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

Burt S.
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New Zealand
April 30, 2014
Care to comment on the point-by-point, reference-verified repudiation by RT of many of the "facts" presented here by Mr. Stengel? http://rt.com/op-edge/155960-presenting-lies-facts-propaganda-exposure/
Sergiy K.
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Canada
April 30, 2014
The RT Russian TV channel based in New York must be BANNED across North America, together with Perviy Kanal (First Channel), NTV and RTR channels of Russia. They spread MILITARY propaganda of Putin. Their aim is to destabilize the situation in North America by creating the Fifth Column inside the United States and Canada based on the 3.5 million strong Russian-speaking community in America and a 500,000-strong Russian-speaking community in Canada. Those channels spread hatred and propaganda of war. Their programs are hostiel, filthy and inappropriate. The RT chief Dmitri Kiselev who is on the Western sanctions list, spoke on Perviy Kanal where he said Russian would "turn the USA into radioactive ashes" and this was broadcast all across North America. RT misrepresents and distorts facts to the benefit of Vladimir Putin who now claims Alaska and sends his warships to the Arctic. Mr. Obama, why are these channels still operating in the United States and Canada? Why do you permit their operation? Shut them down !
Ken P.
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United States
April 30, 2014
Meanwhile, RT keeps getting more and more viewers. RT does not hide the fact that it gives a Russian point of view. Just like CNN, FOX, MSNBC, etc. give a corporate, neo-liberal, US elite point of view. People watch RT because US news is totally and completely subservient to power. And the State Department has been utterly shameful; even more than usual lately. US media got the entire story behind Victoria 'F-the-EU' Nuland's phone call with Pyatt completely wrong - focusing on the EU vulgarity and who recorded it as opposed to them handpicking Yatsenyuk. What's hilarious about this is that the State Department and the Obama Administration in general carries on like nobody every heard the conversation. This is why US media lost legitimacy. And you have the nerve to call out RT for propaganda? Please! The US government would not tolerate politicians from other countries handing out cookies to Occupy Wall St. protesters, but it's ok when Nuland does it, or McCain heads over to cheer people on in Maidan? Give me a break. People like RT because it's ALLOWED to be critical of the US. More and more people will start to watch it, especially after this hissy fit the State Dept. is going on, bashing RT for not towing it's official line. Here are some things to consider, Mr. Stengel. We KNOW that Yat's government is NOT legitimate. We know they weren't elected. We know the country is going to go to crap once those IMF Saps hit. We know you guys are upset about Crimea (but you're just going to have to get over it - the people voted to secede, no one voted for Yats. You can't have it both ways). We know you want a new "bad guy" in Russia so as to justify dumping more money into the NATO/National Security/war machine. Americans are NOT dumb. Every point you mentioned isn't even valid. Anyone can go listen to Tymoshenko's phone call on Youtube and hear exactly what she said. Anyone can listen to Victoria Nuland admit that the US invested $5 billion dollars into Ukraine. You all are just embarrassing yourselves now. Listen, this power grab has failed. Russia has been out-maneuvering the US for a year now. I know you all are butthurt over Snowden, Syria, Crimea, and now Ukraine as a whole. But other countries have geo-political interests too. A multi-polar world is in the making. US decline is evident for all to see. Nonfactual diatribes that call you all out on your BS is great PR for RT, which is great, because more people need to get a different view. Cheers.
Sergiy K.
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Canada
April 30, 2014
Peter, if you believe the current Ukrainian government is a "junta" who came to power through a "coup", this means you know nothing about the previous Ukrainian government of Yanukovich. He was "elected" by falsified ballots, and through pressure and intimidation of people in Central and Eastern Ukraine. This is common knowledge in Ukraine now. Yanukovich's coming to power was part of Putin's huge KGB/FSB project to subjugate Ukraine and re-create the Soviet Union, a 22-year-old corpse. Do you know that the chief of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and the Ukrainian Interior Ministry Chief were, in fact, Russian citizens and carried Russian passports? Do you know that, shortly before his running away to Russia, Yanukovich took all the Ukrainian money leaving only 3 mln US dollars worth in Ukraine's budget? Thus, the Department of State is right: RT is not a news channel, it is fact-distortion machine of Putin, period. Finally, Peter, do you know Putin claims Alaska and organizes military drills in the Arctic? This is widely publicized by the RT too. If the West does not stop Putin in Ukraine now, the Russians will be on your doorstep in America already next year. Wake up, Peter...
John R.
