Russia Today’s Disinformation Campaign

Posted by Richard Stengel
April 29, 2014
Newsroom in Moscow

Moscow is subjecting Ukrainians, Russians and the rest of the world to an intense campaign of disinformation that tries to paint a dangerous and false picture of Ukraine’s legitimate government. Russia Today, the Moscow-based TV network financed by the government, is a key player in this campaign of distortion. Along with its Russian operation, RT operates an English-language broadcast out of Washington.

Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry referred to RT as a "propaganda bullhorn," which was promoting Russian President Vladimir Putin's "fantasy." The result was a predictable howl of protest from RT's editor, who claimed the State Department knows little about what is really happening in Ukraine today and had the audacity to request an apology.

I spent seven years as the managing editor of TIME magazine before joining the State Department. I understand the difference between news, propaganda and opinion. Propaganda is the deliberate dissemination of information that you know to be false or misleading in order to influence an audience.

From assertions that peaceful protesters hired snipers to repeated allegations that Kiev is beset by violence, fascism and anti-Semitism, these are lies falsely presented as news. An opinion is subjective and not a statement of fact. Opinions, however odious, are defensible speech in a way that false claims are not. RT is a distortion machine, not a news organization.

Consider the way RT manipulated a leaked telephone call involving former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Through selective editing, the network made it appear that Tymoshenko advocated violence against Russia. Or the constant reference to any Ukrainian opposed to a Russian takeover of the country as a "terrorist." Or the unquestioning repetition of the ludicrous assertion last week that the United States has invested $5 billion in regime change in Ukraine. These are not facts, and they are not opinions. They are false claims, and when propaganda poses as news it creates real dangers and gives a green light to violence.

Sometimes it’s even too much for the people paid to make these claims. The network's clear bias led to an unprecedented on-air rebellion. First, the host of RT America, Abby Martin, condemned Russia's invasion of Crimea on a broadcast. Then one of the network's anchors, Liz Wahl, resigned on air, saying, "I cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin."

Yet, even so, I would defend the right of RT to broadcast. The First Amendment protects speech that we reject as much as speech that we embrace. The State Department facilitates RT’s coverage by giving them unrestricted access to our briefings. No one is arguing that RT should be taken off the air the way Moscow has abruptly ended the license that allows Voice of America to broadcast to Russians. Free access to information is a basic principle, even if that information is nothing more or less than propaganda. But the network and its editors should not pretend that RT is anything other than another player in Russia's global disinformation campaign against the people of Ukraine and their supporters.

About the Author:  Richard Stengel, a former managing editor of TIME magazine, is the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Follow him via @Stengel on Twitter.

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Comments

Comments

amit m.
|
Washington, USA
April 29, 2014
absolutely amazing and pretty interesting to read,really very important issue to discuss and most debatable issue in the world at the moment,i discussed many times with my amazing queen "Cleopatra" beauty wife Margaret Brennan CBS news,she is also expert in foreign policy as well as working secretary Kerry so know very well regarding entire issue. as we discussed,we already mentioned world know very well Putin's game behind curtain,on side he going for agreement and on the other hand give fire in violence to further intervention.but most important point Margaret raised that we already saw Putin's press conference and he accepted that "Russia invade in Crimea against EU,NATO expansion.we already saw evidence that Russia behind the Ukraine crisis with provide fund and arms to pro-Russian armed forces,we also showed evidence to state department. we also discussed some strategy of Russia that Russian try to make weaker Ukraine to spread violence to peruse strategy like that to misinform to the world and also provide funds and arms to pro-Russian arms forces,but we also agree on that Ukraine has full right to defend and use force and police to track down any violence in peaceful way,may be army march also helpful to tackle situations. we also discussed and suggested sanctions will be impose on Russia like: 1)sanctions on people who related to Putin or Putin inner circle ban on visas and assets. 2)sanctions on Russian banks,business and companies. 3)sanctions on Russian energy sectors and trade business,though this step is tough enough it will hurt EU as well as global economy. as we suggested and we saw some sanctions imposing over Russia by EU,US but many people still asking question what this sanctions will working?or any change in Putin's behavior?what EU,US going for war or cold war? as we discussed and let me clear there is no any chance of war between west & Russia,US only help Ukraine with non lethal aid not any lethal aid,so no any tax payer money will be lost,another most important point Margaret mentioned US sanctions on Russia working,we saw Russian economy already struggling and will face recession in next year.but this sanctions not working as effective as unless impose sanctions on Russia economy sectors like banks,business,company,energy sector.but this sanction take time,but we also hope for peaceful solution.
Bruce P.
|
United States
April 29, 2014

