Accuracy in Media

Interview with AIM’s Cliff Kincaid by VOA: “RT offers a wide range of lies aimed to deceive and mislead the people”

By Alex Grigoriev
(edited and translated from Russian, and some changes made for the sake of clarity).


After the downing of the Malaysian plane, shot down by a missile allegedly fired by pro-Russian separatists operating in eastern Ukraine, the RT TV channel offers a foreign audience a completely different interpretation of the tragedy—they accuse Ukraine and the West.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the Russian state television channel RT (formerly Russia Today) a mouthpiece of Putin, which promotes Putin fantasies about what is happening. Cliff Kincaid, director of the Center for Investigative Journalism for Accuracy in Media, believes that in the U.S., RT acts sometimes very effectively.

Alex Grigoriev: How, in your opinion, does RT successfully bring to American audiences Russia’s official position on the downing of the Malaysian plane?

Cliff Kincaid

Cliff Kincaid: RT is successful in the U.S. because of its programs, seen in tens of millions of American homes. RT is carried by major cable TV companies and provides its content to dozens of public television stations that are paid for by U.S. taxpayers. In fact, it turns out, the American taxpayers are helping to spread Putin’s propaganda in the United States.

RT simply misleads people about what’s really going on. Convincing evidence suggests that pro-Russian forces shot down the plane. RT says it was something quite different—that maybe Ukraine was trying to kill Putin, and the Ukrainians mixed up Putin’s jet with the Malaysian jetliner. This is an example of their disinformation.

RT offers a wide range of lies aimed at deceiving and misleading the people. Of course, RT is much better than the Soviet “active measures” machine. It’s called “RT” and not Russia Today to disguise their relationship with Russia. Their westernized style of presenting information, with attractive graphics, is aimed at the American audience.Cliff Kincaid speaking

If you remember, the Soviet Union used to address the “progressive” U.S. residents. But Putin’s regime primarily appeals to and seeks to influence the American conservatives. RT’s theory about the assassination attempt on Putin was picked up by some American commentators, who have a mostly conservative audience.

AG: It turns out you have the RT effect not just on a few conservative American journalists, but also the mood of the U.S. population?

CK: Yes. Pat Buchanan is an example of this. Buchanan was the director of communications in the Reagan administration. I worked in Washington in the 1980s. I know him. At that time he was a staunch anti-communist. However, he has become one of the most prominent supporters of Putin. He is a real example of a victim of propaganda. Buchanan argues that we should forget about the Soviet past, and that Putin is building a modern democratic state. Buchanan says Putin is the world’s Christian leader who advocates traditional values. If Buchanan has been deceived, then think about how many American conservatives can be deceived.

AG: Russian leaders and Russian media have repeatedly lied about the situation in Ukraine. The most obvious example: Vladimir Putin initially denied that Russian troops occupied Crimea, but later admitted it. How does the U.S. respond to these lies?

CK: After the collapse of communism. Americans believed that times had changed for the better in Russia, and that the Putin regime had become a respected member of the community of nations. In late 2012, the U.S. Congress passed a law to normalize trade relations with Russia, and Russia became a member of the WTO. Putin promotes the idea that Russia is a worthy and respected international player. Here, many find it hard to believe that in fact there is almost a reincarnation of the old Soviet regime. It’s hard to believe that Russia continues the flow of lies we saw from Soviet times. They could not believe that Putin is simply lying: they tend to think that maybe, Moscow has its own position, and that if you look at RT, then you get a view that is not provided to the American media. The American audience finds it difficult to accept that this is a new “Cold War,” and that the old Soviet apparatus is still here.

AG: If you go back to the coverage of the tragedy of the Malaysian plane shoot-down, the American and Western media paid attention to how the separatists desecrated the bodies of the victims. The Russian media prefer to remain silent about this. In your opinion, can this catastrophe lead to advances in how the American left and conservatives assess the situation?

CK: It depends on how Western leaders react, including President Obama. I think we should use our opportunities in foreign broadcasting to tell the truth about what is happening in Russia. We also need to talk to people around the world. If people realize that changes in Russia are cosmetic in nature, that criminals continue to govern this country, maybe we’ll see some real political change.

I collected information about the destruction of the Polish airliner in Russia near Smolensk in 2010 (that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and several dozen members of the senior leadership of Poland – AG). I interviewed a Polish analyst who said—and I quote him—that there is tremendous similarity between this story and the downing of the Malaysian aircraft. We are talking about Russia’s behavior: denial, manipulation of the wreckage and the bodies of the victims, the failure to ensure the security of the crash site, taking personal belongings from the disaster victims. I mean, this happens for the second time.

In the case of Smolensk, the Polish government has agreed with the Russian version, that it was pilot error, a tragic accident. But my sources do not believe that; they believe that it was a pre-arranged destruction of an aircraft, whose goal was the destruction of the Polish anti-communist leadership.

Will we face reality and understand Putin? This requires leadership and honest journalism.

I recently interviewed Bill Browder, head of Hermitage Capital, whose lawyer (Sergei Magnitsky – AG) was killed, in a case involving Russian authorities. He said that we should recognize that a criminal regime runs Moscow and does not just rob the country, but is in possession of nuclear weapons. The Kremlin has more nuclear weapons than the United States. How much time will it take the American people to understand?


Alex Grigoriev specializes in coverage of issues of international relations, defense and security, intelligence, terrorism, nuclear subjects.

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