From the moment Russian troops invaded Ukraine the entire corporate media apparatus in the US moved to 24-7 coverage, filling airwaves with talking heads relentlessly beating the drums of war. Combined with Big Tech’s sophisticated means for silencing and punishing dissenting voices, the increasingly hostile and propaganda-filled discourse that is taking shape today is eerily reminiscent of the “Russiagate” fervor and the cultural hysteria that permeated the post-9/11 years. TRNN Editor-in-Chief Maximillian Alvarez speaks with longtime journalist and activist Abby Martin about how the media’s manufactured “bloodlust” for war makes us all less safe and how we must use independent media to advance the cause of peace.
Abby Martin is an American journalist, show presenter, activist, and artist. She helped found the citizen journalism website Media Roots and is the host of the investigative documentary and interview series The Empire Files. Martin has been involved in numerous film projects, including producing the recent feature documentaries Gaza Fights for Freedom, and she is currently producing another feature entitled Earth’s Greatest Enemy.
Pre-Production: Maximillian Alvarez
Studio/Post-Production: Cameron Granadino
Maximillian Alvarez Welcome, everyone, to The Real News Network. My name is Maximillian Alvarez. I’m the editor-in-chief here at The Real News. And it’s so great to have you all with us. Today is Saturday, March 5, and the world continues to watch in horror as the full-scale Russian military invasion wreaks havoc on Ukraine and its people, and pushes the world closer to the ever approaching brink of global catastrophe.
Since this invasion began on Feb. 24, nearly 1.3 million people have fled the fighting in Ukraine, and at least 351 civilians have been killed according to the United Nations. According to the latest updates from the news agency Reuters, “Russian forces seize the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Eastern Ukraine, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe, after a building at the complex was set ablaze during intense fighting with Ukraine defenders. The US embassy in Ukraine called the Russian assault on the Zaporizhzhia plants a war crime. The European Union, the United States, Britain and others have hit Russia with a wide range of sanctions after its invasion of Ukraine. The sanctions span various industries and include financial, energy, export, and travel bans. Russia’s large banks are deeply integrated into the global financial system and the country is one of the world’s biggest energy producers, meaning sanctions could disrupt economies around the world.”
In his first extended remarks about the war since the invasion began, Russian president Vladimir Putin said today, “These sanctions that are being imposed are like the declaration of war.” Then, in a deeply ominous and chilling statement about the response to the invasion by Ukrainian and world leaders, Putin went on to say, “The current leadership needs to understand that if they continue doing what they are doing they risk the future of Ukrainian statehood.”
Now, news about the war in Ukraine is coming out by the minute, and circumstances may very well have changed by the time this interview is published. As always, we here at The Real News will do our best to bring our audiences up-to-date information and analysis of events as they unfold, not just in video form, but in the many text articles and podcasts we publish on our website on a weekly basis. And we will also be working hard to bring y’all the voices and context behind the headlines so that viewers and listeners can better navigate the fog of war, better understand how we got here, and to fight harder for peace.
Today, we continue our effort to bring our audiences a range of interviews with folks on the ground in Russia and Ukraine, specialists whose expertise can help explain the deeper context behind this horrific war. Activists, organizers, and media makers, who are fighting for peace not only in Ukraine, but in Palestine, Yemen, Afghanistan, and beyond. As always, I want to make it clear that none of these interviews is intended to be the single definitive take on any of the vital questions we’ll be exploring, and that they should be taken as part of a collective expanding effort to know what the hell is going on, and to remember who and what we are fighting for If there are questions or viewpoints you want us to discuss or are having trouble navigating yourselves, please reach out to us and we will work to address them in a way that’s informative, principled, honest, and usable.
In today’s interview, we’re going to be taking a look at the media side of war, and at the ways our mediated connections to war and to each other can limit how we think and act, but also how we can use the tools available to us, from social media to independent news, to think more clearly and act more bravely and lovingly.