How does a junta, installed via a violent coup d'etat, become "Ukraine’s legitimate government"? Although both have their good and bad points, I would say that Russia Today is on the balance more reliable and less propagandistic than Time. The State Department has done its best to evade the evidence that has surfaced about the snipers in the Maidan. Your cute formulation, "assertions that peaceful protesters hired snipers," provides us with a helpful example of how to write propaganda. 

Andrew B.
|
Virginia, USA
April 29, 2014
Who initiated the violence on the Maidan, Bruce P? Did you forget already?
sam a.
|
United States
April 29, 2014
lies go to wikileaks for the truth anonmiyous
Sam A.
|
Massachusetts, USA
April 29, 2014
Check out RT for yourself before forming judgment. There are many stories there that cannot be found anywhere else, not just about the Ukranian crisis, but Afghanistan, etc.
Leo K.
|
New York, USA
April 29, 2014
"I spent seven years as the managing editor of TIME magazine before joining the State Department." Indeed, and what sequence of events led you to seek and secure (or was it offered?) high-level employment with the US government? Everything discussed in this post is fair game, but I do wonder about the impartiality of its source.
Nick R.
|
Ukraine
April 29, 2014
I would even add - the one should not even need to be an expert in media to understand that RT is nothing, but the propaganda machine. Just look at the content they cast - 70% is about to shit the West and make everything look that the West is wrong in everything, Putin is sent from God, Jewish bankers and blah-blah-blah - typical set of comments by Russian paid trolls. If RT (Russia Today) is called that way, then why do they speak about the West despite the title of channel? Pure propaganda mixed with lies, lack of journalist regulations, unconfirmed facts, crooked dreamed-up parts of the news - no wonder Liz Wahl quitted that Kremlin propaganda machine on air
Michael S.
|
Michigan, USA
April 29, 2014
Yanukovich & Company stole $32 billion and more from Ukraine and had it banked in Putin's Bank. Legitimate? Bwahaha! Maybe legitimate Russian gangster......fled the country after Putin & Company snipers shot 108 at Independence Square in Kyiv.
maria c.
|
Alabama, USA
April 29, 2014
RT has a comment feature. I encourage readers to comment on RT with civil corrections and challenges, using facebook, twitter, etc. BTW Love you on Morning Joe Mr. Stengel!
Ryan A.
|
United States
April 29, 2014
Its not just RT News, its also the disinfo agent Alex Jones from Infowars. These people goal is to spew disinformation to the American public in hopes the American people take up arms and creates a civil war in which the US stock market crashes. I also believe some of these conspiracies theories are originating from Russia such as the NWO. Read the comment sections on RT, CNN etc. They all use the same code words. "Jews, Banks, CIA, Junta, False Flag, NWO, Bilderberg, Mossad"
Peter B.
|
United States
April 30, 2014
Bruce P. wrote: "How does a JUNTA, installed via a violent coup d'etat, become "Ukraine’s legitimate government"?" --- Bruce, let me ask you: since when a legal government appointed by a large MAJORITY of a democratically elected Rada (Ukraine parliament) INCLUDING members from Yanukvych party is considered a "junta"? Bruce P wrote: "The State Department has done its best to evade the evidence that has surfaced about the snipers in the Maidan." --- Bruce, the government of Ukraine encouraged by U.S. handed the jurisdiction of the sniper investigation to international COURT. Bruce, if you were INVOLVED in the shooting, would you do that? Do you think that Putin's Russian "KGB" senior officers "visiting" on the DAY of shooting in Kiev will be cooperating with this investigation?
Roland P.
|
United States
April 30, 2014
Why the goverment ask Google to stop sponsoring ths RT news with Google Ads and remove them from the Search engine results... Google wants to collect information but when this information is fake and deceiving i think this should be evaluated. The goverment could ask as a favor to google and Facebook to block the links to this liar websites.
Ainars R.
|
United Kingdom
April 30, 2014