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United States
April 30, 2014
Richard, if you think it is only Russia Today who intentionally disseminates inaccurate information, then you are mistaken and unaware of both what is going on on the ground in Ukraine and how the western media are handling the situation. I just returned from Ukraine and must say that I was extremely disappointed by the way the western media was presenting the news there. I saw numerous examples of irresponsible journalism, but I will highlight a few here to demonstrate that it is not only RT who is reckless with the news. I attended multiple press conference with separatists that were attended by maybe one other western media organization (often not English speaking). When I asked a documentary film maker affiliated with a major news organization where the journalists were, he said they were "off drinking beer". How can you cover separatists without making the effort to understand them? The NY Times knowingly published this article: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/20/world/europe/ukraine-provides-evidence-of-russian-military-in-civil-unrest.html without proof that it was certainly true. Instead they choose to pander to public sentiment. Your own news organization, Time, published this in response: http://time.com/74405/exclusive-pro-russian-separatists-eastern-ukraine/ Where does the truth lie? In any case, it was irresponsible of the NY Times not to do due dilligence on the article they released. Clearly they wanted to be quick to publish and were willing to sell an image rather than facts. I spoke with the director/spokesman for a major TV news organization the US and he told me that they "have to present this conflict in terms of an East/West conflict, because that is what the public understands; they can relate to the cold war dynamic". In effect, this television organization was willing to put knowingly disingenuous programs on the air in order to pander to their readers. Do you realize how incredibly dangerous this is? The same spokesman, during the takeover of Sloviansk tweeted that the soldiers in uniform were Russian, but when I spoke to him the next day, told me he had confirmed that they were, in fact, locals. He did not edit or retract his tweet, however. The point of all this is to say that while Russia Today often does indeed present misinformation, the western media is no better. Having spent time in Donetsk, Sloviansk, and Kharkiv, having spoken with the media there, having seen discrepancies between facts on the ground and what is presented in the news, I can tell you this as a matter of fact. You and readers should not fail to examine the information being presented to you as truth. I applaud you doing this in regard to Russia Today, but hope you keep in mind how willing Western media organizations are to distort the truth, especially in order to sell their product.
Svetlana O.
|
Ukraine
April 30, 2014
We are surrounded by lies. But you can find the truth if you will rely on the first order sources. For example, if you want to find the role of Russian army in referendum in Crimea, you better watch Crimean people directly and there was real time broadcasting from the referendum which took place the whole day and in many places of Crimea, and just after watching them make conclusions yourself about the people's desires. They were very unified in expressing their great desire to rebecome with Russia. And in many other questions, better to look through the first order sources, full of interviews with people involved.. The East media is full of lies about Russia, I am a native Russian speaker and can compare information from different sources, and this makes me very sad about this unjustice, but I can do nothing, as the system of propaganda is built on people's primitiveness and just few of them want to hear the truth. Please, read Russian media also, don't deprive yourself of the opportunity to compare, and maybe you will come to the opposite opinion, just try to analyze..
Adam W.
|
Poland
April 30, 2014
The vote to remove Yanukovych doesn’t seem to have followed constitutional procedures. Under Articles 108-112 of Ukraine’s constitution (here), there are four ways a sitting president may leave office between elections: resignation, incapacitation, death, and impeachment. None of the first three happened—early rumors to the contrary, Yanukovych has vehemently denied that he resigned—so that leaves the fourth, impeachment. According to Article 111, impeachment must follow a specific set of procedures: Parliament must vote to impeach and then convene a committee to investigate. That committee must investigate and report back to parliament, which must then vote to bring charges. A final vote to convict may only come after receipt of a judgment from the Constitutional Court that “the acts, of which the President of Ukraine is accused, contain elements of treason or other crime.” And this final vote would have taken the votes of at least 3/4 of all MPs (338), whereas only 328 MPs simply voted for impeachment in a clearly unconstitutional way.
roger m.
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New Zealand
May 1, 2014
I couldn't even pretend to know what the people of Ukraine actually want, in all their variety and history - left alone to decide. But Mr Stengel, as ex-editor of TIME, claiming difference between propaganda and news would easily netsearch : 'victoria_nuland 5 billion_ukraine_speech'.... closely followed by "McCain_senator_john_Svoboda_nazi_right_sector'. After that, the eye popping 'NATO operation GLADIO' and 'William Engdahl_'Paet/Ashton recorded_phone call + forensics at the Maidan' should add to the GLADIO reference. Then, there is: 'Ukraine_USAID_ NED_Omidyar/paypal/Ukraine/funding-pre-coup'. Finish with a brush up on the definition of 'interference in the sovereign politics of Ukraine' - just after 'hypocrisy' in the literature - close to Nulands infamous phone call to Ambassador Pyatt indicating US preference for EU input.. Whatever way you spin it, Richard, the United States 'special interests' have been orchestrating events covert and overt in Ukraine for years. Sanctioned from the highest levels of Government. By not acknowledging them in the time-line, or pretending your country plays no part in the crisis, is by virtue of the fact, propaganda.
