,” but there’s no mention that Kirchick described merely as “a journalist and writer who has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union,” was on the Atlantic Council panel that called for RT and Sputnik to be registered under FARA.

In similar fashion, a 9/11 Yahoo report on the Atlantic Council’s demands neglects to mention how the ‘Washington think tank’ is funded by NATO and the arms industry, and ironically enough given the subject matter, several foreign governments as well.

The move to get RT and Sputnik branded as ‘foreign agents’ is being presented by ‘mainstream’ outlets as a neutral process. In fact, it’s about as ‘neutral’ as General Franco refereeing a football match between Barcelona and Real Madrid, or The Joker having the casting vote on a jury deciding on whether to indict Batman for speeding.

What we are witnessing is a well-coordinated, well-synchronized and well-oiled campaign to marginalize all dissenting views on foreign policy.

Think back to November, when a mysterious new anonymous website called ’Prop Or Not’  popped up to publish a list of US news sites which it accused of “reliably echoing Russian propaganda,” and called on the G-men to investigate them for espionage.

‘The List’ included RT and Sputnik, but also sites from across the political spectrum with absolutely no connection to Russia. Prop or Not’s blacklist was then promoted as the work of ‘experts’ by the neocon Washington Post.

Again you can imagine Senator McCarthy’s whoop of delight.

We’ve reached the stage now when, as in the early Fifties, anyone who opposes a hawkish foreign policy is accused of either being in the pay of Moscow, i.e. a Russian agent, or of ‘echoing Russian propaganda.’ Against the overthrow of the secular, Christian-protecting government in Syria? Then you’re a stooge of Vladimir Putin!

It’s not just Donald Trump who’s been smeared in this way, but the likes of Nigel Farage, the former UKIP leader, and Labour’s left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn too. All you have to do is to say “I want to end the wars and have better relations with Moscow,” and you’ll get the label.

And if you want to lose the label? Well, you have to do what the War Lobby demands of you, like sign a bill imposing even more draconian sanctions on Russia, bomb a Syrian air force base, or publicly condemn ‘Russian aggression’ in Ukraine.

The great irony behind all of this is that the ’realist’ Russian line on foreign policy is far more in tune with public opinion in the US and UK than the actual policies carried out by the neocon influenced US and UK regimes. Russia opposed the illegal invasion of Iraq, which directly led to the rise of ISIS. It has also stood firmly on the side of government forces fighting ISIS and Al-Qaeda groups in Syria, instead of trying to undermine them, as the West has done.

It’s because people reject the fraudulent War Party narrative that people across the world are increasingly turning to networks such as RT and Sputnik which provide a very different perspective on world affairs. These organizations provide a platform to people from the left and the right, who are kept off the ‘mainstream’ networks because they don’t meet with establishment approval. I remember the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq when programs such as the BBC’s Newsnight trotted out a series of ‘think tank pundits’ who assured us that Saddam possessed WMDs which threatened the entire world. These ‘experts’ went largely unchallenged, and we got a disastrous war which led to the deaths of one million people. The cheerleaders for the Iraq invasion would love us to go back to the halcyon days of 2002/3 when they had control of the narrative and could dictate who could and couldn’t appear on television. It was much easier to sell illegal wars to the public without ’pesky’ stations like RT and Sputnik around, much easier to peddle WMDs-style BS, much easier to launch phony ‘humanitarian interventions’ against the governments of resource-rich [or AIPAC-targeted] independent countries.

Fake news and ‘foreign agents‘?

Physician heal thyself.


Neil Clark is a journalist, writer, broadcaster and blogger. He has written for many newspapers and magazines in the UK and other countries including The Guardian, Morning Star, Daily and Sunday Express, Mail on Sunday, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, New Statesman, The Spectator, The Week, and The American Conservative. He is a regular pundit on RT and has also appeared on BBC TV and radio, Sky News, Press TV and the Voice of Russia. He is the co-founder of the Campaign For Public Ownership @PublicOwnership. His award winning blog can be found at http://www.neilclark66.blogspot.com. Follow Neil Clark @NeilClark66

September 19, 2017 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Full Spectrum Dominance, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia, Timeless or most popular | , , , | Leave a comment