Within days of Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine, RT America shut down in the first week of March and laid off more than 100 U.S. employees. The Russian-funded TV network was dropped by U.S. cable companies. In Europe, YouTube, TikTok and Meta all blocked its pro-Russia content.
In the most recent edition of the New Republic podcast "The Politics of Everything," hosts Laura Marsh and Alex Pareene discussed what impact the shuttering of Russia’s experiment in American TV news might have on American public discourse.
Pareene noted, "RT had been a platform for speakers and views from the right and, perhaps especially, the left that are rarely heard on mainstream American TV news. It was Larry King’s last professional home and the comedian Dennis Miller’s as well. As an American TV news outlet, it was unusual. As a foreign propaganda effort, it was more conventional."
Russia expert Peter Pomerantsev told the podcast hosts, "Just at the start, it was all about countering this image of Russia as a country of drunks and potholes and prisons and saying, 'Well, there’s a bit more to it than that.' That’s perfectly legitimate. It was meant to be news about Russia. But then from 2008, it pivoted very hard, and after the invasion of Georgia it became something completely different, and it becomes very much a tool of Russian political warfare."
Pomerantsev noted that those on the far right of American politics, e.g., Steve Bannon and Tucker Carlson, might have lost a TV outlet, but they still have RT's online presence through which they can target their audiences.
"I don’t think as a TV station it was effective in Europe or America," he said. "I think in the sense where it was effective was online. That means, for example, targeting content in very, very specific ways to very specific audiences. But also, more than that, being part of this whole network of fake online accounts, websites that look genuine but aren’t, and putting themselves in that network, which first obviously helps with diffusion of their messaging, but maybe more important, starts to game the Google algorithm and sort of the stories. So, the digital operation was meant to be much more effective than the broadcast one where they’re, I think, not very impressive."