Gintaras V.
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Lithuania
May 1, 2014
I am not sure if The First Amendment should grant Putin's propaganda war unit RT access to the information space in the U.S.
Ainars R.
|
United Kingdom
May 1, 2014
Svetlana has a very good point. On the Twitter i've seen so many western people who haven't seen the Russian media, commenting how bad is US propaganda. Its sad that people judge about the Ukraines and all Eastern Europe feature with not having a single clue what happens inside Russia. Many anti US sided people are just getting their hands on everything just to say - look how bad the US media are. Ive been watching RT daily since the conflict began. Peter Lavelle is just another great example of being putins bullhorn amongst with others. If someone criticizes Putin, he shuts them down. I hope that their lies will be exposed more and more. Also when someone is quoting about the legitimacy of the Ukrainian gov is just hurting me aswell as Ukrainians. I'm Latvian, I can feel the same what the native ukrainians do. Once they finally got closer to the Europe, someone is speaking about the legitimacy? Then so called Doneck republic gov is legitimate? No. But when Ukrainian gov is trying to remove the terrorists from the seized buildings, Putin is calling to pull back. How it comes? International laws would call it legitimate Russian president request? Antimaidan Twitter accounts are full with WW3 expecting Russian hate comments. Majority of ordinary russians are happy to see this escalation and wish to have the new year celebration in Berlin. Analyze is what we all need. People cant see how bad RT, perviy canal and L!FE NEWS are. This is really good and correct article. Respect it as we - Eastern Europeans agree with it.
J L.
|
United States
May 1, 2014
RT is not people expressing an opinion. RT is a state directed broadcast; a government voice with specific intentions to influence people and move them away from reality. I've found that Al-Jazeera is particularly good at just giving the 'news' without much personal opinion or influence from a state organ.
Sergiy K.
|
Canada
May 1, 2014
Adam, maybe the demotion of president Yanukovich was not done strictly according to the Ukrainian Constitution. However, if you look at the fact that Yanukovich changed the Constitution of Ukraine, that he only followed instructions from the Kremlin and not the will of the Ukrainian people, that he siphoned off about 72 BILLION US$ equivalent from Ukraine's state budget to Russia and his private accounts in Western banks, and that he had been lying to the Ukrainian people about preparing for joining the EU, you will quickly see that Yanukovich himself acted against the Ukrainian Constitution. He was just Moscow's puppet imposed by Putin through electoral machinations. This is one of those non-standard situations when that individual could no longer be regarded as President of Ukraine as he was 100% manipulated by the president of other country. I hope you agree with this.
Jim M.
|
Canada
May 1, 2014
I read and listen to RT News and other foreign news sites, and I read and listen to western media. I also read numerous other works, most written by U.S. citizens. From all this, and applying some critical thinking analytical skills, I tend to trust RT much more than U.S. sources. For all its rhetoric about freedom and democracy, the main interest of the U.S. is to maintain the petrodollar and its hegemonic dominance within global finances. As the U.S. pushes Russia, the Russians will move closer to India and China (the number two and three economies of the world), their combined eventual aim will be to dump the U.S. dollar as reserve currency. As the U.S. is enormously in debt domestically and abroad, it cannot pull itself out of debt except perhaps through severe Weimar or Zimbabwe style hyperinflation. The other answer is the usual, Thomas Friedman's "hidden fist" of the military, although now it is not hidden, but quite obvious, as it pushed through Libya and Iraq, and now threatens Russia and China, among many other interferences around the world. The usual U.S. response applies to the Ukrainian situation - except that Russia has much more bite back than Iraq or Libya or Grenada (you actually invaded Grenada! Big brave military!).
Yvan D.
|
Canada
May 1, 2014
Washington is subjecting Americans, Canadians and the rest of the world to an intense campaign of disinformation that tries to paint a false picture of Ukraine’s illegitimate government. - See more at: NY times, Wash. Post, CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, etc.
Rhys D.
