Former US Assistant Secretary of State confuses compliance with journalism

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.
Former US Assistant Secretary of State confuses compliance with journalism
A former State Department official claimed this week that RT's staff are not legitimate news reporters. This is ostensibly because “real journalists” only work for compliant US media and not disruptive foreign competitors.

Around this time of year, there are a few constants. Leaves will fall, turkeys will be carved, and David J. Kramer will launch some kind of attack on RT.

A former George W. Bush apparatchik, Kramer now works for John McCain’s eponymous Institute for International Leadership. His trademark is anti-Russia vitriol. In fact, it often seems like he’s trying to outdo his boss, who can rarely complete a full week without condemning Moscow for something or other.

Last winter, the activist was campaigning for the US government to seize RT’s assets in America as compensation for Yukos, a former Russian oil company. This year, Kramer has decided that the network’s staff are not “real journalists.”

This is apparently because “real journalists” work for outlets like “Voice of America, Radio Liberty, the New York Times or the Washington Post.” That’s right, reporters at US state-funded media, whose publicly stated mission is to tell the news in a way that is “consistent with the broad foreign policy objectives of the United States,” are just swell, but RT staff and contributors can’t be mentioned in the same breath.

Presumably this is because RT doesn’t take the pronouncements of the State Department at face value, unlike virtually every other organization operating in the US media space. And this clearly unnerves a lot of people in the American elite who have managed to control media narratives for decades – such as back in 2003, when popular newspapers and broadcasters helped drum up support for the invasion of Iraq.

Furthermore, it’s rather astonishing how anybody could regard New York Times and Washington Post journalists as any more ‘real’ than those at RT, given both newspapers’ propensity for bending facts, often with terrible consequences. Indeed, mention of Iraq reminds us of the NYT’s insistence that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction”. Of course, WaPo also joined in the campaign, running more than 140 stories on its front page promoting the conflict.

As it happens, WaPo’s propensity for publishing “fake news” has been under the microscope in the past couple of weeks, due to the infamous “PropOrNot” splash over the Thanksgiving holiday. In this very dubious story, the paper helped to smear dozens of respected news organizations as agents of the Kremlin. And the backlash has been overwhelming. So much so that the original article currently has more corrections than a seven-year-old’s school homework.

That trail of corrections betrays the total absence of minimal journalistic standards, at least as applied to this article, the publication is ostensibly out to defend. Libeled outlets were not contacted for comment (by WaPo’s own admission). Information that is a matter of public record was not fact-checked (ditto). Absurd claims that RT originated and promoted fake news stories about the US election weren’t substantiated by a single example, even after RT’s insistence (spoiler alert: WaPo could not provide any examples because there are none).

Now the article opens with what essentially amounts to a soft retraction, and a rather hilarious admission that the Post “does not vouch for the validity” of the findings it nevertheless deemed fit to print. 

The venerable New York Times isn’t blameless in the “fake news” myth-building either. Taking some of WaPo’s verbiage almost word for work, the Gray Lady also printed that “Many of those false reports originated from RT News.” To substantiate this libel, did it provide even a single example out of the “many” that are supposedly available? No, of course not. We’ve been in touch with the Times, and yes, they’re still looking. This is not a joke.

Yes, it is apparently entirely acceptable to publish fake news as long as they concern Russia or RT. Not just acceptable – this earns you a commendation from a former Assistant Secretary of State as being a “real journalist.

Kramer’s essential thesis is that RT is attempting to undermine the credibility of the US government. This is done by “trying to become part of the dialogue, which usually occurs between journalists and press secretaries of the US government agencies.” And “trying to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of the people that the government is not telling the truth.” So, in other words, this former official is upset because RT’s reporters ask the tough questions, which their convivial American colleagues – with some notable exceptions – mostly seem to be unwilling to broach.

One can almost imagine Kramer’s inner mantra: “A good journalist must always believe – and report – that the US government is always telling the truth! We have never ever had even a single example to the contrary!

Instead, it can be assumed that he’d prefer a situation where Washington’s talking points are accepted at face value and left uncontested. And never mind the fact that this practice allowed the Bush administration to hoodwink the American people into a disastrous war in Iraq, not to mention dozens of other infamous international misadventures. That said, the fact that Kramer worked as an Assistant Secretary of State for that government probably makes him nostalgic for a time when the White House could easily dictate the agenda.

While Kramer’s logic is truly astounding, it does give an insight into the mindset of the American establishment when it comes to the media. In their worldview, “real journalists” don’t ask difficult questions, and do help officials spin the US-driven narrative of the day. However, reporters who try to hold them to account are not legitimate because they refuse to play the game.

But in this day and age, the audiences, in the US and elsewhere, have a different view.