And I couldn’t be more honored to be joined today by my guest, who is very much dedicated to that struggle and has been for quite some time. Abby Martin is an American journalist, show presenter, activist, and artist. She helped found the citizen journalism website Media Roots. She is the host of the invaluable investigative documentary and interview series, The Empire Files. And she has been involved in numerous film projects, including producing the recent feature documentary Gaza Fights For Freedom. And she is currently producing another feature entitled Earth’s Greatest Enemy.
Abby, thank you so much for joining me today.
Abby Martin: It’s a great honor to be talking to you. Thanks for having me.
Maximillian Alvarez: Well, it’s almost like, where do we start?
Abby Martin: Right.
Maximillian Alvarez: Because there’s so much to talk about and so much invaluable experience that I know that viewers and listeners would love to hear you speak on, but I suppose we should start with kind of the most recent news that happened just this week. For viewers and listeners who may not have seen, news broke a couple days ago that RT America announced that it would cease production and would lay off most of its staff. Now, for viewers and listeners, RT America was a US-based news channel headquartered in Washington, DC. It was owned by TV-Novosti, operated by production company TNR Productions, and it was part of the RT network, a global multilingual television news network that is funded by the Russian government. And RT America has hosted the likes of critical voices including Chris Hedges, Lee camp, Anders Lee, and of course Abby Martin.
And before viewers and listeners jump down our throats and shout about this, we want to kind of take a measured look at this. Because this isn’t just RT America. Radio Sputnik has also been taken off a lot of podcast platforms, and they host shows like By Any Means Necessary hosted by Jacqueline Luqman and Sean Blackmon, a show that I’ve been on many times to talk about worker issues, labor struggles, strikes, so on and so forth. And of course, Russia is not the only country that has funded news agencies around the world. The US has many.
So with that, all those caveats in mind, Abby, I wanted to just get your thoughts and impressions on the news of the shuttering of RT America, and I guess what you think this may portend not just for media that has any ties whatsoever to the Russian state, but any media that, in fact, doesn’t toe the national line or it takes critical stances that aren’t well received in the fog of war. What are your thoughts? What are your impressions?
Abby Martin: Yeah. You bring up really salient points that I think need to be explored, first and foremost. The first one is we need to be honest and not hypocritical when we’re looking at the landscape of media that we all need to navigate as responsible, critical thinkers today. Of course, we all know the problems with the corporate media. Of course, I don’t need to tell viewers of Real News Network why that’s problematic. And that’s why you see foreign funded networks like Russia today, cynically, let’s be honest about this, I mean, cynically filling that void, that huge void left by the corporate media apparatus. The lack of real reporting, substantive coverage of issues like third-party candidates, Occupy Wall Street.
And in fact, that is what this is really about. This is about the suppression and purging of all dissident voices in the landscape of alternative media. I mean, the US establishment has been clamoring for years to do this, to purge everyone that doesn’t kind of toe the line of what the US foreign policy establishment wants. And we saw this come to a head with the DNI report. When Trump won the election, of course, there was a deliberate effort to absolve the political establishment’s failures, or accountability, or reckoning of how we got to this place. And instead they just wanted to blame Putin.
And not only blame Putin for undermining our alleged democracy, but also Russian media as this huge sinister propaganda effort that really sowed this sinister distrust and discontent with American institutions, and that’s actually what gave us the rise of Trump. It was Russian media. These $10,000 or whatever, very menial amount of Facebook ads that did this and that. And really, it’s kind of laughable when you look at how much does the US really meddle in foreign policy all around the world, how much does the US undermine sovereignty of countries all around the world, how much has the US really pumped its own propaganda and dominated this kind of cultural hegemony over the rest of the world. The list goes on and on and on. But what they really did was grossly exaggerate the effect and impact of Russian propaganda to deflect what they were doing, how Trump came to be.
This is basically the culmination of a years-long plan to purge all alternative media, whether it’s people opposing the assassination of General Soleimani and the purging of pro Iran voices on networks like Twitter and Facebook, but really it’s the kind of coalescing of big tech Silicon Valley giants working in acquiescing with state government policy. And what’s scary about this is there wasn’t even legislation that demanded them to do so. This was a kind of a preemptive coordination with the government on behalf of organizations like Google and Facebook.
And you saw the fact checking going to account where you had people like on the board of Atlantic Council. This is defense contractor-funded think tanks that were now tasking themselves with fact checking. So all of this put together brings us to today, which is Russia Today America, the American bureau in DC, shuttering its doors, I’m assuming as the result of constrictive sanctions that have basically made it untenable and impossible to run the bureau. This is after we see YouTube banning, straight up banning and removing all RT platforms in Europe. I mean, this is a huge swath of territory where now you cannot access the Russian perspective.
And then we saw US distribution, of course, cut off Russian media. That includes Comcast and DIRECTV, I’m pretty sure. And as you mentioned, it’s not just the cartoonish depiction of a Putin-run propaganda network. I think it’s very obvious by its name, Russia Today, that it’s Russian state media, that it parrots the bias of Russia, and that it pedals Russian talking points. That’s not a shocking declaration. The problem is that we have the US corporate media which basically acts as the arm of the pentagon whenever we need critical dissent against US foreign policy. These voices kind of uniformly come together, they coalesce, and they essentially just echo whatever the foreign policy line is of the US empire and its junior collaborators.
And that is a highly sophisticated propaganda model that we basically parrot and declare as free press. We herald and cherish the notion of free press in this country, but what does that really mean if we have this ever constrictive media apparatus that essentially only echoes corporate media talking points? I mean, this is an apparatus that is controlled by five corporations. It affects more than 90% of everything we see here in Reed.
And for me, as a critical thinker and as someone who really cares about what our government is doing abroad, I feel like I need to have a wide range of views that I can navigate on my own, and I don’t want the infantilizing effect of censorship. I don’t want my reality curated for me by big tech giants. I want to be able to pick and choose what the truth is, determine my own reality based on the facts that are available.
And that’s why this is so offensive. That’s why this is such an extreme measure. Because at the same time you see all these corporate news anchors bemoaning censorship in Russia. And while that may be true, and that it is horrible what Russia’s doing to shut down independent media, why are we doing it too? Why are we limiting and actually purging Russian media that, of course, doesn’t just host Russian talking points. This is one of the only networks that actually uplifted marginalized voices – Going back to that cynical exploitation and covering the void that’s lacking by the corporate media – RT America was an incredible opportunity to highlight voices like Chris Hedges, consistent anti-war voices like myself, Lee Camp. And that was unmatched. That platform that RT America gave us was unmatched. Our viewpoints are not allowed on the corporate media. Dissent against empire is not allowed on the corporate media.
And that is why we had to go to places like Russia Today in order to have a platform for these very important and crucial perspectives. And so the shuttering of RT, this is… And if I may just say something really quickly about the DNI report. I mean, we saw this firsthand and what the DNI report said. We were told by the intelligence agencies that this 2017 report was supposed to be a conclusive indictment on Russian media. What it was instead was it wasn’t about how RT promoted Russia and Putin. It was about that it covered forbidden viewpoints. So, for example, it pointed out my show specifically Breaking the Set, which was on air for three years, ended two years before the Trump administration was elected. It talked about how I fomented radical discontent because I covered issues like third-party candidates, that I covered issues like fracking, like socialism. I mean, this is what they were really scared of. This is why they wanted to shun RT, and of course in that huge wave of shunning all alternative media and blaming it for really the discontent, the very real grievances that exist.
They don’t want those grievances shown or aired. They want to sanitize our reality and pretend that these viewpoints simply don’t exist because then it’s easier to, basically, control the masses and manufacture consent for whatever they want to do. And, Max, I think it’s really crucial. I want the Russian perspective. As we’re heading into this potential standoff, a potential hot war with two nuclear-armed powers, I want the Chinese perspective, I want the Iranian perspective, I want the Russian perspective. I’m not a child. All this does is constrict the already very severely limited parameters of debate on our airwaves. And I feel like we’re not children. We can make up our own minds.
Maximillian Alvarez: Man, I think that’s very well and powerfully said. There’s so much there that I want to respond to. But I honestly think that, for viewers and listeners, it’s a tough situation to be in. We need to accept that as the starting point. There are no pure souls here. There are people who are committed to peace and justice and equality doing the best with what we’ve got.
You heard Abby mention that RT, yes, of course, cynically, for its own political purposes, had a vested interest in platforming voices that were not welcome on US mainstream media, but also think about what that actually means. Like how could you say that Chris Hedges or Abby Martin is a puppet of the Russian state? Chris Hedges was vilified for speaking out against the post 9/11 fury of war that we grew up in.
That should be something that we should sympathize with. And it should open up that space that Abby pointed to, that if the mainstream media has that sort of stranglehold on the contours of permissible debate in this country, and that limits our capacity to think and act in this world. To know, in fact, about the world that we are in and to be guided towards certain ends with the limited knowledge that we have, the limited vision that we are given. That is very dangerous. That is how and why you see what we’re seeing right now, which very much hearkens back to those post 9/11 days.
Abby, I know that you and I were just a couple years apart in high school and we grew up in similar areas, but I feel like I didn’t quite grasp then – And granted I was a very conservative person who fully bought into the war furor after 9/11 – But seeing it more as an adult now, it is very scary to recognize how quickly. The day before the Russian invasion began, we were still talking about COVID-19 and the government’s opening up, a restructuring of the CDC guidelines. We were talking about trans kids being attacked and vilified in Texas. We were talking about important labor struggles around the US and beyond.
And suddenly it was like a Pavlovian bell had been wrong. Everyone stopped, dropped everything. This became our primary focus. The media apparatus kind of just went right into full effect. And even I felt it in myself. And I was deeply uncomfortable with that, because I feel like I’m a critical person, but just immediately, I felt that sort of ideological conditioning just be activated at a moment’s notice. I guess I wanted to ask, before I move on to talking about your time at RT, just I guess what you feel that says about how much we may have or have not learned from what we saw in that sort of propagandistic effort, pro war effort, that sort of cultural mania after 9/11. Have we come much farther from that now?
Abby Martin: It’s a really good point. And it’s a very important comparison. Because I similarly feel that way, Max. I feel like our reptile brain was activated. As peaceful, loving people, as anti imperialists, as someone who has values that I hold very strongly that guide my principles and my actions. I mean, I have moral consistency. And so of course I’m horrified at what Russia did. And I think it’s a criminal action and I think that it should be widely condemned. But I think we all need to take a step back and then ask after the horror subsides and through the fog of war – Because it’s very hard to determine what’s going on in the ground right now – Is how we get here?
And it is so interesting to think back to 9/11, because it was formative for my political awakening and radicalization. And I think post 9/11 weeks and months and of course years, you can argue it never really ended, right? This mass conditioning. It was such a revealing time in how propaganda can really take hold of a society and essentially guide tens of millions of people who are completely terrified into supporting the hell that this government unleashed on the rest of the world for the last two decades.
We were a country that was paralyzed with fear. We were driven by bloodlust and revenge. And since then, the news media further consolidated, further synchronized its messaging. I think Project Censored did this study showing how that 24-hour kind of broadcast was really perfected from 9/11. I think we saw like Anna Nicole Smith and then 9/11 was like the next time that it was like 24/7, let’s just never stop showing the horror and destruction of these towers falling and all of this.
And then it just never stopped. It’s like there is something to be said about that psychological control of always having that beaten into your mind. And since that day… I mean, and it just further consolidated ever since then, where we saw… Let’s go back to the Trump administration. This algorithmic censorship that has further tightened its control over our airwaves. I mean, back-paging sources like The Real News. And now you have this media machinery that basically uniformly acts as one voice, whether it’s on Fox News or CNN or whatever, when it comes to US foreign policy and our supposed friends and foes around the world.
