Andrew Feinberg, a correspondent for Sputnik, has announced on Twitter that he’s no longer working for the Russian “global wire, radio and digital news service.” And he’s intent upon doing so with as much detail as possible:
The Twitter explosion makes some sense, at least from a journalistic point of view. Sputnik is a Russian propaganda outlet, as a few headlines clarify: “US Strike in Deir ez-Zor: ‘If It Was Russian Planes MSM Would Demonize Russia.'” “Russia Supplies Advanced President-S Onboard Defense Systems to Three Countries.” “Trump Fail to Stand Behind Article 5 at NATO Summit.” “Anonymous Sources Control US Narrative on Trump-Russia.” Sputnik sprung from state news agency RIA Novosti that, in the words of Foreign Policy magazine, serves as “yet another compliant outlet to trumpet the Kremlin line.”
The Russia-oriented content has to come from somewhere. And for about five months, Feinberg did his share, attending the daily White House press briefings and writing up dispatches, many of which disappeared behind Sputnik’s paywall. He wrote about U.S.-Russia diplomatic issues, the budget, Easter eggs and so on.
Behind the scenes, however, the pressures of working for a point-of-view news outlet loomed. One key example, noted Feinberg in an interview with the Erik Wemple Blog, relates to the chemical weapons attack unleashed by the Russia-allied regime of Bashar al-Assad. In preparation for a White House briefing a couple of weeks later, Feinberg says he was asked to query the White House about the findings of MIT emeritus professor Theodore Postol, who called into question the judgment of the White House that Assad was to blame.
“Thankfully I didn’t get called on but I said to one of the editors, ‘I’m really not comfortable doing that,'” recalls Feinberg.
As far as questions go, Feinberg became a Beltway celebrity this week, as The Post’s Dana Milbank credited him for pushing Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney on budget issues at a briefing. “So it has come to this: A Russian government-funded propaganda outfit schooling the Trump administration on the cruelty of its proposed federal budget,” wrote Milbank. Feinberg asked Mulvaney to account for how cuts targeting undocumented immigrants could impact children who are U.S. citizens. When Mulvaney argued that the government has programs for indigent children, Feinberg noted that the Trump budget cuts those as well. He has kept a link to Milbank’s story pinned to the top of his Twitter account, the sort of self-promotion that, according to Feinberg, the Sputnik folks don’t appreciate.
“I got the feeling that that bugged them a bit,” says Feinberg. “One of the editors for the past couple of days has been giving me s––– about that.”
Anonymity is prized at the outlet, he says. Editors don’t like by-lined stories. “It’s the fact that if you don’t have bylines on stories and there’s no one accountable for words, then you can really print whatever you want,” he says. “If you send someone to the White House, you can’t expect them to be anonymous.”
In another category of problems resides Seth Rich, the 27-year-old Democratic National Committee (DNC) aide who was killed in July in the District. Though police believed that the slaying was the result of a robbery gone bad, valuables remained with him, sparking conspiracy theories on the Internet and “Hannity” that maybe something else explained the tragedy. Namely, that it was Rich and not the Russians who supplied WikiLeaks with all those internal DNC emails. A story titled “Who Was Seth Rich” threw these thoughts at the situation:
The Daily mail wrote that — “At the time of his death, Seth Rich was working as a data analyst for the DNC.” In fact, he was in charge of all the tech guys and a whole technical aspect of voting at the DNC. He was the avant-garde of tech.” That’s right. Apparently, this guy was smart and he would be in the know, if something shady were to be happening behind the scenes. But what could that be?
Feinberg: “They wanted me to be asking and writing stuff on this Seth Rich thing and I said, ‘I’m not going to do that.'” A good propaganda operation specializes in responses to bad publicity, too. Example: Feinberg on Friday tweeted out a Wall Street Journal article addressing the activities of an “alleged Russian hacker” who shared key voter data from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee with a Republican operative in Florida. “They wanted to push back” on that story, says Feinberg.
Both Sputnik and its White House guy arrived simultaneously at the realization that their relationship wasn’t working. “I was ready to go. They were ready with a termination letter. They were faster on the draw,” he says. His exit brings to memory the departure of staffers from Kremlin-backed broadcaster RT over demands to pursue storylines favorable to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
For the past couple of months, Feinberg has been poking around in search of a new spot to do his thing. He previously worked as a contributing editor to BroadbandCensus News and as a staff writer for the Hill. Now he’s looking. “This is the best I’ve felt, ever, about not having a job,” he says.
In the middle of an extensive interview about his brief tenure at Sputnik, Feinberg says, “I think I signed a non-disclosure agreement, and I really don’t care. Let the come for the ten dollars in my bank account.”
Questions about Feinberg’s employment are pending with the Sputnik media shop.