Donald Trump’s taboo friendly posture to Russia has pundits in a frenzy. Every day we have takes in major media outlets insisting Trump is a de facto Kremlin agent, a pro-Clinton Super PAC has launched a Web site to “raise awareness” of “the dangerous Putin-Trump connection” that even comes complete with a hammer and sickle (despite the fact that both Putin and Trump are ardent capitalists), and MSNBC’s Joy Ann Reid had on a guest who suggested Putin would invade Ukraine to steer the election Trump’s way. One subgenre of this frenzy is a renewed focus on Russian-funded English language cable network Russia Today, which critics have accused of going to bat for Trump and working to undermine Clinton.
The latest example of this sub-take is Jim Rutenberg, media columnist for The New York Times. In “Larry King, the Russian Media and a Partisan Landscape,” Rutenberg muses on the rise of relativism and the loss of objective truth in media. This is a typical frame when discussing the uniquely sinister nature of RT, and it’s one worth dissecting in detail.
Rutenberg begins by citing RT’s lockstep support for the Russian invasion of Crimea as evidence it’s not a real news source. However, it’s worth noting, The New York Times‘s editorial board has supported every single US war—Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Libya—for the past 30 years. While its reporting and op-eds on these wars has often been critical, much of it’s coverage has also helped to sell war-weary liberals on the current military mission—the most notable example being Judith Miller and Michael Gordon’s hyping Iraq’s nonexistent nuclear program in the buildup to the March 2003 invasion. Indeed, the image of The New York Times as an objective, unbiased news outlet is precisely how it was able to sell the war in the first place. The difference is one of efficacy, not affect.
In January, for example, The New York Times opposed Obama’s expanding the ISIS war to Libya. Six months later, after Obama started bombing targets in the country, it did a 180 and endorsed the new war. Perhaps media analysts like Rutenberg should spend more time questioning why this is, why the Times always agrees with the US position on starting wars. Either The New York Times dispassionately looked at the evidence and just so happened to agree with the US government 100 percent of the time, or there are other factors, such as ideology and groupthink, beyond the top-down government-control model of an RT. Examining these forces would be a better use of Rutenberg’s considerable influence than being the one-millionth person in US media stoking outrage over a network that even its harshest critics insist reaches fewer than 30,000 Americans a day. (RT disputes these figures, putting the total at over 1 million a day.)