The MRC Flip-Flops On Russian Disinformation
The Media Research Center cheered when Russian propaganda channel RT got shut down (though it hid the fact that its fellow conservatives had shows on it) -- then complained that a search site was flagging Russian disinformation.
By Terry Krepel
The Media Research Center tended to leave Russia Today -- the Russian government-operated channel in the U.S. -- to its own devices ... unless it served a right-wing narrative not to do so. It showed some interest in the channel when Ed Schultz and Larry King had shows there circa 2015-16, but had done little since. In fact, after its last Schultz-related post in May 2016, it had published only two posts related to the channel in the following five and a half years (ones that were tagged with the "Russia Today" category, anyway).
Then came Russian aggression toward Ukraine, and suddenly the MRC cared about RT again. Catherine Salgado served up a familiar Trump-centric lament in a Jan. 25 post: "Twitter and Facebook allow Russian state-controlled media to maintain verified accounts even as Russia prepares to invade Ukraine. Both sites ban organizations involved in violence. Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump remains banned from the social media platforms for allegedly encouraging violence." She added:
As one example of RT’s propaganda, last week it tweeted an article by Australian journalist Graham Hryce. Hryce explicitly accused Trump of a “ham-fisted coup attempt,” referring to the events of Jan. 6, 2021, and insisting Trump “had cynically manipulated [his supporters] for his own purposes.”
Salgado didn't mention that Trump instigated "the events of Jan. 6, 2021" -- better known as the Capitol riot -- and didn't tweet his call for peace until hours after the riot started. He also told the rioters, "We love you. You're very special," and falsely claimed that "We had an election that was stolen from us."
Salgado also didn't mention the conservatives who had shows on RT at the time. There were at least three of them:
The MRC didn't get around to addressing RT again until Feb. 28, when Curtis Houck touted his new favorite channel NewsNation (which just so happens to be filled with ex-Fox News executives and personnel, chief among them being Bill Shine, who also worked in the Trump White House) focusing on RT:
Thursday night on NewsNation, primetime host Dan Abrams pulled back the curtain on the abject sham and disgustingly pro-Kremlin RT, a so-called news outlet that’s spent 17 years spewing Russian propaganda and doing Vladimir Putin’s bidding seeking to expand his influence and splinter the west.
Like Salgado, Houck didn't mention the conservatives who had shows on RT. He did, however, mention in passing a segment with a former RT anchor that he complained "went off the rails as she fixated on how Fox News was part and parcel with RT" but made no effort to refute the claim or even bother to identify who the interviewee was.
But the MRC wasn't done bashing RT -- or hiding the fact that conservatives had shows on the channel. Nicholas Fondacaro served up some backhanded praise of non-right-wing channels in bashing RT in a Feb. 28 post: "You may have thought CNN and MSNBC spewed outright lies and falsehoods, but with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, they don’t hold a candle to state-controlled RT (Russia Today)." Actually, the Fox News model is much closer to the RT model when it comes to spreading falsehoods, especially when Republicans control the government.
The same day, Catherine Salgado imposed another shopworn MRC narrative on RT and other Russian-controlled media: Russia state-affiliated accounts on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are still allowed to influence their approximately 38.7 million followers even as Russia attacks Ukraine. ... These are the same platforms that banned former U.S. President Donald Trump in January, 2021." Salgado then played dumb on what Trump did: "Facebook, YouTube and Twitter banned then-President Donald Trump in 2021 for supposedly encouraging violence." Wait, what? "Supposedly"? The record is pretty clear on Trump playing a major role in instigating the Capitol riot. In a case of reality overtaking a political narrative, Salgado had to update her post to note that, yes, social media sites were taking aim at Russian state-media accounts.
A March 1 post by Scott Whitlock cheered that "DirectTV was FINALLY dropping Russian propaganda outfit RT" and compiled "five of the most offensive, idiotic, ridiculous falsehoods" if found on RT -- an exercise the MRC will never do on Fox News. Salgado returned to lament that "DirecTV absurdly refused to renew One America News Network earlier this year while RT’s programming was only suspended after Russia invaded Ukraine." Curtis Houck marked the "final moments of Putin's stoogefest" as DirecTV pulled the plug.
