American media: Do as we say, not as we do

RT Editorial
This blog represents a range of opinions prepared by a team of authors working at RT. It contains commentary, views, feedback and responses to various events and news media items.
© Mike Blake
Imagine if a leading news organization based in a major country was colluding with government officials to ensure their content satisfied those same apparatchiks? Ponder the reaction in Washington?

It’s almost certain that words like “condemn,” “regrettable” and “affront” would be used. Probably by the State Department.

After all, the State Department was so alarmed about “Russian propaganda” earlier this year that “it appealed to major media companies, including Sony Pictures, for help,” according to The Guardian. Now, envisage John Kerry’s merry band armed with proof of RT journalists taking orders DIRECTLY from Russian Foreign Ministry personnel? It’s fair to assume that the outrage would be audible on the dark side of the moon. Doubtless, the likes of Buzzfeed, the BBC and the New York Times would splash the story with giddy abandon.

Isn’t it curious then, that when a State Department email dump revealed, in late October, that CNN actually coordinated their coverage of a 2013 congressional hearing on Libya with a former Hillary Clinton aide, the MSM didn’t pay much attention to the revelations? Even when they touched on them, most just wanted to defend Elise Labott, the reporter involved, and explained away the apparent collusion as “business as usual."

Meanwhile, the State Department itself was silent. No condemnations, no expressions of regret and no descriptions of the move as an "affront to democracy" or the like. Incredibly, many of the same media outlets weren't half as supportive of Labott when she was recently suspended by CNN for expressing sympathy with Syrian refugees on Twitter. Thus we can assume that they believe that sacrificing journalistic principles is far more acceptable than showing solidarity with some of the weakest and most vulnerable people on earth.

Collusion for favors  

Gawker published a batch of State Department emails, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request. Through it, we learned that Labott, the CNN global affairs correspondent was in regular contact with Hillary Clinton's then-personal spokesman and aide, Philippe Reines, on Jan. 23, 2013. That was the day when the former Secretary of State (who is again seeking the Democratic Party nod as a Presidential candidate) testified before Congress about her role in the events surrounding the deadly Sept 11, 2012 attacks on US facilities in Benghazi in Libya.

Reines suggested a number of Tweets to Labott, who duly obliged by posting them (mostly verbatim) on her own personal feed. For example, Reines emailed Labott: “You should tweet something like 'Feb. 1st looking like Hillary's last day' and link to the story. That will drive your colleagues nuts.” The CNN reporter later tweeted almost the very same words.

Earlier that January, Labott apparently admitted in an email to Reines that she deliberately misled other networks on behalf of Clinton's State Department team. "I did get several emails from networks today asking if I thought the reason there was no on-[camera] was because you guys were trying to hide something. I just answered that it was customary in the week of new years (even though that's not entirely true) but frankly nobody believes me," she wrote. "So there shouldn't be a big deal about an on camera briefing right? You know better than anyone that optics matter. I'm just saying.”

Remarkably, some of the high-profile media colleagues who leaped to Labott’s defense are often disturbed at what they term ‘propaganda’ in other countries. Take Andrew Kaczynski of Buzzfeed who whitewashed the CNN reporter’s actions.

"This exchange seems like normal source [conversation] to be honest," he told the Washington Examiner, referring to the State emails. "[I] feel like people would be pretty surprised at stuff operatives and reporters from both parties say to each other.”

Apparently , there’s nothing objectionable in a reporter trying to ingratiate themselves with authority in exchange for a story. Unless you’re a reporter who’s not working for the right kind of western MSM.

It’s not only CNN, of course.

Reines also interacted with Politico’s Mike Allen that very same month. In a January 10 email he offers Hillary’s daughter, Chelsea, a “no-surprises” interview with questions agreed in advance. Hilariously, Allen later criticized Barack Obama in Politico for an alleged preference for “softball” interviews.

The menace of mendacity

For Russian watchers, this is all very strange. Especially given the vitriol usually thrown at RT for imagined transgressions. For example, the Wall Street Journal’s Lukas Alpert once tried to convince Slate podcast listeners that “RT coordinates its activities with the Russian Foreign Ministry to prepare news packages supporting Foreign Ministry issues of the day; and that, according to unnamed former RT employees, ‘Foreign Ministry handlers’ vet all of RT’s political reporting.”

Naturally, this is complete nonsense – and no proof to substantiate these ridiculous allegations was ever presented. Amazingly, however, Alpert has completely ignored the, actually proven, story of CNN doing more-or-less what he, falsely, accused RT of.

Speaking of the Foreign Ministry, BBC’s Andrew Neil once (also falsely) stated that RT’s reporter Anastasia Churkina had interviewed her father Vitaly Churkin (the Russian Ambassador to the United Nations) “live on air.” She had never done any such thing and the BBC had to apologize. Nevertheless, it’s stunning that Neil has nothing to stay about the CNN incident, obsessed as he claims to be about media balance and integrity.

Here's to the state of Mississippi

American mainstream media has a habit of censoring dissenting voices. Who can forget how Phil Donahue was fired by MSNBC when he refused to alter his, principled, anti-war, views as the MSM whipped the nation into a frenzy over Iraq? Odd then, that they made a martyr of Liz Wahl following her on-air resignation from RT in 2014 - a stunt that was actually stage-managed by a neocon think-tank, helped by a few loyal MSM journos. Wahl is now being used as a – this is not a joke – a Russian foreign policy expert by CNN. Her expertise on the subject extends to having read a tele-prompter for two years at RT America, a Washington-based, US affairs-focused channel.

Other MSM scandals that have been brushed under the carpet recently include the UK broadcasting regulator Ofcom finding the BBC to have broken its “rules on sponsored and free content funded by governments, NGOs and charities” (i.e. disseminating “propaganda”) – in more than 20 instances. CNN and CNBC were also cited. The story was barely reported. Even when it was - by the London Independent, which actually did use the term “propaganda” in describing the case – it simply vanished from their site shortly thereafter. The original headline “How the BBC showed propaganda films – but didn’t tell its viewers” now only survives as a Tweet.

The Independent has given no indication as to where the article has gone or why it was removed. The first half of it survives here. A milder take of the story does still exist at The Guardian.  

When Ofcom finds RT to be in breach of its rules, the UK media obliges by going to town on the story, with The Guardian,Independent, Financial Times and the BBC itself all giving huge coverage to the issue, and regurgitating it virtually every time they report on RT from whatever angle, no matter how unrelated the development.

That BBC rules breach story broke in August. The following month, the BBC's announcement of new plans to expand its reach in Russia and the Middle East were greeted with delight by the Guardian. There wasn't a mention of “propaganda” anywhere, even though its geographical focus is clearly politically motivated, and comes amidst the ‘Beeb’s’ frequent lamentations about losing the “information war” to Russia.

Of course, when RT announced similar projects for France and Germany, these were only ever treated as “propaganda” by the same Guardian.

Thus, when the BBC, found guilty of broadcasting "propaganda," expands its foreign messaging efforts (ones they are happy to dub as "propaganda" when coming from outside the US or Europe), the Guardian is overjoyed defining it as news and the proliferation of virtuous “British values.” However, when RT seeks new audiences, it can only be sinister propaganda. The logic doesn’t jump off the page. 

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, there are five direct synonyms for "hypocrisy." At the rate MSM is guilty of it, wordsmiths will have to invent a few more.