And you see a similar uniformity, just like you did with the Venezuela regime change efforts, you see a similar uniformity acting in reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, where it’s the same resolve and hysterical browbeating hand-wringing that we saw after 9/11. Well, we need to do something about this. What are we to do about this? Of course, we’re the world arbiter of morality and everything holy even though there was no attack here.
Russia didn’t do anything to this country, but it’s this climate we fostered that we’re the world’s empire, that we have the duty and the right to, let’s just say collectively punish tens of millions of people and another, strangle them, asphyxiate their economy, prevent them from doing anything. The bloodlust, the… It’s sick, it’s sick. It’s so disturbing that people are just calling and clamoring for war and escalation. This is a nuclear-armed power. Why is this happening?
And so what you see is this kind of collective punishment to not just Russian oligarchs, but to all of its citizens. Making boycotting Russians compulsory within a matter of days. And then of course you see big tech acting accordingly as well to basically crack down on anything that could be deemed a Russian media affiliate. Anyone who’s simply now bringing up the role of NATO and the US government is now deemed a Putin apologist.
It really does go back to the days of the demands of leftists who dared to oppose early on the invasion of Iraq, and of course subsequently – I’m sorry, Afghanistan, and subsequently Iraq, the demands to basically denounce Saddam Hussein, to denounce the Taliban. I mean, it’s sad how little we’ve learned, but it’s also very instructive of how we can move forward and try to avoid falling into the same disastrous pitfalls that we unfortunately did in a post-9/11 world.
And I think, first and foremost, it’s acknowledging the role of our government, how did we get here, and pushing for peace and deescalation. And that includes abolishing NATO, because that’s a really strong force that has basically sown the seeds and set the stage for everything that we’re seeing today.
Maximillian Alvarez: Well then, I’m really glad that you brought up the algorithmic censorship because that is another thing that has been keeping me up at night. Probably because I’m now the editor-in-chief of an independent news network and we live-and-die, in many ways, on these algorithms both on YouTube, on Facebook, on Twitter. It’s how we get the message out, because, as Abby said, we’re not on network news. We have to hustle to gain visibility. And there are a lot of ways that these privately owned tech companies can essentially tweak their algorithms to make us invisible and to make others invisible. This is exactly what we saw in the wake of the Russiagate hysteria that Abby mentioned before.
Again, speaking personally – And this was before I was even at The Real News – But I think that I cover workers’ struggles, I lift up workers’ voices. That’s my beat, I suppose. I try to do other stuff. But it is very, very difficult to find outlets that are willing to give that sort of deep attention to train operators who had their strike blocked by a court and are deathly afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation from the company. It is incredibly hard to find outlets that will lift up the voices of Spanish-speaking workers at a production plant for Amy’s Kitchen in California like I did here at The Real News.
The point being is that that is the stuff that got shadow banned in the wake of Russiagate, not just my stuff, but the Police Accountability Report, Eddie Conway’s coverage of prisons at Rattling The Bars. So for folks who are cheering on or not thinking that the shuttering of RT America or deplatforming of platforms like Radio Sputnik, that it’s going to stop there. It’s not. We’ve seen in the past that it hasn’t stopped there. And all of us, to circle back to Abby’s point about how this essentially infantilizes us and limits our ability to think and act and be in the world, that is the cumulative effect. So we should all be very mindful of the waters that we are wading in right now.
And kind of building from that point, like you said, Abby, there are going to be many opportunities for us to bend to that might, to bend to that cultural pressure, that political pressure that can get very vicious very quickly. The racist attacks on Muslim people, or anyone Brown for that matter, after 9/11. The vicious vilification of people who speak out about the US or NATO’s role here. We’re seeing that unfold in real time. And we are all going to be tested, I think. And we are all going to have the chance to stand by our principles, our commitment to peace, to justice, to equality, to the sanctity of life on this planet.
And that is something that, in fact, ties very well to your experience at RT America. Because, as you said, you hosted a show there for three years. And quite famously spoke out on that show against the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea. And I guess I wanted to ask you if you could take us back to that moment when you probably felt that pressure. What was going through your mind? If you could just tell listeners a bit more about that event and why you felt the need to make that stand and say what you did.
