7 crazy clips the former CNN host should have checked out before joining Kremlin TV.
- By J. Dana StusterJ. Dana Stuster is an assistant editor at Foreign Policy. He has studied at the American University of Beirut and graduated in 2010 with degrees in English and International Relations from the University of California, Davis. Before coming to FP, his work appeared in the Atlantic and the National Interest, among other publications.
Larry King, the gruff-voiced, suspender-clad, 79-year-old talk show host, has found a new home. Ever since his CNN program Larry King Live ended its 25-year run in 2010, he’s bounced around a bit, co-founding an online programming channel and hosting a version of his old show on Hulu. But on Wednesday, Russia Today (RT) announced that King will be joining the network with a new show, Politics with Larry King, starting in June — and that RT would also be airing King’s Hulu show, Larry King Now.
"I would rather ask questions to people of positions of power than speak on their behalf," King says in RT’s new promotion for the show. "And that’s why you can find my show, Larry King Now, right here on RT."
All of which raises the question: Does Larry King realize who he’s working for? This is RT, the Kremlin’s English-language network. It’s propaganda under the thinnest of veils. Facts and supporting arguments be damned, RT is known for peddling the Russian government’s policies — from supporting the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria to provoking the European Union to tarring-and-feathering U.S. officials and policies — with an unabashed eagerness that would make Fox News or MSNBC blush.
Well, maybe King does know who he’s working for. The New York Times points out that he’s something of a fan of Russian President Vladimir Putin. But the move still seems strange for someone who considers himself a genuine journalist. I mean, has the celebrated host even seen RT? Here are seven clips from four shows he probably should have watched before signing any contracts.
Peter Lavelle leads RT’s flagship program, CrossTalk, with a quote lifted straight from NPR: "Where all things are considered." And that’s about where the similarity to real journalism ends.
In a recent episode about the Benghazi investigation, Lavelle barks this leading question at each of his guests: "Is this a scandal or just incompetence, or is it both?" He then proceeds to talk over or cut off anyone who breaks from the show’s narrative. When the Iran Policy Committee’s Raymond Tanter tries to explain the Obama administration’s rationale for intervening in Libya and U.S. interests in working with dissident groups in autocratic states, Lavelle laughs him off. Meanwhile, statements like this, from Raymond McGovern, founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, are treated as fact:
We have a source very close to David Petraeus, at that point he was head of the CIA, and her name was Broadwell of something like that, she said publicly in Denver that the CIA was trying to interrogate people at a CIA installation there in Benghazi, and that the locals knew these people because they were their brothers and sisters, and that was the reason…. Yeah, I think there’s abundant evidence that there were all manner of reasons why the CIA was in Benghazi en masse, so to speak. One was gun running to the Syrian rebels — that seems clear. Another was just to find out who these people in Benghazi are that we liberated.
"Oh my god! Oh my god!" responds Lavelle. At one point, the show gives way to trailers for RT’s other shows, airing an ad for a show glorifying the Russian coal industry in front of one demonizing the American oil industry. Subtle.
On his ironically titled show, The Truthseeker, Daniel Bushell tells the stories the "mainstream media" doesn’t — mostly because they’re demonstrably false.
For example, there’s Bushell’s episode about the Boston Marathon bombing in which he accuses the FBI and security contractors of being behind the attack. Bushell’s evidence: unfounded speculation, Reddit posts, conspiracy theory sites, and the fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s last Facebook status "is how patsies write." Journalism!
"An investigation finds the FBI behind practically every so-called terrorist plot in the United States," Bushell claims. "Agents find someone poor enough to bribe and set the plot up for them from start to finish."
Bushell then interviews 9/11 truther Kevin Barrett, who tells him that the FBI "need to kill a few people every now and then to keep the war on terror going, to keep their budgets flowing."
RT has a soft spot for conspiracy theories. Over the years, it has dallied with 9/11 trutherism, birtherism, and climate change. Back in February, FP noted that its coverage of the Chelyabinsk meteor included Russian politicians claiming the meteor was a U.S. weapons test, and that the meteor was intercepted by a Russian missile.