Tierin-Rose Mandelburg also played the Trump equivocation in a March 2 post: "It took a full-fledged war for Big Tech to take action against Russia state-affiliated accounts like Sputnik and RT, Russia Today. President Donald Trump was censored 625 times before being permanently banned." The correct way to say that is that Trump violated social media terms of service 625 times, which led to him being permanently banned (plus the whole inciting-an-insurrection thing).
When RT announced it would cease production after getting deplatformed, Fondacaro cheered in a March 3 post:
Following DirectTV’s pledge and on dropping the state-funded “news” station earlier this week, Russia Today (RT) told staff that they would experience a “permanent” “layoff” as the network “ceasing production” in a couple of months. That, according to CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy, who obtained an internal memo announcing the move to staff.
None of these posts mentioned the conservatives who had shows on RT -- not even to denounce them for working with Russian state media. Maybe the MRC doesn't want to be reminded that it too held warm thoughts about Putin because he mouthed conservative-friendly talking points and that it gave conservatives a pass for being Putin-curious. The MRC even tried to defend Fox News host Tucker Carlson's pro-Putin leanings before the invasion. Kevin Tober did this in a Jan. 25 post:
On CNN Newsroom during their coverage of the ongoing border dispute between Russia and Ukraine Tuesday, they quickly switched gears and slimed Fox News star Tucker Carlson and the entire Republican Party as having a "soft spot for Russia".
Tober then tried to distance Republicans a little from Carlson -- but he also insisted there was nuance in Carlson's argument:
It's typical of CNN to slime conservatives as having "a soft spot for Putin." While NewsBusters does not take a position on the Ukraine conflict, it is fair to say that conservatives like Tucker Carlson who believe we should not get involved in another conflict in a foreign country is not having "a soft spot for Putin."
Of course, Carlson did much more than argue against getting involved in "another conflict in a foreign country" -- he was a cheerleader for Putin, complaining that "Democrats want you to hate Putin" and argued that Putin was doing nothing wrong in his aggression toward Ukraine. There really wasn't a lot of nuance there, and certainly not as much as Tober wants you to believe there was.
That wasn't a smart take then, and it has definitely not aged well since.
Even as it was cheering the death of RT on U.S. television, the MRC was backpedaling over identifying Russian disinformation by freaking out over social media outlets taking similar action against Russian propaganda. Catherine Salgado complained in a March 11 post:
Browsing app and search engine DuckDuckGo, formerly a go-to for free speech advocates sick of Big Tech censorship, is now going to downrank sites it deems connected to “Russian disinformation.”
Salgado didn't explain why DuckDuckGo must treat Russian propaganda the same as more credible information -- after all, like any other search site, the company wants to serve its customers by delivering high-quality results without a lot of junk and misinformation. For this commonsense move, however, Salgado has decided that DuckDuckGo is no different than the rest of "big tech":
The question remains whether DuckDuckGo will go beyond targeting only Russian “disinformation,” and how the latter will be defined. Government entities, for instance, admitted they were wrong about things formerly dubbed COVID-19 “misinformation” earlier in the pandemic, such as the Wuhan laboratory leak theory of the virus's origins. The so-called “misinformation” of today may be widely acknowledged as fact tomorrow, and Big Tech can’t be trusted to be objective.
Actually, as we've noted the last time the MRC pushed this, the lab-leak theory has yet to be conclusively proven, and there's still plenty of evidence that discredits the theory.
The next day, Autumn Johnson seemed upset that YouTube cracked down on Russian propaganda on its platform:
YouTube blocked all Russian media outlets globally.
We thought the MRC liked it when Russian propaganda was called out for what it is. Make up your minds, guys!
But they wouldn't. The MRC flip-flopped again in an April 15 post by Gabriela Pariseau hyping a Republican congressman's complaint that Twitter wasn't doing enough to stop Russian disinformation:
Twitter dealt harsher penalties to conservative U.S. political leaders and investigative news outlets than it does to Russian war propaganda. So, Rep. Lisa McClain (R-MI) and six other House Republicans wrote a letter to Twitter demanding the company publicly address this flagrant double standard.
Pariseau didn't mention that the MRC had attacked DuckDuckGo just a few weeks earlier for labeling Russian disinformation.