Former RT anchor Liz Wahl to CNN: Outlet was ‘promoting a Putinist agenda’

Only in America via Russia: Liz Wahl, an anchor in the Washington bureau of RT America (Russia Today) on Wednesday made a grand gesture of announcing her resignation on air from the network. The reason for her decision? She spelled it right out for her viewers: “I cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. I’m proud of being an American and believe in disseminating the truth and that’s why after this newscast I’m resigning.”

Woohoo! roared Twitter.

 

 

 

News consumers who descend on the RT website find the outlet’s motto front and center: “QUESTION MORE” A couple of recent headlines: “Questions on Ukraine the West Refuses to Answer.” Also: “Russia’s 25,000-troop allowance & other facts you may not know about Crimea.”

RT fans will also find this interview with former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, which was conducted by Wahl. It’s titled, “Ron Paul: US Shouldn’t Meddle in Ukraine.” Said Paul in the interview, “I don’t think we have any business there. The Europeans are involved, the Russians are involved.” But Paul said some things that we didn’t get to see, Wahl said on Wednesday night in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper: “The only question that I asked — I asked many questions. I asked about the Russian intervention, you know, he has a very anti-intervention approach. I asked him in the wake of escalation by the Russian military how long — you know, how should we respond to this, how should the U.S. respond to this? And that question was cut out of the interview.”

Along with covering the news in its own way, RT is making news of its own. Before the Wahl resignation, presenter Abby Martin went on air to express her condemnation of the Russian action in Ukraine. She was hailed as a hero of free expression, in large part because of these words: “Just because I work here, for RT, doesn’t mean I don’t have editorial independence and I can’t stress enough how strongly I am against any state intervention in a sovereign nation’s affairs. What Russia did is wrong.”

In her chat with CNN’s Cooper, Wahl described the tilt at RT: “What’s clear is what’s happening right now amid this crisis is that RT is not about the truth. It’s about promoting a Putinist agenda. And I can tell you firsthand, it’s also about bashing America.” The environment at RT also came in for some punishment: “There’s a form of self-censorship that you learn. Eventually you learn what management likes, what management dislikes. Today, especially with the heightened situation in Crimea, overtly questions are being written, very, very loaded questions. Questions basically to paint the picture and to present the Putin perspective in all of this,” Wahl told Cooper.

OK, none of that should surprise anyone who pays fiendish amounts of attention to Russia and the international media. That’s because upon its 2005 founding, Russia Today was introduced as “a perspective on the world from Russia,” founding editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan told reporters. “Many foreigners are surprised to see that Russia is different from what they see in media reports. We will try to present a more balanced picture.” As Julia Ioffe noted in CJR, the outlet would “ultimately answer directly to its funder, the Kremlin.” The early years of the network, featured gloom-and-doom reportage about how the Iraqi war was going for the United States, and then some: “There also were the more extreme features that would come to define Russia Today in the West, such as the prophesies of fringe authors who predicted a 55 percent chance of civil war and the dissolution of the United States into six distinct territories by July 2010,” writes Ioffe.

Following Wahl’s resignation, RT issued a statement. It’s long and somewhat rambling, but everyone who cares about media, intellectual freedom and a good laugh should have a close look:

Ms. Wahl’s resignation comes on the heels of her colleague Abby Martin’s recent comments in which she voiced her disagreement with certain policies of the Russian government and asserted her editorial independence. The difference is, Ms. Martin spoke in the context of her own talk show, to the viewers who have been tuning in for years to hear her opinions on current events – the opinions that most media did not care about until two days ago. For years, Ms. Martin has been speaking out against US military intervention, only to be ignored by the mainstream news outlets – but with that one comment, branded as an act of defiance, she became an overnight sensation. It is a tempting example to follow.

When a journalist disagrees with the editorial position of his or her organization, the usual course of action is to address those grievances with the editor, and, if they cannot be resolved, to quit like a professional. But when someone makes a big public show of a personal decision, it is nothing more than a self-promotional stunt.

We wish Liz the best of luck on her chosen path.

No word yet when they’ll break out the cake for Wahl. Judging from Wahl’s comments about the intellectual climate, sending her grievances up the org chart may not have proven too constructive. So she chose a more dramatic path, and good for her: Here in America, if you can stand on principle, stick up for free expression, quit your lousy job and advance your career all in the course of 74 seconds, you do it.

Meanwhile, RT will plow along with its three global news channels (in English, Spanish and Arabic), its 22 bureaus worldwide, its 1,000-plus “media professionals” and its global reach of 644 million people. If this Wahl situation gets too much play, however, all those folks may start concluding that this Kremlin-sponsored outfit isn’t playing it straight.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.
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