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Arkansas, USA
May 2, 2014
Please! Please! Please! Don't support nazis. We have time, the little guys like me are making friends and doing business there. it is a more powerful technique. You want to win, right? If you continue like now, we are going to lose the south and east of Ukraine just like Crimea. Be patient. Be nice.
Fredrik W.
|
Sweden
May 2, 2014
Just check out Breaking the set on RT for one week. If you find more than 1 tiny glitch on their reported news during that time I 'll be very surprised.
Andrey P.
|
Russia
May 3, 2014
In Ukraine, the authorities captured criminals, killers of civilians. Russia has no relation to these outrages. Obama does not know how to conduct diplomacy, looks funny and convincing, although it is clear that trying to defend their interests. With these sanctions is worn around the world how to write his bag. Well he did not finish. Putin And he, of course, even sloppy!
Lara D.
|
Russia
May 3, 2014
Today in Odessa burned people the Nazis set fire to them in the House of trade unions, which Kerry believes that in Ukraine there are no! The fascists who wandered with portraits of Stepan Bandera and Shukhevych in cities-Nazis! It is their descendants and heirs! Now, the State Department expressed condolences to Ukraine losing lives, including innocent women and children. Did you know that the current regime will not grieve, for them the heroes of arsonists? The United States supports this mode!
Bob D.
|
United States
May 4, 2014
Thank you very helpful.
Sergei P.
|
Ukraine
May 4, 2014
Just ban it for good from google rating, from youtube, give some money to that idiot in the Russian Parliament who proposed a copule of week ago to create a North-Korean-style "intranet" to promote the national informational security, help Russia to deny all connections to foreign web resources, prevent all their comment-bots from using proxies - and the world will breathe freely. Russia is an ugly state and has to go, like the USSR did.
Sergei P.
|
Ukraine
May 4, 2014
a good method to auto-detect Russian comment-bots: "Ukraine+junta" "Odessa+Khatyn" practically any mentionning of V.Nuland, etc, etc, etc
Sergiy K.
|
Canada
May 5, 2014
Ken, if you admire the RT so much, you should know that RT Director General Dmitri Kiselev threatened that "Russia turn America into radioactive ashes", that includes you. You may not like what CNN, FOX, MSNBC present but keep in mind that RT is not a "different view". This is Putin's MILITARY propaganda meant to suppress America and its image and extol Putin's effort to convert the world into the Soviet Union. I lived in the Soviet Union, I know just how bad it was to live there, and I am glad I got out of there. And I do not want its recreation. So, do not be in a hurry to praise RT.
Lenny K.
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New York, USA
May 5, 2014
U.S. government openly supported Maidan movement that uses arson as means to protest against the government and also to deal with political opposition. Would U.S. government approve of such protests in America? Is it ok to throw molotov cocktails at the police in Washington? Is it ok to throw molotov cocktails into the Sate Department? Will Victoria Noland hand out cookies to people who engage in such activities in the U.S.?
Maria, R.
|
Russia
May 6, 2014
Sorry to interrupt your interesting discussion, but Dear GosDep, where have you taken this brilliant picture of a newsroom? Are you sure it is at RT's office? Nice wallpaper and letters on the background, but I've never seen it at work. It is significant you make mistakes like that.You may seem credible for a while, but the truth is something you canot hide for long. Especially now, when we can read each other in your Internet :-) Love, M.
Wim R.
|
Alaska, USA
May 6, 2014
The distortions in this article actually are making a case for RT: - the suggestion that the protesters in Kiev were "peaceful" where we all have seen video's showing stones and Molotov cocktails. Yes, these hooligans were not the majority. But without them the uprising wouldn't have won and thank to that they still occupy a privileged position. - considerable evidence has been gathered that shows that Berkut may not have been the organization that shot the protesters. Yet nothing is done with it. Even the family members of those killed complain that the investigating commission is not really interested in the facts. This is suspicious behavior so it is only natural that people start asking and speculating why. - it is not the Russians who paint everyone who opposes them as a "terrorist", it is Yatsenyuk and his government. - on the Internet one can find extensive background info on the departure of Liz Wahl from RT. Long story short: it was staged by some neocon and her motivation seemed to be lack of progress in her career rather ideological or moral considerations. - Yes, RT made very probably a blooper with the Timoshenko video. But they corrected themselves and printed the reactions. Sure, some people don't get the correction and we keep seeing the accusations repeated in internet discussions long after RT stopped mentioning it. And in fact there are some suggestions that it might be true: why didn't the State Department or anyone else do an analysis of the recording? And what to think of the contradiction between Timoshenko who claimed that a small part of the conversation had been modified and her conversation partner Shufrych who complained that the conversation never took place? - That brings me to my final point: the lack of truth from the State Department. The State Department never came clear in how far they supported the uprising. They never came clear on what Nuland was doing in Ukraine. They lied about the visit of the CIA head. They lie about their involvement in the suppression of the uprising. Did you see the Youtube tape where a journalist asks about the allegation by Putin that every time a high ranking American visits Kiev they is a new government offensive? It is really shocking how Jen Psaki ignores the question.
