By way of introduction, allow us to say definitively that this is how Russian-backed and Kremlin-affiliated propaganda portals work pretty much across the board.
They masquerade as legitimate news outlets but the people in charge know full well that what they’re printing is misleading or, in some cases, outright lies.
Sputnik and RT are two of the most notorious portals but if you look closely, they link to and cite other outlets that you might not immediately associate with Kremlin backing and/or Kremlin funding. It’s a self-referential dynamic designed to create and perpetuate falsehoods and sow doubt and confusion.
And make no mistake: it is endemic.
What you’ll read below is the account of Sputnik’s first White House correspondent, who explains that he was fired for asking questions about the Seth Rich story. You’re reminded that since that story was debunked, a lawsuit has been filed alleging that Donald Trump was directly involved in pushing a manifestly false narrative about Rich’s murder.
Your “favorite” alt-Right, Russia-affiliated blogs pushed the same narrative. Over and over and over and over.
Just to be crystal: you need to read the story excerpted below.
Excerpted from a longer post by Andrew Feinberg for Politico
“What would you do if we asked you to write something that wasn’t true?”
I was sitting in a 10th-floor conference room in the K Street offices of “RIA Global,” otherwise known as the Washington, D.C., bureau of the Russian-owned Sputnik News Service, where I’d come for a job interview. It was in mid-December, just over a month after Donald Trump’s upset election victory, and I’d applied to the company looking to escape from what I like to call “freelance hell,” a period in my life during which I never knew where my next paycheck would come from or whether it would be enough to keep me going.
The question took me by surprise. Sure, I knew Sputnik was state-owned and had a reputation for sometimes playing fast and loose with facts, but was my interviewer probing my willingness to lie or did he want to know whether I possessed the honest-to-goodness ethics that are prized at most news agencies?
“I’d quit,” I replied.
I then explained that I wouldn’t have a problem with working for a state-sponsored news organization—even a Russian one—so long as I had the editorial independence I’d have at any journalism organization, since there are many state-sponsored news organizations, including the BBC, Voice of America, Agence France-Press and Al-Jazeera, that all do excellent work.
My interlocutor, a tall man with a thick accent named Peter Martinichev, replied that Sputnik was no different from those agencies, and, seemingly satisfied with my answer, later told me I’d been hired to be Sputnik’s first White House correspondent.
But when I walked out of the office five months later—termination letter in hand—I thought back to that moment, and given my answer, wondered why he’d hired me in the first place.
From the first day that I took a seat in Sputnik’s newsroom in January, something seemed a little off. For a place that billed itself as a major international wire service and news agency, there didn’t seem to be much experience at the top.
Most people associate Sputnik with its SputnikNews.com website, which is incendiary and outrageous enough that Foreign Policy bestowed Sputnik with the nickname “The Buzzfeed of Propaganda.” But most of Sputnik’s original reporting is done by the reporters of Sputnik Newswires—a more sedate arm of the company that has its roots in the once well-regarded RIA Novosti news agency. Most wire content is hidden behind a paywall, reserved for an unknown number of subscribers, but when a wire story is important enough, it will make its way to Sputnik’s website.
As one of the reporters for Sputnik’s wire service, I reported to a triumvirate of editors: Martinichev (who’d interviewed and hired me), Anastasia Sheveleva and Zlatko Kovach. Martinichev and Sheveleva were Russian, and neither appeared to be any older than my (then) 34 years. Nor did either of them seem to know much about how journalism works in the U.S., since they found standard practices—like keeping the names of sources I was meeting with secret from them or using company resources to expense meals or drinks to facilitate the meetings with those sources—to be outrageous.
Kovach, who is Macedonian by birth but also a naturalized U.S. citizen, wasn’t even a journalist, having spent his career working for General Dynamics, which was contracted to run the Southeast European Times, a multilingual website that targeted the Balkans by pushing back against propaganda efforts from Russia and other countries. After funding for that program lapsed, Kovach—who says he speaks six languages fluently—switched sides in the propaganda war.
And while other co-workers (including an American or two) would copy edit my stories, the Russians (and Kovach) were the ones who were unquestionably in charge, and they had their own agenda, which didn’t always include the whole truth.
This became evident after I first began to get called on by then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer. One of the first times I asked a question on camera was on a Friday in early March 2017, when I inquired about why Trump was refusing to use the funding and authority granted him by Congress to send weapons to Ukraine to assist in that country’s fight against Russian aggression.
I didn’t know it then, but I’d broken one of the biggest unwritten rules of how things are done at Sputnik.
