The name of the article is really “Comparing Russian and American government ‘propaganda’”. Just the title alone makes a fairly big mistake.
While the below article by Meduza presents a nice comparison between US and Russian “propaganda”, there are a few errors. The article is also only one layer deep, there is so much left out it almost negates the utility of the article.
First, what is propaganda? What is propaganda designed to do, to not do, for what purpose, and using what means? We lack a definition, we lack consensus, and we lack expertise.
Let me establish one truth, the US government does not produce propaganda. The BBG’s CEO, John Lansing, testified to Congress just yesterday. His testimony ended with this quote.
Edward R. Murrow, former director of the U.S. Information Agency and a much respected journalist of the 20th Century, when he testified before Congress in 1963: To be persuasive we must be believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful.
John 8:32 “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The US tries to wear a white hate at all times, we tell the truth. This is a Christian principle which we try to embrace. Politicians fail at this for a living, which is why most people in our government are not politicians.
I have personally interviewed most of the editors in chief of VOA, RFE/RL, and RFA but not MBN or Radio and TV Marti. My main focus was on how their bureau avoids even a hint of propaganda. The response I heard from all three was “we provide fair and objective reporting”. One said this and the rest implied that ‘if we were to publish propaganda, our audience is smart enough to recognize it, and we would lose our audience’. Multiple studies after the fall of the Iron Curtain of Russians and citizens of CIS countries found that those that listened to VOA and RFE/RL realized that VOA and RFE/RL were telling the truth, as compared with their own government’s “news”. The bottom line, the US does not “do” propaganda. To say otherwise belongs on a conspiracy theory site, it defies our guiding principles.
Next, and probably more important is the picture in the illustration by Meduza does not portray the entirety of the “Russian Information Warfare” mechanism. I refer you, gentle reader, to page 305 of Timothy L. Thomas’ great book, “Recasting the Red Star”. There it describes a proposal by Dr. Igor Panarin, following the Russian invasion of South Ossetia. Panarin was proposing a new organization following the military win but perceived information loss by Russia. Starting on page 305, Thomas describes a nine-part organization for Russian IW. I have yet to see a better organization accounting for most of Russia’s information warfare activities. To view RT and Sputnik without at least accounting for the rest of the Russian IW mechanism is deny reality.
We are just now learning about Russian bots affiliated with fake Russian accounts on Facebook. We are just learning about ads bought by these bots and fake accounts that were trying to influence the US election. I have repeatedly reported on “Russian News, Russian Proxy News Sites, And Conspiracy Theory Sites“. All these are tools of Russian information warfare designed to echo and amplify manufactured stories and propaganda put out by RT, Sputnik, and other Russian “news” sites. The end result was an onslaught of fake news, false stories, and facts which were pulled out of thin air. All these “stories” were then recited by trolls and bots on social media sites, in comment sections, and prevented “we the people” from reading real news and stories made out of real facts. We were not educated how to differentiate real news from fake news or how to tell a legitimate source from a false source. The headlines were often sensational, including stories pushing both a liberal and a conservative perspective, usually from an extreme. This “news” was usually too good to be true precisely because it was too good to be true – it was fake. I spent most of my days proving these stories were hoaxes, sharing the ground truth, and sharing which sites were not to be trusted. That was hard work and most people, around the world, took their unique perspective to the extreme by way of these fake stories. I cannot begin to count the number of foreign friends I lost because they read and believed these false stories – to them, suddenly, all Americans were demons.
If you have the time, please read the entire “Testimony of Mr. John Lansing CEO and Director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors Before the Committee on Security and Cooperation in Europe Thursday, September 14, 2017“.
I asked the BBG for a statement about fake news, bots, and other tools of Russian information warfare. I was referred to this testimony. It is a really well-written piece and it ends with a bang. He shared new resources deployed by the BBG and gave me a good feeling that they “get it”. I didn’t see any mention of MOE or MOIs but I’ll forgive him this one time.
We lack consumer and leader education, this is not mentioned. We lack a comprehensive strategy, this is implied but not explicitly addressed by John Lansing. Moreover, we lack action. We also lack a center dedicated to detecting and categorizing new and developing techniques, facts, and stories. The GEC has $60 million authorized but SECSTATE Tillerson has not released the funding. We also lack glue at the top, we do not have a Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications.
The Intelligence Community also owes “We the People” a more comprehensive look at Russian Information Warfare. I believe I know who oversees the Russian program, who runs the program, and where most of the pieces and parts fit, but I cannot properly comprehend the scale. We know the press was rigidly controlled in Crimea, but we do not know to what extent. We’ve heard of Russian Spetsnaz taking an ax to communication lines, but we want to know the rest of the story. So many more questions… Only the IC can tell us.
Bottom line to the Meduza story. There is so much more to the Russian propaganda story than a simple illustration can show. There are far too many details left off the chart that need to be added into another chart, into a more comprehensive briefing, or simply just take out the word propaganda.
Comparing Russian and American government ‘propaganda
“RFE/RL objects to the false equivalency suggested by the headline, ‘Comparing Russian and American government ‘propaganda,’’ that introduces the infographic published on September 14. The U.S.-funded international media networks are editorially independent of any government, and are transparent about the amount and sources of their funding.”
“RT is an editorially independent, autonomous nonprofit organization that delivers award-winning reporting and an alternative perspective on current affairs. We think RFE/RL’s objection to facts speaks for itself, though we do appreciate the comic relief.”
Calls to crack down on Russian “disinformation campaigns” have reached a fever pitch in the United States. Just this week, the Justice Department ordered the company that runs the U.S. version of RT, the Russian state-owned outlet originally known as Russia Today, to register as a foreign agent, signaling that all of its content would be labeled as propaganda from Moscow. Days earlier, Yahoo! News reported that the FBI has questioned two former staffers at the Russian state Sputnik news agency, as part of an ongoing investigation into a potentially undeclared propaganda campaign by the Russian government that violates America’s Foreign Agents Registration Act. Margarita Simonyan, the chief editor of RT and Rossiya Segodnya, has already warned that Moscow will likely take retaliatory measures against American journalists working in Russia, raising fears that registering reporters as foreign agents could become the next chapter in U.S.-Russian “parity” diplomacy.
Though Simonyan didn’t say which “American journalists” Russian police would target, it’s a good bet that Moscow would start with reporters from RFE/RL and Voice of America. Both these outlets are funded and supervised by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a U.S. government agency whose stated mission is “to inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy.”
RFE/RL is designed to produce independent reporting and promote democratic values — “uncensored news, responsible discussion, and open debate” — in places where this kind of journalism is believed to be absent. The Voice of America was created to represent America and present the policies of the U.S. “clearly and effectively,” along with “responsible discussions and opinion” on these policies. In other words, RFE/RL is supposed to create independent journalism about the outside world, while VOA is meant to report about America itself.
In this infographic, Meduza compares the U.S. government’s international news media to RT and Sputnik, to get a better sense of just how big these operations are, relative to each other.
Photo on the front page: Evgeny Biyatov / Sputnik / Scanpix / LETA