The Kremlin has a rebellion on its hands — if only from within its own TV network.
For the second time in three days, an anchor on RT, the global television network funded by the nation’s government, has harshly criticized Russia’s aggressive response to the crisis in Ukraine.
This time, the RT anchor backed up her words by resigning on the air.
Liz Wahl, a Washington-based American anchor for RT, announced her resignation during a broadcast Wednesday.
Wahl made her announcement during an update about the standoff between Russian military forces in southern Ukraine and Ukraine’s new government. Over a graphic referring to Ukraine’s new leaders as “Ultra Nationalists,” Wahl said this:
“As a reporter on this network, I face many ethical and moral challenges, especially me personally, coming from a family whose grandparents . . . came here as refugees during the Hungarian revolution [in 1956], ironically to escape the Soviet forces.
“I have family on the opposite side, on my mother’s side, that see the daily grind of poverty. And I’m very lucky to have grown up here in the United States. I’m the daughter of a [U.S.] veteran. My partner is a physician at a military base, where he sees every day the firsthand accounts of the ultimate prices that people pay for this country. And that is why personally I cannot be part of [a] network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin.
“I’m proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth and that is why, after this newscast, I’m resigning.”
Wahl’s resignation came two days after another American-born anchor in Washington, Abby Martin, denounced Russia’s military actions in Crimea, the semi-autonomous region of southern Ukraine that is home to a large Russian military presence. Russia has augmented its troops in the region, sparking fears of a conflict with Ukrainian forces.
“Just because I work here at RT doesn’t mean I don’t have editorial independence,” Martin said on the air for RT (formerly known as Russia Today). “And I can’t stress enough how strongly I am against any state intervention in a sovereign nation’s affairs. What Russia did was wrong. . . . I will not sit here and apologize or defend military action.”
Martin’s bosses responded by promising to send her to Crimea.
“In her comment, Ms. Martin also noted that she does not possess a deep knowledge of reality of the situation in Crimea,” the channel told the National Journal in a statement. “As such we’ll be sending her to Crimea to give her an opportunity to make up her own mind from the epicenter of the story.”
Martin later went on Twitter to deny her temporary reassignment. She replied to a reporter for the British Daily Telegraph who had posted a story on her fate by tweeting: “Thanks for your article. But I am not going to Crimea despite the statement RT has made. Please update accordingly.”
RT and its American cable offshoot, RT America, tend to toe the Kremlin line on foreign-policy issues. RT does permit some dissenting voices, though typically these aren’t its anchors. Among RT America’s programs is a talk show called “Politicking,” hosted by Larry King, late of CNN.
The network has left little doubt as to where it stands on the Ukrainian crisis, calling the pro-Western demonstrators who ousted the country’s former president, Victor Yanukovych, “radicals” and the Russian military in Crimea “self-defense forces.”
RT has also given prominence to critics of the United States and of the Western response to the Ukrainian tensions.
One of the top stories on RT’s Web site Wednesday was headlined: “Democratic presidential candidate accuses US of provoking Ukrainian crisis.” The story covered critical comments made by Dennis Kucinich, the former Ohio congressman/Democratic presidential candidate who, the site said, diverted “from the typical Western line against ‘Russia’s invasion of Crimea.’ ”