Chad K.
|
California, USA
May 6, 2014
I probably sound like a broken record with this one...But seriously....this is important... Anyone who still thinks democracy is a good idea is fundamentally confused. Our country was never meant to be a democracy because in that form of government, 51% of the people will always vote away the rights of the 49%...this, in my humble opinion (and in the opinions of some other guys like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams etc...), this is repugnant to the constitution and more importantly to liberty itself. Stop promoting Democracy, and stop thinking that organizations promoting such foibles (Democracy Now etc) are the good guys. They are at best: Dangerously Confused, and at the worst: Misinformation Agents designed to confuddle the mater. It is not that any one form of government is the problem. The issue is that no single form of governance will ever work for EVERYONE. We need to allow communities to govern themselves based on the needs and desires of the people who live there. Texa, for example, is a very different place than New York, with very different people, with very different wants and needs... There is no reason that all people should be forced to play by the same rules, when they are playing different games altogether... (that would be like forcing tennis players to wear football helmets...) #DemocracyNow #Democracy #Republic #AFMPPA #100not99
T N.
|
Texas, USA
May 7, 2014
Mr. Stengel, You claim to know the difference between propaganda and news, yet you choose to propagandize? You're no better than a paid shill dispensing your employer's "lie of the day". The many news sources in the US are clearly biased and pro-US; it stands to reason that RT is pro-Russia. These media biases help people to discern for themselves where the truth lies. You've exposed yourself to be a liar, a professional prevaricator, an ostensible obfuscator, a media manipulator, etc etc. Keep feeding the NY Times (mis)information; you'll contribute to their demise as readers/subscribers go elsewhere for their news. You've detracted from the credibility of the U.S. government and should resign. You make us look like the bad guys. T. Nichols
Joel H.
|
Virginia, USA
May 13, 2014
Mr. Nichols, your statement that Secretary Stengel "propagandized" is ludicrous. What the Secretary has done was classic counter disinformation, countering disinformation with the truth. Your perspective that many news sources in the US are "clearly biased and pro-US" is probably based on your use of RT, ITAR-TASS, Voice of Russia and other pro-Russian "news sources". Whereas US sources must verify and corroborate their stories, Russian "news sites" seem to make up the facts, distort reality and create an alternate story for the pro-Russian masses. Secretary Stengel's article is clearly based on the truth, on reality and founded in true journalistic values. I challenge you to provide one iota of disinformation or untruth in anything he has written.
J C.
|
Arizona, USA
May 20, 2014
It is about time RT news if you want to call it that gets the reviews it deserves. I used to be a viewer and after a month dropped it and will never read another RT article again or visit it's you tube channel. One thing though, even if the freedom of speech is the argument for still allowing it, we do have to find a way to keep track of the power it uses to influence people who don't know any better or, who are easily impressed. Meaning that while America has it's issues right now, there are people out there that are so angry that they will fall for RT dribble and RT knows this. That is what it is doing, trying to appeal to the left, yet now, after slamming President Obama, it has now attracted the ultra Right. The left had a bad taste in it's mouth after the James Kirchick incident so RT goes for the right audience now. If one pays attention it is as plain as day. RT will point the finger at gun violence in this country yet won't report that our lovely Stephen Seagal who loves Putin was wanted by the Kremlin to sell America arms. RT uses our faults, exploits them, turns them into something they are not for their own purpose. Putins. RT does not care about any American or anyone in the West at all. There are people in America who will swallow every thing they put out, and those are people we do need to worry about. How to monitor this is another story. RT news can be dangerous in my opinion so we need more people out there for the public to call RT out on its lies and lack of "questioning everything' so the less guarded out there know the difference. We can't let this Putin invention destroy our country any more than it has. Please keep up with RT articles, some of these younger kids reallly need that out there. Thanks.
hi h.
|
Alabama, USA
May 20, 2014
Your not from the United States thanks for playing.

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