We’ve written a ton in these pages about the joke that is Sputnik “news.”
As we’re fond of describing it, Sputnik is what would happen if 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.
Sputnik serves an important purpose in the self-referential propaganda campaign carried out on behalf of Moscow.
It’s a pretty simple process really and one that we have independently verified. Alt-Right sites publish Russia-friendly agitprop, Sputnik cites those sites in their own reporting, and then the original sites cite Sputnik in follow-up stories, in a never-ending loop designed to legitimize fake news. Again, that is not speculation. It is a fact.
Well, Sputnik was exposed last month when their first White House correspondent, Andrew Feinberg, penned a truly revealing post for Politico in which he explained that he was fired for asking questions about the Seth Rich story.
You’re reminded that since the Rich 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.
A few weeks later, Yahoo News reported that Feinberg was questioned by the FBI for more than two hours earlier this month and has turned over a thumb drive “containing thousands of internal Sputnik emails and documents — material that could potentially help prosecutors build a case that the news agency played a role in the Russian government ‘influence campaign’ that was waged during last year’s presidential election and, in the view of U.S. intelligence officials, is still ongoing.”
Feinberg reportedly downloaded the material onto his laptop before he was fired in May.
“They wanted to know where did my orders come from and if I ever got any direction from Moscow,” Feinberg told Yahoo News. “They were interested in examples of how I was steered towards covering certain issues.”
Well all of this isn’t sitting well with Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, social media superstar, and middle-aged high school teacher who texted your teenage son provocative spandex selfies, Maria Zakharova.
If you aren’t familiar, Zakharova embodies the “female Russian villain” stereotype. She is a notorious purveyor of propaganda (indeed, it’s in her job description) and this week she’s upset about what she’s calling “a fight with no rules.”
“When it comes down to a fight with no rules, when the law is twisted and turned into an instrument for the destruction of a TV company, every step against a Russian media outlet will be met with a corresponding response,” she said at her weekly briefing, adding that “whom this response will be aimed at, that is what Washington needs to figure out well. The clock is ticking.”
Yes, “the clock is ticking” – and it’s ticking on the charade that is Russia’s use of U.S. social media to spread manifestly false narratives and misinformation. And pretty soon, that clock is going to strike midnight, after which RT and Sputnik’s Cinderella stint as “legitimate” media organizations operating in the U.S. will come to a rather unceremonious end.
Zakharova appears to be particularly vexed at the prospect that the Russian company which supplies services for RT America may need to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act due to the work it does for RT. In other words: the DoJ looks like they want to crack down on the propaganda.
For their part, RT calls it a “witch hunt”:
Where have you heard that before? Oh, that’s right, on Donald Trump’s Twitter account…
So that’s RT. Well again, Sputnik is now squarely in the cross hairs and a couple of weeks ago, Reuters reported the following:
Three Democratic lawmakers want the U.S. communications watchdog to investigate whether the Russian government-funded radio station and news site Sputnik violated government regulations by broadcasting programs aimed at influencing U.S. policies and elections.
Sputnik radio began airing in the Washington area in late June at a sensitive time for relations between the United States and Russia with a special counsel and Congress looking into U.S. intelligence agency allegations that Moscow tried to swing the 2016 presidential election in Republican Donald Trump’s favor. Russia has repeatedly denied meddling in the election.
The Federal Communications Commission has jurisdiction over broadcast radio and TV stations that use the public airwaves, but not over websites.
“In Washington, D.C., listeners need only tune their radios to 105.5 FM to hear the Russian government’s effort to influence U.S. policy,” the three lawmakers said in a statement.
Well as you’ll quickly discover if you read Feinberg’s expose on Sputnik, no one ever accused the folks there of being particularly bright. Which is why it didn’t surprise us to learn that they actually tried to interview former FBI counterintelligence agent and current associate dean at Yale Law School Asha Rangappa.
If you follow Asha you know she’s not what one would call “sympathetic” to the Russian position on this, which makes sense because you know, she’s a former counterintelligence agent who understands exactly what is going on here.
But again, this is Sputnik and they aren’t the brightest crayons in the box, which is why they actually sent Asha the following interview request accompanied by a series of patently absurd, leading questions about the Reuters story. Have a look:
Yes, “good afternoon!”
“We were wondering if you’d be willing to come on and answer a couple of ‘questions’ that aren’t really questions!”
I mean just read those questions again. The first one basically says this: “we’re going to start from our interpretation of the letter and go from there.” It would be like if you were charged with murder and while on the stand, the prosecution asked you something like this: “It’s been established that you’re a murderer, so would you say that murdering is consistent with laws that make murder illegal?”
The second one is even more absurd because it starts with “don’t you think?” The use of “don’t” there instead of “do” makes all the difference. “Do” means you’re free to answer “no.” “Don’t” means you are expected to answer “yes.” Think about it this way. “Do you think McDonald’s is contributing to the obesity epidemic?” is a completely different question than “Don’t you think McDonald’s is contributing the obesity epidemic?” The second version assumes McDonald’s is guilty.
It’s probably safe to say Asha won’t be appearing on Sputnik radio.
Finally, getting back to Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson and seductive antagonist from a James Bond film, Maria Zakharova, here’s another fun quote from the press briefing excerpted above:
Russia is dedicated to all international statues and norms regarding the freedom of speech and proved that on many occasions.
Yes, Russia has “proved” how dedicated it is to “international norms regarding the freedom of speech” – where “international norms” apparently means murdering journalists.