The poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal was not the work of the Russian state; it was “a complete set-up”. Theresa May had “found this one issue that can boost her”. The attempted murder in a Salisbury restaurant was “a provocation intended to worsen relations even further between Russia and the West”. Whoever was responsible “did it knowing that Russia would almost certainly be blamed”. Britain is “still at war in Iraq and threatening war with Russia”.
These were not the words of Jeremy Corbyn – an easy enough mistake to make – but the farrago of casuistry that has greeted viewers of RT in recent days. Nominally a 24-hour news channel, RT began life in 2005 as Russia Today, a Kremlin-funded “alternative” to the BBC and CNN. In truth, it was a cynical tool for fomenting political instability under the guise of telling the stories Western media would not touch because they were too close to their governments. (The chutzpah is intentional, a mischievous nod to Russian black humour.)
At first, RT seemed mad but harmless. Its schedules were filled with lurid tales of UFOs, secret societies and government plots. To watch RT was to tune in to a world where The X-Files was a documentary and Dan Brown a historian. But while its tabloid news values allow RT to build an audience, its strength lies in polysemic propaganda.
RT has no fixed ideological stance like Fox News or MSNBC, the noise factories that represent the right and left corners of US primetime politics. It is a more promiscuous partisan, deploying the old Soviet trick of latching on to local grievances and posing as dissent.
To that end, it exploits domestic political controversies and injustices (real and confected) to foster anger, division and mistrust of government, authorities and fellow citizens. It glides seamlessly from railing against austerity and Iraq to poking wounds over refugees and the high-handedness of Brussels. The guest list veers from the far-left to the alt-right and every flavour of conspiracy theorist imaginable.
The object is to place sneering air quotes around the facts and promote distrust and disunity. The threat any domestic figure poses to Britain’s political harmony or territorial integrity can be gauged by the frequency of their appearances.
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