Inaccuracies of Christian Science Monitor’s Moscow Correspondent

The American public has been losing confidence in the media for some time. A causal factor may be the now-decades-old reversion of the news as a profit center, and away from the “public good” that it had been for most of the 20th Century. Another factor surely is the democratization of information gathering as the former gatekeepers, whether a newspaper or wire service or TV network, were displaced by the “friends and family” plan of acquiring, sharing, and commenting on news events.

At one time, we mocked such peer-to-peer sharing of news. There was the 1993 cartoon by Peter Steiner “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” and of course the label “new media,” a distinction that was both derogatory and a source of pride.

A good number of years ago, a lifetime in Internet years, I pushed the term “now media” to get beyond the adversarial definitions and to focus on the speed of acquisition and transmission.

Today, we are beyond the now-artificial combative “old media” versus “new media” categories. In their place is the term “mainstream media.” However, this does not have an “other” label. Further, its use is confusing at best. While “old” and “new” media were at first defined by platform (i.e. the web, social media) and later by the size of the company, “mainstream” media is largely defined by and used the audience of the “other” and by media trying to distinguish itself as the “other.”

The “other” is increasingly defined by its attacks on the “mainstream,” both implied and the explicit, as the “other” asserts that it is providing the audience information that was willfully withheld by the “mainstream.” But it is often the case the “information” by the “other” is often unsupported by readily available facts and often reliant on emotions rather than logic. One such example is RT, the network formerly known as Russia Today.

In Don Bishop’s Quotables No. 50, Don pulls a quote from a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor that defies logic, ignores readily available facts, and should have earned CSM some income as a paid ad.

The article, Inside the belly of Russia’s ‘propaganda machine’: A visit to RT news channel, is by CSM’s Moscow Correspondent, Fred Weir. Here is a key passage:

The network appears to have changed focus about five years ago to become more about promoting the Russian point of view on international affairs, and much less about covering Russia per se. It also became a platform for coverage of social problems in Western societies, government malfeasance, corporate non-accountability, and the dysfunctions of democracy that often contrasts in tone, and sometimes content, with mainstream media fare.

Occasionally, I still hear public diplomacy scholars assert that RT promotes the Russian point of view on international affairs. A cursory review of RT, let alone a deep analysis, shows this to be an inaccurate assessment. RT promotes anything that causes disruption in and with key markets, specifically the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union. It is more accurate to say RT reflects the Kremlin’s intention of sowing confusion and dissent in foreign nations. In this, the RT slogan is brilliant: “question more” denotes their goal. Unlike other organization, RT does not want you to find an answer. An attentive watcher of RT is quickly subjected to multiple potential scenarios, some even contradictory, whenever there is breaking news, particularly one that may reflect poorly on the Kremlin, such as the downing of flight MH17, or poorly on the United States.

Mr. Weir’s statement that RT is a “platform for coverage of social problems in Western societies” attempts to position RT as some values-based organization. It is not driven by values but by interests that are supported by subversion and conspiracy theories. An observer is hard-pressed to find the ethics and professional practices of journalism at work in RT’s broadcasts, or those of its sister organization, Sputnik and Ruptly. But Mr. Weir pretends that they are there.

The inaccuracies are many, including the statement that while “one US employee did famously quit on the air to protest the network’s defense of Russian policies in Ukraine, there is no visible sign of disquiet among the others, and some staunchly defend RT’s alternative coverage of world affairs.” His reference to Liz Wahl excludes other departures, though perhaps we can give a point to Mr. Weir that he is accurate in saying at this time there are “no visible sign[s] of disquiet.”

RT has a market, though. This market would not exist or would be much smaller, if the “Western media did their job,” as one expert commented to me. An insightful observation, for sure, which Mr. Weir captures: “The success of RT may be largely a result of the collapsing credibility of established media in the West.”

How do we square, then, Mr. Weir’s slam of his employer, the respected 99-year old news organization that published his article, that RT “often contrasts in tone, and sometimes content, with mainstream media fare”? I doubt that he means to suggest that CSM is equivalent to RT.

Mr. Weir co-authored a book ten years ago that may be a clue to his present frame of reference. From a 5-star review of Revolution From Above: The Demise of the Soviet System:

This is an important book about the cause of the defeat of Soviet Socialism. “Revolution From Above” identifies that cause as the betrayal of socialism by Russia’s elite state and party administrators. The Russian elite was ideologically corrupted by western propaganda and they were materially corrupted by their elite privileges over ordinary workers. The defeat had more to do with the pressures of capitalism on the Soviet elite than with the failure of Marxist Socialism … The loss of the USSR triggered the defeat of most of the world’s socialist states and led to grave setbacks for workers everywhere. Since the fall of socialism, the capitalist countries, led by the USA, have embarked on new wars of conquest without having to fear a credible military response to their aggression.

Though written a decade ago, Mr. Weir’s write-up of RT is less surprising. I will grant that people may change their opinions over time, but his article of just a few weeks ago on RT suggests he maintains a similar worldview. I just hope that CSM accurately recorded any income generated from that article as ad revenue.