For a number of years now, I have been periodically interviewed as a source or a commentator on news programs and as an occasional panel participant on RT TV, the Russian government-funded English-language television station. For the past year, I’ve been paid a small amount for my work.
Effective Monday, November 13, something changed, though. RT suddenly became a “registered foreign agent.” The Russian government-funded news service, which has its headquarters in Washington, with bureaus in several other US cities, filed the required papers under protest — the only foreign news service operating here that is required to do so — and said it intends to sue. Russia is also retaliating and will be requiring some US news organizations operating in Russia, including Voice of America, to similarly register as foreign agents.
This means that as of two weeks ago, I have been working, at least on a minimal basis of perhaps one short 5-10-minute interview per week, for a “foreign agent.”
The US government, a lot of heavy-breathing members of Congress, and the bulk of the corporate media in the US at this point are suggesting that journalists like me are at best “useful idiots” helping to promote Russian propaganda in the US — propaganda that our government claims is designed to sow discord among the citizenry and to undermine support for American democracy. Why, RT has been accused of such heinous behavior, according to former National Security Director James Clapper “promoting a particular point of view, disparaging our system, our alleged hypocrisy about human rights, etc.”
Scary stuff, huh? He even accused RT of airing debates by third-party presidential candidates during the 2016 campaign — something the corporate media for years has dutifully refused to do in what I guess they consider a patriotic defense of our two-party system.
Pathetic as the case against RT may be, I’ve been the butt of jokes by liberal friends who say that I’m a “Russian agent” because they’ve bought the spurious argument that Russia “hacked” the US election and delivered us a Trump presidency. I wonder though, how many such Americans have ever actually watched RT-TV. I suspect it’s very few. First off, it’s not that easy to see it on your TV, since most cable and fiber-optic television bundlers leave it out of their packages, as they also leave out the Al Jazeera English Channel option, in response to pressure from the government. If they did watch it — which you can and should do at least to check it out at RT-America and at RT.com (the international edition) — they would find shows hosted not by Russians, but by American journalists, many of them well known names like Larry King, Ed Schultz, Jesse Ventura and Chris Hedges. A number of these people are working for RT because they were either sacked by US media outlets, like Schultz at MSNBC or had a planned program cancelled like Ventura, also at MSNBC, or left in disgust like Chris Hedges, a veteran war reporter for the NY Times.
For myself, I have agreed to be a go-to expert source for RT because over the years, after once upon a time being called to be on shows like MSNBC, CBS News and NPR programs, I don’t get those calls anymore. It’s not that I or my journalism have changed, but that the corporate media have grown flaccid and afraid of controversy. If I want to talk on TV about a story like the one I broke — based upon documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act — showing that the Houston FBI office learned or knew of a well-developed plot to conduct “intelligence” on the Houston Occupy movement, identify the leaders, and then “iff deemed necessary” to assassinate them using “suppressed” sniper rifle fire, or the story I broke based upon information obtained from a county coroner suggesting that a potential key witness in the case of alleged Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev was actually murdered by an FBI agent in Orlando, I have to talk about it on RT. No US corporate news organization will touch such stories. Same thing if I want to make the point that the US has been providing funding, arms and training in Syria to anti-Assad fighters of Al Nusra, an affiliate of the Al Qaeda organization. You simply cannot say such undeniably factually correct things on a US news program, but you can say them on RT.
I’m under no illusion that RT is some sainted news organization that doesn’t have a pro-Russian point of view. Of course it does, just as the government-funded BBC has a pro-British perspective. But I also well know (having worked for years as a staff journlist for major US news organizations), that every corporate news outlet in the US has a pro-US point of view, and that particularly where the story involves both US and Russian interests, as in the case of Ukraine and Syria, the whole truth is not being told by any Russian or US news organization. If I can get a bit of the truth out by talking on RT to counter propaganda and untruths in the US media, so much the better. I would hope that American viewers would have the sense to know that if they watch the news on RT, they are getting a pro-Russian perspective and to take what they see and hear with a grain of salt, just as I would hope they would consider American news reports with the same degree of skepticism (that may be optimistic!).
In any event, the reality is that I am no more an “agent of Russia” for agreeing to be interviewed (for a fee) on Russian TV than I would be an agent of Britain for being interviewed on the BBC or for having an article published in the New York Times or Business Week — both publications I’ve written for, the latter on retainer for five years.
Never once have I had an interview on RT edited to make it appear I’m saying something I didn’t say, and never once have I said something on RT that I didn’t firmly believe to be true based upon my own research.
When the issue of the US government requiring RT America to file as a foreign agent came up, my wife told me she thought by continuing to contribute comments to the station I was probably hoping to get called before some Congressional committee, ala the 1950s House un-American Activities Committee with its hearings on Communist subversion. I told her she was right: I would love nothing better than to get questioned about my work by some Congressional panel, and would be happy to have rabid anti-Russian Congresspeople view any one of my RT clips and point to anywhere that I was pushing Russian propaganda.
