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U.S. media’s false narrative of Russian election influence

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Donald Trump is a divisive figure. For better or for worse, the Republican Presidential nominee has a constituency; to the chagrin of his main rival and a whole bunch of pundits, including conservative ones, his support base is real, substantial, and born of the U.S.A.—not Russia or its president. However, given the way most U.S. media has covered the topic, that might come as a surprise to casual consumers of this summer’s news headlines.

The rush to present Russia as an all-powerful, malevolent influence in the U.S. election conflicts with reality. For all of July and August Moscow was supposedly in cahoots with one candidate—Trump—ignoring the fact that the Clinton Foundation had ties to Russia that match those of the Republican nominee. The fact that President Putin evenhandedly described both Trump and Clinton as smart was barely reported. When actual Russia experts agreed that either of the pair would bring both pros and cons from Moscow’s policy perspective, this was largely disregarded.

{mosads}This narrative continues to evolve, with fresh allegations claiming that Russia is actively disrupting the election in general. To what end? That remains unclear. Beyond the shocking headlines, every single “expert” testimony on the issue offers only conjecture and no evidence of Russian tampering.

While much of the Western media has been whipping itself into frenzy over the phantom Russian Menace to Freedom & Democracy™, we can’t help but note the irony of the situation. You see, RT, which is so often accused of trying to create an alternate reality, seems to have been one of the rare news organizations to actually report on, well, reality.

It started a while back. During the fall of 2011, RT was the only major news network present on the scene of the nascent Occupy movement in New York for nearly three weeks. The protests were initially treated as a fluke by the mainstream media. The movement went on to become a global phenomenon, energizing support for the expectation-defying presidential run of Bernie Sanders at a time when most of the American establishment press projected Hillary Clinton to sail through to the Democratic nomination unchallenged.

These winds of change were not just a U.S. phenomenon—they also swept through Europe. When anxiety over austerity policy, immigration and security went largely unaddressed by E.U. top brass, the people of Europe, and the U.K. in particular, found new champions for their grievances amongst the likes of Nigel Farage, Alexis Tsipras, and Jeremy Corbyn.

From day one, the political and media establishments on both sides of the Atlantic dismissed these voices and their supporters as ‘fringe’. RT chose to listen to them at the outset, and report on them. Today, they are far from the periphery, with some shaping the continent’s future. Of course, when “fringe” gains widespread public support, it no longer fits into the simple, established narratives and needs to be explained away. To accept domestic issues as the main reason behind societal shifts would force the powers that be to examine and address their own failings. That can be uncomfortable. It’s much easier to ape the same conspiracy theorists they mock and find external scapegoats.

Russia has been accused, by widely respected voices, of weaponizing everything from migrants and attractive women, to its own economy—even dolphins!—in its “efforts” to bring down Western Civilization. Anyone who doesn’t play the ‘blame Russia’ game automatically becomes a ‘Kremlin stooge.’ Jill Stein, Farage, Corbyn, Tsipras, Marine Le Pen, Miloš Zeman and Viktor Orban, among others, have all been accused of nefarious ties to Moscow. Trump has actually been dubbed a “Russian agent” in the popular U.S. press.

At the same time, the Clinton camp has presented RT’s granting of air time to so-called ‘third party’ American politicians as evidence of Kremlin meddling. Are we to assume that it’s considered a transgression for those who fall outside the GOP-DEM binary to look for an alternative platform when they don’t have a chance with the rigidly-aligned domestic media landscape? Trump was labeled “unpatriotic” for speaking to RT. This, in the nation that sees itself as the global standard-bearer of freedom of speech and capital-D Democracy. By the way, Hillary, you are welcome on RT any time.

While this press frenzy can be amusing, the wider societal implications are nothing to laugh at. It is not RT or Russia that suffers, but the wider public, which is denied a chance to consider arguments worth hearing.

Alternative voices should be welcomed, because, bypassing the mainstream myopia, they help accurately represent the reality at hand. Blaming Russia—and RT—at the expense of reality might fulfill short term aims for certain establishments, but in the long run it hurts the ability to address challenges at home and abroad.

Margarita Simonyan is Editor-in-Chief of RT (formerly known as Russia Today).

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill. 

Tags Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Hillary Clinton

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