Abby Martin: Absolutely. I was hosting Breaking the Set, which was an opinion show, every day at RT America for three years. I was covering war crimes and foreign policy decisions from the US government that I had strong opinions and disagreements about. And I was never told what to do or say from my bosses. I had 100% editorial freedom to do whatever I wanted. And that stands in very stark contrast to what we’re told about our RT.
There’s this cartoonish depiction of RT that we had some sort of morning meeting at a round table where Putin, like 1984, is like on the telescreen being like, this is what you do today. I mean, it’s just hilarious. Because, as I said before, you can really pick apart the entire corporate media as well as all the state-funded media including Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and basically levy the same criticisms at all of these networks. Including Vice, which, by the way, is funded by Saudi Arabia.
So the hypocrisy is staggering, but let’s go back to that day where Russian troops started to amass at the border and started to move into Crimea. Now, being someone who has moral consistency and who was willing, at that point. I was like, look, I am willing to risk my job because I feel strongly about saying something, especially being at a Russian-funded network. I felt like I was in quite a dilemma. Because not only did I feel strongly about being against militarism of any fashion and having militarily moving into annex territories was wrong, but I also felt like at Russia Today, I felt like the network was becoming an arm of the Russian government.
For the first time, I felt that way. And I wanted to distinguish myself as an independent voice, that I wasn’t going along with the rest of the network’s narrative that, honestly, felt very similar to me of the US media establishment’s narrative during the lead up to the invasion of Iraq. Where, if you’ll remember, troops were greeted with flowers and candy. And that’s what we basically saw when the first troops hit the ground. And that’s what I was seeing on RT all around me. And I was like, look, I do not agree with this. I need to distinguish myself. I need to distinguish my voice.
And I didn’t even think anyone would see it. And I went to my boss’s office that morning. I wasn’t trying to hijack air. I wasn’t trying to throw the network under the bus. I went and spoke to my manager. And I was like, look, this is what I feel. If you don’t want me to read this statement on air, I’m going to walk out the door. And he was like, go for it. He said, if you feel that strongly about this, then you should do it. And so I said what I said.
What was really shocking, though, is what happened after that. Overnight, I became an anti-Russian hero. I was broadcast on the front page of all these major newspapers around the world, I was hit up by almost every single corporate media outlet trying to get my story. Because they were using me for Western propaganda. All of a sudden I was the anti-Russian hero, the dissident at Russian-backed media, the Kremlin operation that had the audacity to stand up against her handler.
Quickly, as someone who comes from a very critical media lens and someone who basically was a citizen journalist, I immediately understood the role that I was being used for. And so I turned it around really quickly. Every time I would talk to, let’s say NPR, I would remind them that they’re funded by Shell and Chevron. How does that affect your editorial freedom? Do you self-censor? Do you not talk about this and that because of the very questionable funding that you guys get? Or when I went on Piers Morgan’s show and said, look, CNN is as responsible for what is happening, the constant fear mongering and warmongering about Russia.
So, quickly, I didn’t serve their goals. And so what happened after that was that I had to be thrown under the bus very quickly and smeared. I was even alleged that I was like a false flag on behalf of Russia to pose like they had editorial freedom at the network, that I was being used by the network and that this was all a setup. Two days later – This is where it gets really fascinating, and I’ll try to make a long story short – Two days later, a colleague of mine –
Maximillian Alvarez: [crosstalk 00:33:04] …Keep going, I’m riveted.
Abby Martin: It’s absolutely insane. And I think it really says a lot about this entire situation that’s unfolding today. Two days later, a colleague of mine who was an anchor who had no political view, she was pretty apolitical, she was just a standard, reading the teleprompter anchor. I actually was close with her as a friend, and I can testify that she didn’t have strong political views like me about war or anything like that.