The Truthseeker also enjoys a good hit piece, like this 10-minute smear of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"Media gloss that the murder of Chris Stevens, his colleague, and two Americans sent to save him is a direct consequence of Clinton forcing mob rule on the region," Bushell begins, and it’s all downhill from there.
"Let’s get this straight," he says at one point. "She wants U.S. soldiers in Iran, continue U.S. deaths in Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya, and Iraq, she can’t remember voting for war, and no one is even questioning her."
Bushell cites interviews with presidential candidate Mike Gravel and an editor at the online tabloid WorldNetDaily to support his claims. And in a remarkably un-self-aware moment, as Bushell accuses Clinton of controlling the media to shape a narrative, he cites Clinton giving congressional testimony. "The Russians have opened up an English language network," Clinton says in the clip. "I’ve seen it in a few countries, and it’s quite, uh, instructive."
As Larry King should know well, interviews are generally conversations. There’s a give and take, and the best interviewers challenge the people with whom they are speaking to be clear and honest. And yet RT has chosen a pretty misleading title for the show Interview with Sophie Shevardnadze, which is really more of a vehicle for collaborative monologues.
Take, for example, the recent episode featuring Syrian presidential advisor Bouthaina Shaaban. Shevardnadze starts by asking, "What more can BRICS countries do, other than Russia and China, to help this conflict? Is there anything else to do?" (Russia and Ch
ina are already doing enough to help the Assad regime, apparently.)
Shevardnadze nods along as Shaaban explains, "The Syrian government said we want to start talks right now. Dialogue is the only option. Political solution is the only solution. President Assad came up on the 6th of January, we support the Geneva communiqué, we want to start dialogue now."
As is this statement from Shaaban on chemical weapons investigations:
Now if the U.N. is unwilling to [conduct an inquiry of a specific incident in which the government has accused rebels of using chemical weapons], we’ll go even further. We are ready to receive people from neutral countries, like Russia and China, to investigate this particular incident. But any other incident needs to be brought to the attention of the Syrian people correctly and in time and we need to look at the evidence before saying yes or no.
That the Assad government’s arms suppliers are "neutral countries" best suited to conducting investigations on chemical weapons is accepted without comment. If Larry King so much as asks his guests a follow-up question, he’ll be raising the bar when it comes to the quality of RT’s interviews.
When Julian Evans described Russia’s English-language propaganda blitz in 2005, he wrote that RT’s offices "reminded me of a college radio station."
On the 6 o’clock news, the presenter started off by looking at the wrong camera. She spoke of riots in Iraq, and the screen showed pictures of a crowd of angry Muslims. The next story was about Iran trying to get nuclear power, and the screen showed the same angry crowd.
Most of RT’s programs have a more polished look now, but not all. And none feels quite so much like a high school production as the creepily condescending, if not downright angry, Why You Should Care! Each installation of the series, only a few minutes long, has a basic premise:
In his secret laboratory, Tim Kirby was able to build the world’s most sophisticated robot, which unfortunately doesn’t give a darn about anything. Tim’s mission: to teach his creation why it should care about humans and world events. This is Why You Should Care!
"Apathybot," as he’s called, sounds like a bit of a stoner bro. (On the advantages of 3-D printing, it mused, "I’m going to replicate up some guns and bongs, homie. Toke and then make some gunsmoke, bro.") Apathybot’s foil, Kirby, who is an American expatriate and radio personality in Russia, has been described by the Wall Street Journal as "a kind of Kremlin-appointed Joe the Plumber who explains a broken America to Russian listeners."
In an odd stylistic choice, Why You Should Care! resembles early television sitcoms like The Honeymooners in appearance, acting quality, and subtlety. Its approach to sexual orientation similarly harkens back to another time in this offputtingly homophobic episode based on an RT report that former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili orchestrated a "gay spy ring" to entrap and blackmail political opponents.
Other random topics have included an episode on state secession, in which Apathybot chains Kirby to a chair and tazes him repeatedly, telling him, "No, I ain’t gonna tolerate no talk of secession there, boy."
"I mean, when you think about it, wasn’t the U.S. born of secession?" Kirby protests. "I just want to talk about this." It’s as weird as it sounds, but don’t take my word for it: