Information Warfare · Russia

Russia’s state news service, Sputnik, applies for White House pass


Russia’s state news service applies for White House pass

The Russian state-owned news website Sputnik has applied for a White House hard pass and is seeking membership in the White House Foreign Press Group in order to become a part of pool rotations.

Sputnik, which Foreign Policy magazine described as the “BuzzFeed of propaganda,” would be part of a rotating group of roughly 22 overseas outlets following President Donald Trump in his everyday interactions along with pool reporters from American print, TV, and radio outlets.

Andrew Feinberg, Sputnik’s White House correspondent, has been in talks with the WHFPG head Philip Crowther, who told POLITICO that if Feinberg and Sputnik complete the boilerplate criteria for being a member of the press group, there “shouldn’t be any reason” they wouldn’t join the White House press pool.

Among the criteria to become a WHFPG member is a White House-approved hard pass, membership in the White House Correspondents’ Association, and State Department verification that the network is, indeed, based in another country. Other state-sponsored outlets are part of the rotating foreign pool, including Crowther’s France 24 and China’s CCTV.

Sputnik is one of Russia’s government-funded news outlets aimed at international audiences. Launched in 2014, Sputnik has a goal of providing “alternative interpretations that are, undoubtedly, in demand around the world,” its head Dimitry Kiselyov said at the launch.

The site, which was formed by combining former wire services RIA Novosti and the Voice of Russia, has been criticized for being an unvarnished mouthpiece for Russian President Vladimir Putin. A poll on its site on Friday asked “In your opinion, does the mainstream media offer unbiased coverage of Crimea’s reunification with Russia?”

During the 2016 U.S. election, Sputnik’s coverage tended to be favorable toward Trump, sometimes in a breathless way: “Secret File Confirms Trump Claim: Obama, Hillary ‘Founded ISIS’ to Oust Assad,” proclaimed one headline. And the network once tweeted out a Trump’s statement about “crooked Hillary” along with one of his favored hashtags, #CrookedHillary. The former U.S. Ambassador to Russia under Barack Obama, Michael McFaul, has even questioned whether Sputnik and the other Russian-owned news service RT should register as foreign agents. Now though, it appears as though the Russian-controlled outlets are less rooting for Trump than reveling in the chaos and division of his early presidency.

Feinberg, a former staff member for the newspaper The Hill, joined Sputink in January. He said he also reports for Broadband Census News, which he described as a telecom trade news outlet.

Feinberg said as far as he knows, he is the first Sputnik correspondent to apply for a White House hard pass in order to be a regular presence at the White House. Feinberg said the organization is also in the process of getting Congressional press credentials for its reporters to cover Capitol Hill. Feinberg noted that TASS, the Russian News Agency, has had a hard pass for years. Feinberg said he was not sure if RIA Novosti or Voice of Russia had a White House hard pass before they became Sputnik.

An email sent to Sputnik’s press office was not immediately returned with comment.

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