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‘What’s it like being a traitor?’: BBC’s Sweeney’s self-love over Sputnik tells its own story

Simon Rite
Simon Rite
is a writer based in London for RT, in charge of several projects including the political satire group #ICYMI. Follow him on Twitter @SiWrites
‘What’s it like being a traitor?’: BBC’s Sweeney’s self-love over Sputnik tells its own story
The BBC’s John Sweeney took the chance to tweet out an old report he had done about Sputnik this week after news that Facebook had targeted pages linked to the Russian news agency. It’s a genuinely illuminating piece.

In his tweet about the report on Sputnik, Sweeney wrote “I was on my diplomatic best behavior. 1st Q: “what’s it like being a traitor?” It’s lovely to see someone so proud of his work, even the old stuff, but some have suggested that his glee betrays a certain lack of objectivity; that he may well, deep down, regard his job as something quite other than being an objective journalist.

In general, the Twittersphere responded as most people do when they catch someone in a public display of self-love… with disgust.

There is something quite theatrical, almost Shakespearean about Sweeney and his booming presence. The line “Most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d” springs to my mind.

A more modern writer here at RT perhaps summed him up even better in this tweet:

This lack of “self-awareness” does seem to manifest itself in his question about being a traitor. As Danielle Ryan points out above, to accuse a reporter of being a traitor to their nation could surely only come from someone who believes that above all a journalist should defend one’s own country, regardless of the narrative that is being spun at the time. I see people on Twitter, for example, pointing out that he previously expressed strong support for launching a war against Iraq for example.

My guess is this is all on a subconscious level, and Sweeney has no idea that if there really is an information war going on, he’s on the frontline throwing BS grenades with the best of them. He seems to revel in it. If you took a drink every time he drops a Cold War cliche in his five-minute hit piece, you’d struggle to make it to the end.

Apart from objectivity, the other victim of this report was Sputnik’s Oxana Brazhnik. She is shown on screen as Sweeney utters the line: “She wouldn’t talk to us on camera, but she kept a close watch, mind.” She is shown in slow motion followed by a short freeze frame. It makes her look suspicious and untrustworthy. Take a look at the clip around 2 minutes and 16 seconds into the report. Is this ok?

I’ve read about television techniques like this before, about how effective it could be to combine certain methods of editing while making unproven insinuations. I can’t remember what they called it, I'm pretty sure it begins with P.

I could think of a few reasons Brazhnik may not want to speak to Sweeney. Perhaps because as he already had access to the head of Sputnik’s UK bureau in Edinburgh, a journalist and a presenter she thought that may be sufficient. Perhaps because she wasn’t overly keen on speaking to a journalist with a history of hatchet jobs. Perhaps she’s just shy.

Also on rt.com ‘Political censorship’: Sputnik slams Facebook as it removes 350+ pages for ‘inauthentic behavior’

This little snippet just adds to my suspicion that there’s a general consensus that it’s ok to represent all Russians as inherently suspicious, merely because the governments of the two countries aren’t getting along. Clearly, no one on the BBC’s Newsnight saw fit to question what they saw. To offer the benefit of the doubt, again, maybe this tendency is largely subconscious, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

For me, I find it almost comforting to watch Sweeney revel in his ongoing mission to confirm his own bias. You know exactly what you’re getting, even if he doesn’t know what he’s giving.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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