In practice, Sputnik’s mission statement—“Telling the Untold”—means that Sputnik’s content should reflect the Russian side of any news story, whether it lines up with reality or not. When it came to the issue of Crimea (which has been occupied by Russian-backed troops since 2014), we were never to write anything on the subject that didn’t include language noting that 90 percent of Crimea residents voted in a referendum to rejoin Russia. Of course, when I’d include details of the tanks and armed men that lined the streets while the people of Crimea voted in that referendum, it would be removed from the story before it went live.
When asking about Ukraine, I’d based the premise of my question on the reality of the situation, and the pushback, as I interpreted it, was swift.
On Monday—our next day back in the office—I received an email from Martinichev ordering me to clear any future questions I intended to ask at the White House with my editors, “so that everyone is on the same page.” That is, he instructed me, if my editors didn’t have a specific question they wanted me to ask. My question “should never be a surprise,” he wrote. “We also need emergency questions in case [somebody] asks the same before us.”
So every morning I’d submit my questions via email, and his reply would almost always dismiss them in favor of his own replacement questions on other topics, with no regard to whether they were based on reality or not.
I began to realize that Sputnik’s mission wasn’t really to report the news as much as it was to push a narrative that would either sow doubts about situations that weren’t flattering to Russia or its allies, or hurt the reputation of the United States and its allies.
If during the months since starting at Sputnik I’d began having concerns that things weren’t the way I’d been promised they would be, my last week at Sputnik removed any doubt.
On May 22, the White House held a briefing with budget director Mick Mulvaney, during which I asked why a proposal to keep families with undocumented immigrant parents from getting a tax credit to help them raise children even if those children were American citizens made any sense. A columnist for the Washington Post noted the exchange, identifying me as Sputnik’s White House reporter, and writing “Trump’s budget is so cruel a Russian propaganda outfit set the White House straight.”
This did not make my bosses happy
On May 26—a few days after the Post article had pierced my anonymity—I was called into a meeting with Martinichev and another man I’d never met. This much older man, who also spoke with a thick Russian accent, called himself Mikhail Safronov and identified himself as Sputnik’s Washington bureau chief, though I’d never once seen him set foot in the bureau.
“When the president comes back from Europe, we’d like you to start asking about the Seth Rich case,” Martinichev told me.
Was this a test, I wondered? Because there was no way Martinichev or Safronov could think this was a legitimate story, since Fox News had retracted their story several days earlier.
I replied that I wasn’t comfortable asking questions or writing about such a thing when there was absolutely no factual basis for doing so. But that story served a purpose, and Sputnik wouldn’t let it go. If Sputnik’s readers could be made to believe that Rich was the DNC leaker, it would shift blame from the Russian hackers the U.S. intelligence community had said were responsible.
That was the last straw, I told myself, and I began to open my mouth again. But before I could explain that I couldn’t continue to work there under such conditions, Martinichev spoke again.
“In that case, we are terminating your contract, effective immediately,” he said, opening a folder to present me a letter to that effect.
There is much (much) more in the full piece linked above and you really should take a few minutes and read it.
We’re going to take this opportunity to reprint a post we ran earlier this year lampooning Sputnik. Enjoy…
You all know “Sputnik,” right”?
Well, in case you’re unfamiliar, let me try and give you a visual.
Imagine you hired yourself about 30 circus clowns, 2 photoshop whizzes, 3 KGB agents, and a web developer, and made yourself a Kremlin-sponsored propaganda site that, based on the color scheme, thinks it’s always Halloween.
The result would look like this:
Sputnik, you’re reminded, participated in a fake news recycling campaign in the lead-up to the US election.
Basically, it amounted to a kind of propaganda circle-jerk wherein bloggers would make up bullshit, Sputnik (and RT) would then report that same bullshit, and then, in the final act, the same bloggers would cite Sputnik as proof that the bullshit they originally made up was true.
You can read that story here: Reuters Exclusive: How You Were Duped By RT, Sputnik, And US-Based Bloggers.
Well guess what?!
I’ll tell you what.
The crack squad of “Putin-litzer” prize-winning investigative reporters over at Sputnik have uncovered a nefarious plotinvolving, in order:
- a band of “stringers;”
- 30 fire engines;
- an unidentified number of ambulances;
- 70 local residents (including “children”, who are apparently in on it – sneaky little bastards)
- and some “screaming” social media co-conspirators
And can you guess what they’re doing?
Why they’re framing Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin by staging a fake chemical attack, that’s what they’re doing!
And do you know who’s behind this?
Well, al-Jazeera obviously, but it’s – and this is an actual quote – “at the separate command of a mastermind.”
This “info” – and again, this is an actual quote – was “confirmed via several channels” and “appears to be ordered from a European country.”
[One thing that was evidently not "confirmed” by any "channels” was Sputnik’s capacity to write proper English.]
This according to “unnamed” sources who would only trust this sensitive information to a reliable outlet like Sputnik.
Here’s the screengrab:
CAVEAT. FUCKING. EMPTOR