Hi. That so called junta actually is people supported amongst the ukrainians.. Im born in Latvia and my relatives have been sent to gulag on 1949 as well as slaughtered during the red terror at 1943. As many eastern europeans we have been humiliated by russian nationalists and its sad that when native ukrainians are defending their country some random americans are calling it brutal coup. Im sorry to disappoint, but in a close future we in Latvia will have provocations as we have our own yanukovych (Putin puppet), as well in other baltics there is already thousands of russian nazi ready for provocations. I dont like to see comments like your as clearly you haven't checked all accessible media. You must be blind to not see russian spetsnaz and random provocateurs getting paid for boosting russian patriotic favour. Go in twitter and read russian comments.. They are ready for war. Wait till 9th of may. All EE is scared of that day as russian brutality will spread beyond the ukraine. Anyways its usuless to explain this to you...
julia b.
|
United States
April 30, 2014
what a blatant lie. tymoshenko said that people on south east must be 'killed with nuke in the head'. who cares what else she said? she is out of her mind with her Russophobia. and you are lying again saying that rt refers to nazi government as terrorist. tho they shoud beacuse thats what they are. it is self installed violent government and their puppets who refer to people of south east as terrorists and separatists when all they want it to have a voice! south east make money on Ukraine. THEY feed Kyiv. they are not their slaves they want to have rights. they have rights to speak Russian if they chose to. they have rights to teach their children Russian if they want. Russian are not minority on Ukraine but they are all but oppressed. 10k for Russian head wtf is that? it's fascism what they do to them. WITH YOUR TOTAL SUPPORT. the amount of lies in your media. people don't want fascist government USA installed. you Richard supporting a genocide here. you'll eat your money but shame and blood on your hands will stay forever.
francois d.
|
Canada
April 30, 2014
The prior government was voted out by the democratically elected parliament after Russia ordered the assassination of peaceful protestors by sniper fire. Pro russian protestors are thugs hired in some border region of russia and in Moscow by Putin FSB. They begin this campaign of intimidation and fear 2 month ago. US, NATO and the rest of the world has to oppoze this criminal occupation of a sovereign nation. Whatever the turmoil they are in it is up to UKR to choose his destiny.
Peter S.
|
United States
April 30, 2014
I agree with the comment from your Facebook site: "Certainly the State Department can not stand the Truth, but lies are historically doomed to fail. Russia Today remains one of the TRUE press in the corporate censored press in the USA and its puppet EU countries. The US Industrial Military Complex along with the banksters control all US mass media and some Americans consumers are successfully brainwashed. Though, there are certainly different so-called alternative media, not bought by banksters that tell the truth. Russia Today is one of them. The US conventional corporate media has lost its face. Smart people who want to know the truth do not follow it."
Miguel K.
|
Belgium
April 30, 2014
Do you really believe that more sanctions against Russia will normalize situation in Ukraine? Russia is a strong country and sanctions will make it even stronger and never make it do what America wants. Ukrane is a neighbor of Russia and always will be. America miles away from both countries has nothing to do there.
Jon B.
|
Ukraine
April 30, 2014
Bruce P., your comment is bizarre. All the evidence about snipers on Maidan that has come out suggests that they were working for the Yanukovich regime. I live in Kyiv and was a Maidan protestor, and I for one (as an active protestor) did not 'hire snipers' - and I find it very hard to believe anyone else involved with the Maidan protests did. I was very near where it all happened, on Institutska St on the day of the protests, and it was absolutely clear that all the sniping was coming from behind security force lines. If you walk around Instituska St today there are numerous bullet holes, many through metal posts etc. - allowing you to see exactly where the shots came from. In all cases they were fired from govt-controlled buildings - for instance, many shots came from the balcony on the first floor of the National Bank building. At the time, this building was totally ringed by a cordon of Interior Ministry riot police - so anyone firing the shots either had to have got through this cordon first. There are also numerous photos of Berkut and SBU forces armed with kalashnikovs and sniper rifles - these photos were taken on the Thursday of the sniping and in the vicinity of the protests. The only 'evidence' that I've seen suggesting it was all somehow organised by the protestors is: 1. some protestors using shotguns (which might kill small game) - but if they fired them at all they were shooting towards police lines and I have seem no evidence of metal bullets in that area - though RT often uses one photo of a protestor with a rifle 2. a leaked phone call in which Ashton and a politician from a Baltic state discuss tthe fact that it was unclear who had organised the sniping - if you listen to the tape, it is obvious they are discussing possibilities (including the possibility of some third party). This is presented by Russian propaganda as somehow evidence that 'the protestors' (whatever that means) organised the sniping. I agree that the current Ukrainian govt (and let me remind you that the current Rada [Parliament] is exactly the same one that was voted in at the last elections, bar a few replacements for top people like Yanu, who have fled the country taking 32 billion dollars or whatever with them - having first perverted the constitution by granting greater presidential powers; introduced laws limiting freedom of speech and association; beaten up peaceful protestors (that's how it all started); possibly committed treason; looted the public purse; etc. etc. etc. ) has failed to get a get on top of exactly what happened that day. However, I'm a bit sick of going over old ground with people who could not be bothered to do proper research. Anyone with any wit and knowledge would know that the current govt are vastly superior to the old lot, basically a gang of totalitarian-mentality thugs who thrived in an atmosphere of corruption, impunity and public cynicism (which of course might describe a lot of provincial Russian politicians - such as Mr Akseynov, now the main man in Crimea).
Miguel K.
|
Belgium
April 30, 2014
The EU Associotion agreement, of course. Americans do not like to loose, that is why they are so hysterical now. Calm down.
Craig U.
|
Germany
April 30, 2014
Not a violent coup. Maidan was (is) an across-the-political-board grassroots phenomenon, where I spent some freezing time in January. Spent lots of time even with Svoboda people on one barricade, together with a Russian journalist, and they voiced no anti-Russian sentiments and wanted an all-inclusive "normal independent" Ukraine. Russian RT/Kiselev propaganda calls it an armed coup, so I guess old street sign shields, sticks, and old tires now count as a military force's weapons. As for the RT sniper garbage, which they invented and had circularly reported by the Russian govt (which owns RT), it is a total fabrication. The Estonian minister's phonecon with Catherine Ashton, as usual, was snippets taken out of context, and he made it clear that he was telling (about alleged Maidan snipers) what one "Olga" had told him while he was in Kyiv--not what he believed. There are hundreds of videos and photos of Berkut snipers firing on Maidaners (with SVDs and even 50 cal sniper rifles) and many of them using AK-74s (some on full auto) firing at Maidan on mainly 20 Feb. One very nice video taken from up on the Hotel Ukraina shows Berkut doing precisely this (firing AK-74s), clearly shooting at Maidaners armed with no more than sticks in front of the Dvorets. That particular video is from Ruptly--RT's video sub-agency. There are only a few pictures of a couple of guys on Maidan on the 20th with hunitng rifles, with very poor firing stances suggesting they are not trained marksmen. Other pictures taken weeks earlier of Maidan demonstrators firing pistols and an apparent machinegun were noted, by the Russian photographer who took them, as being air pellet guns, but RT portrayed those as real firearms. Dishonest at best. RT also claimed that the heavily edited phonecalls indicate the new Maidan interim government did not want the shootings on Maidan investigated because they knew they themselves were behind it. Total nonsense. Last week the International Criminal Court in The Hague agreed to take up the case of investigating all violence and incidents on Maidan from 21 Nov-22 Feb, based on a request that had been filed by the interim government on 25 February, well before RT ever fabricated its story.
Stevo M.
|
Sweden
April 30, 2014