Example: Here is a lengthy interview I did on RT International on the issue of “fake news” allegations and concerns expressed by Facebook’s head of security about calls for the company to block alleged fake news its news feeds. I’m betting it’s not a perspective you’ve heard on your evening news, but I certainly stand by the points I’m making, and am not purveying any Russian propaganda, but let the viewer can be the judge.
What’s really going on here with this “foreign agent” registration requirement is a kind of paternalistic censorship, much like those North Korean TV sets that didn’t include settings on their channel selection dials for South Korean stations. It should concern every American who believes in the importance of the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of the press, which after all is not just freedom for the US-based press, but also freedom of Americans’ right to read, listen to and view information from any source, and to make their own judgements about its veracity or logic. When the government, as it is doing here in making efforts to block RT from the internet and from cable and fios TV, and in requiring it to register as a foreign agent, thereby implicitly and perhaps eventually actually threatening those journalists like me who continue to contribute to or work for the Russian-funded station, it is deciding what is safe, and what is not safe for Americans to read, listen to or view. That is starting down a very dangerous slope; a slope that inevitably will lead to much broader censorship and self-censorship of media in the US.
Only a year ago, the Washington Post published a shabbily sourced and, frankly, libelous lead story based upon the “research” of a mysterious organization called PropOrNot, whose funding and personnel were left unidentified, that claimed to have uncovered a massive Russian propaganda campaign in the US. This outfit, most likely the work of the Pentagon’s cyber command, claimed that some 200 online news sites in the US, including RT, but also US sites like Counterpunch, antiwar.com, Truthout, Naked Capitalism and the Black Agenda Report, are either active promoters of Russian propaganda or “useful idiots” — a term tossed around wildly during the McCarthy period to demonize people said to perhaps ignorantly back a Communist agenda of subversion.
The thing is, despite claims by rabid members of Congress and in the military industrial complex that Russia has aggressive aims of conquest in Europe, Russia isn’t even a US enemy. In reality, Russia is a major trading partner of Europe’s and is a major supplier of European natural gas, the US and Russia have been fighting on the same side in Syria, the Russians are the ones who fly our astronauts to and from the International Space Station, and US corporate investment in Russia, despite several years of increasing sanctions levied over the issue of Ukraine and Crimea, is enormous. In other words, from the point of view of a journalist appearing on an RT program, it is no different from appearing on a BBC or Deutsche Welle, or, for that matter, on a CCTV program in China.
Meanwhile, if we want to really look for foreign agents at work in our country, look no further than the CEOs, presidents and board chairs of some of American’s largest companies. Collectively, the S&P 500 includes companies 48% of whose revenues are earned abroad. Since some, like the big telecom firms, earn almost no revenues abroad, it’s not surprising that some of the biggest corporations on the list are earning the bulk of their revenues and profits overseas (and are booking their profits there too in order to avoid US corporate taxes).
Take seven of the biggest: In the case of Apple, 62.3% of its 2016 revenues of $306 billion was earned abroad. For Qualcom, the figure was a whopping 98.6%$ of its $30.6 billion in 2016 revenues. Intel, meanwhile, “only” earned 82% of its $31.7 billion in 2016 revenues from abroad. ExxonMobil, headed by Rex Tillerson until he was named President Trump’s secretary of state, earned $67.3% of its 2016 revenues from abroad (and has been seeking a deal to license close to $1 trillion in gas an oil reserves off Russia’s Siberian coast in the Arctic Ocean), while Johnson & Johnson earned 5.2% of its 2016 revenues abroad. General Electric meanwhile, doesn’t just earn the bulk of its revenues abroad — about 53% in 2016. As of the end of 2014, 55% of its workforce of 305,000 was located abroad — a number that continues to rise. And yet President Obama, without a hint of irony, named GE’s then CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, to be a “jobs czar” for the administration in 2009 (a year later, GE reportedly paid no US taxes, though it paid $3 billion in taxes to foreign jurisdictions in which it operates).
Although clearly all of these nominally US corporations and their chief executives are American, it is equally clear that their real allegiance — since as we are continuously told, the fiduciary duty of corporate executives is to maximize shareholder value — is not to Uncle Sam. When push comes to shove, if a policy or bill in Congress is going to threaten their international business operations, these executives are going to lobby against it. If there’s a bill that will help them move profits abroad, they’ll push for it. They should, therefore, be required to register as foreign agents, yet never has such a thing even been proposed.
It makes a joke out of this whole campaign attacking RT-TV. Especially as it’s a safe bet — so safe I’m not even going to make the effort to dig up the numbers — that many or most of the Democrats and Republicans in Congress clamoring to have RT banned solicit and happily accept campaign contributions from these so-called American companies every election cycle, which should be rights make them also foreign agents in practice.