Russia Today America anchor Liz Wahl resigned live on air on Wednesday, saying: “I cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government which whitewashes the actions of Putin.” RT dismissed her action by calling it a “self-promotional stunt.”
James Kirchick reports: Wahl, for her part, says that while the Kremlin influence over RT isn’t always overt, that journalists there understand what they have to do to succeed and fall into line accordingly. “I think management is able to manipulate the very young and naïve employees,” she says. “They will find ways to punish you covertly and reward those that do go along with their narrative.”
“It’s interesting that our motto is ‘Question More,’” she says of the RT slogan. (It once adorned posters showing President Obama morphing into former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with the words, “Who poses the greater nuclear threat?”)
“In order to succeed there you don’t question… In a way you kind of suppress any concerns that you have and play the game.”
Wahl recalls a story she attempted to report about last year’s French intervention in Mali, aimed at repelling an al-Qaeda takeover of the country. She interviewed a Malian man who “talked about what it was like to live under sharia law, people getting limbs amputated…And I thought it was probably one of the best interviews that I’ve ever done. I was touched by what he said as a first hand source, but he also talked about how the French were well-received there and how they were waving French flags and how they should have come sooner, how grateful a large part of the population was, having seen people being literally tortured and having their limbs cut off.”
That story, however, didn’t fit the RT narrative, which portrays every Western military intervention as an act of imperialism while depicting Russian ones as mere humanitarian attempts at “protecting” local populations, as the network constantly describes Moscow’s role in Crimea. Needless to say, Wahl’s interview with the thankful Malian never aired. “I was told after that it was a ‘weak’ interview,” Wahl said.
Though RT America has many American staffers, Wahl says that Russian expatriates call the shots. “They’re definitely at the top, the Russians, they’re kind of able to pull the strings… I just think it’s absurd that we’re just a few blocks away from the White House and this is all able to go along,” she says.
Having worked on the inside, Wahl perfectly understands RT’s marketing strategy, which is to appeal to a young, Western demographic cynical about mainstream media outlets and traditional political authority. “I think some of them are kind of like this hipster generation, they just kind of think it’s cool to question authority,” she says.
But what the network’s many young viewers don’t understand, or refuse to understand, is that the channel’s message emanates from the most authoritarian of sources: the Kremlin.