Once, when driving through southwestern Missouri at the end of the Thanksgiving holiday, my brother and I observed a field stocked with elephants.
As astonishing as that was, I think that event has finally been topped with the accidental discovery that KMOS, the PBS station coming out of the University of Central Missouri, has built into its digital programming schedule a half-hour news segment from “Russia Today,” a Moscow-based corporation whose raison d’etre seems to be to provide an English-language news feed from Moscow’s point of view. And of course, it being based in Russia, when we say “Moscow’s point of view,” we probably mean Vladamir Putin’s.
The content from the broadcast featured ongoing attempts to shovel blame for the recent war with Georgia on the Georgian leadership (with no visible attempts to get the viewpoint of said leadership), comparisons of the recent Islamofascist attacks in India with the attack on the Russian school by Chechen rebels, a blurb on how efficiently the Russian government was handling the world economic crisis, a blurb on warming relations with Cuba, and a prolonged feature on the 1943 Tehran conference with Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill. This latter feature claimed that a) the three leaders were in Tehran to avoid Nazi assassins (who were ably defeated by Soviet intelligence, of course); b) the war could have ended in 1943, but it had to be prolonged so that the British could be seen to make an important contribution; and c) the war could have been better prosecuted if the Western countries had been more forthcoming with their research on nuclear weapons.
If the Russians wish to produce propaganda, that is their prerogative. If they wish to pass it off as news–well, that’s life. (I wonder if Russian broadcasters are allowed to run Voice of America.) If they can get Cable and Satellite services to carry it, that’s their business, though in my opinion it doesn’t say much for any domestic cable service who would. But why is PBS buying this nonsense? And not just KMOS in Missouri–it’s also on KBDI in Denver; KBTC in western Washington state; KDCQ in Oregon; KCSM in San Mateo, California; and WHTJ in Charlottesville, VA, among other places (check your local PBS schedule).
I observe that it seems to be part of a package of other foreign news services (Wannabe BBCs?), including France, Britain, and China (which is at least balanced by another one from Taiwan). At least the British and (I suppose) French media have some tradition of independence from direct government control of the news. And sometimes it’s interesting to get a perspective from somewhere outside the country. And indeed, it would be nice to know more of what exactly is going on in Russia–but do we really think the Kremlin is going to give us balanced coverage? It seems like if they’re going to run Russia Today, they ought to provide some sort of disclaimer about media control by the Russian government, so the casual observer is aware that it might(!) be propaganda. If Putin wants to sell his vision to the world, it seems to me he can buy infomercials, like everyone else.
I’ve had occasion to comment on the liberal bias of public broadcasting before; but at least the PBS and NPR news producers think they’re working for the public good, however wrongheaded their notions may be.
It’s just something else to think about the next time your local PBS station has a pledge drive.
Meanwhile, I wonder what ever happened to those elephants….