So Russia Today is a direct feed of Putin's ID— Laura Rozen (@lrozen) March 4, 2014
RT, the multilingual Russian news channel has rarely been accused of impartial journalism. The network, which receives its funding (and maybe its orders) from the Russian federal government has been broadcasting a full-throated defense of Russia's military presence in Ukraine all week. Much of their coverage has repeated the Kremlin party line that no invasion is taking place in Crimea, and even if it were, it's only because thugs and fascists were menacing the Russian-speaking peoples of Ukraine.
But on Monday night, the Abby Martin, an anchor on the RT program "Breaking the Set" did an interesting thing: she told her viewers that she strongly disagreed with what the Russian government has done. "What Russia did is wrong," Martin said on air, adding, "military intervention is never the answer. I will not sit here and apologize or defend military aggression."
Martin's criticism of Russia falls more into the category of "both sides are wrong," rather than as a defense of Western diplomatic efforts to address Russia's aggression in the region. Martin condemns the "disinformation" coming from "all sides," presumably meaning those on the side of Russia and those in the West. Martin doesn't exactly have a history of impartial coverage of western media herself: here's a clip of her favorably discussing 9/11 conspiracy theories with actor Ed Asner.
But her editorial statement does stand out against a sea of egregiously absurd moments on the network in recent days, including the network's decision to tap 1990s action star Steven Seagal as an "expert" guest on western media. These days, Seagal tends to split his time between pretending to run for governor of Arizona and talking up Russia to American lawmakers. You should definitely watch Steven Seagal explain international relations:
Although RT (formerly known as Russia Today) has not commented on Martin's rant, there could be a thin silver lining for the station should they choose to embrace it. Her on-air opinion has the effect of helping RT's defenders counter the more absurd moments like Steven Seagal as "media expert" with evidence of the station's "editorial independence," something Martin mentions at the top of her speech. The English version of RT was created to act as a counterweight to the Western media that RT often accuses of being biased. Allowing one moment of intellectual honesty, makes it a lot easier to refute charges of bias, and even opens the door for RT to take the high ground, as Glenn Greenwald did for them in a post on his new website.
...until hosts of major U.S. television programs do what Abby Martin just did on RT in connection with a major American military intervention, American commentators’ self-justifying mockery of Russian media outlets will continue to be as persuasive as the condemnation of Russian imperialism and aggression from the David Frums of the world.
Greenwald's piece was also retweeted by RT's official account, suggesting they endorsed Martin's statement and she has no reason to fear upsetting her bosses. Via Buzzfeed, here's a full transcript of her remarks:
“Before we wrap up the show, I wanted to say something from my heart about the ongoing political crisis in Ukraine and Russia’s military occupation of Crimea. Just because I work here for RT doesn’t mean I don’t have editorial independence, and I can’t stress enough how strongly I am against any state intervention in a sovereign nation’s affairs. What Russia did is wrong. I admittedly don’t know as much as I should about Ukraine’s history or the cultural dynamics of the region, but what I do know is that military intervention is never the answer. I will not sit here and apologize or defend military aggression. Furthermore, the coverage I’ve seen of Ukraine has been truly disappointing from all sides of the media spectrum and rife with disinformation. Above all, my heart goes out to the Ukrainian people, who are now wedged as pawns in the middle of a global power chess game — they’re the real losers here. All we can do now is hope for a peaceful outcome to a terrible situation, and prevent another full-blown cold war between multiple super powers. Until then, I’ll keep telling the truth as I see it.”
Update: RT has made it official that they support Martin's "off message" moment. In a statement to the Huffington Post, RT says that "contrary to the popular opinion, RT doesn’t beat its journalists into submission, and they are free to express their own opinions, not just in private but on the air." Also, they're sending Martin to Crimea. Here's the full statement:
"Contrary to the popular opinion, RT doesn’t beat its journalists into submission, and they are free to express their own opinions, not just in private but on the air. This is the case with Abby’s commentary on the Ukraine.
"We respect her views, and the views of all our journalists, presenters and program hosts, and there will be absolutely no reprimands made against Ms. Martin.
"In her comment Ms. Martin also noted that she does not possess a deep knowledge of reality of the situation in Crimea. As such we’ll be sending her to Crimea to give her an opportunity to make up her own mind from the epicentre of the story."
Update 2: As it turns out, Martin has no plans to go to Crimea, despite RT's statement that they'd send their host there on an educational journey:
Hi @Josiensor, thanks for your article. But I am not going to Crimea despite the statement RT has made. Please update accordingly.— Abby Martin (@AbbyMartin) March 4, 2014