The Russian-based television network, RT, is consistently referred to by United States media organizations as “Kremlin-backed” or “Kremlin-owned” and frequently treated as a propaganda outlet.
Coverage of what has been happening in Ukraine, as The Nation’s Greg Mitchell highlighted, what has been published on the network’s website and broadcast on air has been very one-sided. That is why when RT anchor Abby Martin, host of “Breaking the Set,” ended her show condemning Russia it resonated.
However, a reporter and editor for the New York Times news blog, “The Lede,” determined there needed to be more “context” added to Martin’s remarks. This “context” did not accentuate or help to amplify what she said. It did not help anyone better understand the nature of her remarks against Russia’s incursion into Crimea. It put the focus on the messenger and detracted from the power of her statements by focusing attention on prior comments she made about 9/11 allegedly being an “inside job.”
Here’s what Martin said:
…Before we wrap up this show, I wanted to say something from my heart about the ongoing political crisis in Ukraine and Russia’s military occupation of Crimea. 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.
I admittedly don’t know as much as I should about Ukraine’s history or the cultural dynamics in the region, but what I do know is that military intervention is never the answer. And I will not sit here and apologize or defend military aggression. Furthermore, the coverage I have seen has been really disappointing from all sides of the media spectrum and rife with disinformation.
Above all, my heart goes out to the Ukrainian people, who are now wedged as pawns in the middle of a global power chess game. They’re the real losers here. All we can do now is hope for a peaceful outcome for a terrible situation and prevent another full-blown Cold War between multiple superpowers. Until then, I’ll keep telling the truth as I see it… [emphasis added]
It appears that Robert Mackey of the Times heard those remarks and decided this may lead Americans to think Martin is a voice worth listening to in the US media. So, what did he do? He decided to dig up some previous comments she had made about 9/11 and publish a post titled, “Critical Russia Today Host From ’9/11 Truth’ Movement.”
In the post, Mackey suggests people who regularly watch her show were probably not surprised by what she said and then alleged that what animates her is the conviction that the “September 11, 2001, attacks were part of a government conspiracy.”
“Before she rose to prominence on television, she was an active member of what is known as the 9/11 Truth movement, whose members hold that the official history of the terrorist attacks is a cover for a concealed government conspiracy,” Mackey writes.
He proceeds to spend multiple paragraphs on her past expressed views on 9/11, along with the time she had dedicated to explaining “false flag” attacks on her show. “She suggested that this was a technique used by governments throughout history, but used only examples of American wars.”
Emphasis should be put on “American wars” because the point Mackey is trying to make is that Martin is a conspiracy crank who actually does not practice editorial independence, despite what people may think. When she talks conspiracies, she is focused on America.
Why does what Mackey did matter? It matters because it associates a view she expressed with a widely unpopular view in America when there is absolutely no basis for drawing a connection whatsoever.
What do any of her comments on 9/11 or “false flag” attacks have to do with her statements about opposing all state interventions?
On @AbbyMartin I made no criticism of her, but my job is to add context. Her 9/11 views help explain where her view on Crimea comes from.
— Robert Mackey (@RobertMackey) March 4, 2014
Journalist Rania Khalek then asked:
Mackey’s response to her question suggested that Martin made her statement because she is committed to “exposing false flag plots” and “Crimea is exactly that.” Actually, what animated her was what I put in bold: her opposition to “any state intervention in a sovereign nation’s affairs.” She never said anything about Crimea being a “false flag plot.” (Plus, how could Crimea possibly be a “false flag plot”? The whole world knows the forces in Crimea are from Russia, even though they are wearing unmarked uniforms.)
This statement was the product of a bias toward RT that the entire network is populated by conspiracy cranks and Russian mouthpiece propagandists.
Mackey even retweeted:
Why does any of this matter?
First off, as covered by the New York Times, RT is often regarded as an effort by state-controlled media in Russia to influence American television viewers. If an anchor with an evening news program on the network is taking a significant stand against the military actions of Russia, one might be surprised she would stray from the dominant narrative advanced. There may also be some focus on how that anchor could be censored or face some kind of repercussion as a result. (For example, RT indicated they would send her to Crimea so she could go learn about what was happening since she admitted there is a lot she doesn’t know about dynamics in the region.)
But one would not think to look into the past of that anchor to see if she had said anything previously that would lead most of the American population to think that anchor was a kook unless one had ulterior motives. That is because past views are irrelevant to what was stated and how RT has chosen to react and will react. (And they are especially irrelevant when one isn’t looking at her history of opposing military interventions and instead inappropriately links her views to her interests in covering “false flag plots” (i.e. conspiracies).)
The story is here’s an anchor taking a stand for what she believes, who obviously thought about whether it would offend network executives that possibly take advice on running the media operation from the Kremlin. It is ill-conceived if not malicious for a journalist to dredge up past comments, which he personally would not ever consider credible, and then argue innocently that this is merely providing “context.”
Anyone who reads the post would walk away thinking Martin was bold to stand up against Russia’s military incursion but, wow, she sure is crazy cause she thinks 9/11 is an “inside job.” It does not matter that her past coverage of what happened around 9/11 may be more complex, and there may be aspects that have more merit than Mackey gives credit. The reader will think that they should keep their distance and not tune into her program.
Robert Mackey wants us to talk about Martin’s 9/11 comments and past segments on the attacks (which probably make up a much, much smaller percentage of previous broadcasts of her show than Mackey thinks). He wants us to talk about that because he does not think RT contributes anything constructive to the media economy in the United States.
In fact, this is what he tweeted at journalist Glenn Greenwald in defense of his post:
That is an acceptable view—to believe RT doesn’t contribute anything constructive to American society—and one that, if Mackey truly believes, he could probably argue and defend pretty well.
I would gladly discuss and debate this view with him. However, that is not the argument he chose to make. He chose to instead engage in a kind of journalism that consisted of a psychoanalysis of what drove Martin to say what she did, which was not just off-base but also amounted to a character assassination in order to add “context.”
There are real issues of editorial and journalistic independence at stake here, which I believe Mackey understands. He does nobody in America any service by producing posts like this one. He should reconsider what he wrote and perhaps even apologize to Martin for using the occasion of her remarks to publish a smear.