Absolutely! Agree with this comment 100% To the article writer: RT has provided more information which is closer to the truth that all the rest of the US media put together! The fact that you used to work for Time magazine (which itself has refused to run several articles in the US which go against the grain of accepted US media propaganda) does not provide ANY legitimacy to your claims, quite the opposite in fact. This entire article is a piece of flaming propaganda, claiming to not be propaganda... It seems you need to have the word 'irony' explained to you again...
Peter B.
|
South Carolina, USA
April 30, 2014
Bruce P. wrote: "How does a JUNTA, installed via a violent coup d'etat, become "Ukraine’s legitimate government"?" --- Bruce, since when a legal government appointed by a large MAJORITY of a democratically elected Rada (Ukraine parliament) INCLUDING members from Yanukovych party is considered a "junta"?
Stew P.
|
New York, USA
April 30, 2014
The author is correct on all counts except for one - his assertion that RT should have the right to share the same space as CNN, MSNBC, FOX, etc. He correctly refers to RT as a Kremlin propaganda tool, knowingly and deliberately spreading lies and disinformation about Ukraine (and the overwhelming majority of the topics it covers) - but that only makes it qualify for the Unreality Show Network at best, which (last time I checked) does not exist. So, good-bye RT - see ya back when you've cleaned up your act.
Les S.
|
Maryland, USA
April 30, 2014
What "violent coup d'etat"? There was an agreement between Janukovytch and the opposition mediated by EU. Next day Janukovytch escaped, the parliament voted him out of office since he abandoned his post.
Brian P.
|
France
April 30, 2014
You echo RT in calling Ukraine's interim government a junta, a word usually reserved for military dictatorships, except when abused by propagandists to discredit any government they don't agree with. It is useful to recall what actually happened. After outside mediation, Yanukovych agreed with the opposition to constitutional changes and early elections. However, instead of signing the changes, he fled the country as his own security apparatus deserted him in the midst of the protests. So the parliament voted to declare the presidency vacant. You could argue about the constitutionality of this, since the Ukrainian constitution doesn't provide any guidelines for this event (only when the president is sick or dead), but they did their best to stick to the spirit of the constitution in spite of the circumstances. They are legitimate. The interim government consists of members of parliament who were elected long before the current crisis, unlike the self-declared "people's governors" and such in Crimea and East Ukraine.
Kelley L.
|
California, USA
April 30, 2014
Richard, Shall we add you to this poll? You left out all the other news outlets that are reporting the same information that RT has. That would include the coup d'etat. I think we, the taxpayers, are old enough to read and digest the news. Does your administration think we should simply buy the statements made without viewing the totality of circumstances? Perhaps you should also read the comments. Kelley Lynch publicpolicypolling.com/main/2013/01/congress-somewhere-below-cockroaches-traffic-jams-and-nickleback-in-americans-esteem.html
Gary R.
|
United Kingdom
April 30, 2014
Excellent piece. A sober and very timely essay that should make us all be more critical as viewers, and reminds us that this is as much an information war as it is a dispute about territory and identity. Thank you.
Daniel D.
|
Canada
April 30, 2014
Comments like this under the official name of the U.S. Department of State undermine the international credibility of the Department of State. Comments like these increase the chasm between the charade of diplomacy sold to the domestic U.S. audience and the credibility of diplomacy with other nations. The theatrics, distortions, omissions, evasions, and projections in this U.S. State Department blog are ironic, disturbing and amusing; but, most of all, sad.
Lee N.
|
Maryland, USA
April 30, 2014
RT has already fact checked with video showing Victoria Nuland saying US 5 billion invested from her own mouth.
Mann D.
|
Alabama, USA
April 30, 2014
Bahaha US are desperate, now trying to counter the reality with invented propaganda. Says alot when desperate people like Stengel run after RT.

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