Two days after I did what I did, she resigns live on air. I can’t work at this Kremlin propaganda outfit, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Immediately she has a whole media tour lined up within an hour of her leaving RT. She was on all of these different stations all night long. She had a big tell-all on The Daily Beast the next day. Basically what happened… And part of her media rounds was calling me a conspiracy theorist, a lunatic, immediately throwing what I did under the bus to legitimize what she did as actually the braver act. She was the real dissident. She was the real hero in the story.
And the media lapped it up. She went on Colbert Report. She went everywhere, baby. She was the hero of the story. But what happened behind the scenes is actually very telling. Because what her entire resignation was, was actually a PSYOP that was stage-managed by Bill Kristol’s henchmen. Bill Kristol, one of the famous architects of the Iraq War, had a foreign policy think tank called the FPI, the Foreign Policy Initiative, in DC. And they basically helped facilitate this entire resignation. They stage-managed the whole thing. And they saw what happened to me, they saw the media attention that happened to me, and they saw that I was trying to explain that I was actually given the editorial freedom to criticize Putin, and that I wasn’t fired like Phil Donahue was on US media for criticizing the Iraq war, and that I actually paved my own freedom at the network. If I could do this at RT, what are other anchors’ explanations for being dutiful stenographers of the US empire and its wars?
So this narrative didn’t stick. And so they had to do something to throw a wrench in it. And so they used this other anchor, Liz Wahl, to basically try to paint me as illegitimate, a Putin puppet, and paint her as the real dissident. And once this other story came out, it was too late. That phrase like, the truth circles around the world before… Or the lie will circle around the word before the truth could put on its shoes or whatever. That’s really what happened here. It was like this fervor, this frenzy, that within 24 hours this was the new narrative. And no one even knew how dark this actual operation was, that a neocon architect of the Iraq war actually facilitated and stage-managed this PSYOP of this other anchor to try to undermine what I did and paint the network as actually illegitimate. It was fascinating.
And really, in her interviews, you could tell that there was no real understanding of even what she was doing. She had notes with her that she was basically given by these people. And she couldn’t even explain what the propaganda was that she was told to say, because there really was no story there. But of course it didn’t matter at the end of the day. The damage was done.
Maximillian Alvarez: Wow. I’ve got a lot of thoughts. That’s so intense. I thank you for sharing that, and I’m processing it. And I think that… With the limited time that I have with you, I wanted to spin that into a question that I have been asked a lot here at The Real News, and even from listeners of my show, Working People, which is not a… It doesn’t focus on geopolitics all that much at all. It focuses, again, on workers’ struggles. But people are reaching out and asking about this because, especially for folks who have recognized the compromised position – I’ll put it gently – Of mainstream corporate media and who search for answers among independent media sources. That suspicion of PSYOPs and of wolves amongst the sheep. I feel like everyone is on very high alert. And in fact, it becomes one of the weapons of first resort when people start lashing out at media makers whose opinions they very much disagree with, who’s reporting they feel is lacking in certain points, yada, yada, yada. People get immediately accused of actually being a PSYOP, right? Like, being a plant.
And I guess, going back to the fog of war thing, the really humbling part about it is that there’s actually a lot about that we genuinely can’t know. There are people whose voices I do value, but I don’t know them, I don’t know how much I can trust them at the end of all things. I guess I’m asking for viewers and listeners, learning from that experience that you had, what sort of critical media literacy tools should we have in our toolbox to know when we’re being duped, or at least to better try to discern how to interpret the voices and left and independent media to know who we can trust? Does that question make sense?
Abby Martin: Yeah. It was a really tough time for me to navigate, let’s just say that. Because I was the center of this media storm. We know how these cycles operate where they chew you up and spit you out. And at the end of the day, I was fully exposed for all my faults. And that’s why I just continue to just wear my bias and opinion just on my sleeve. Love it or leave it, I don’t hide who I am and I don’t hide what I’m advocating for. And it’s really difficult to discern the same. We have a sea of corporate media journalists, who I feel like they get into the industry for the right reason, but there’s a lot of self-censorship, there’s a lot of pressure to conform. A lot of this is about access and keeping your job. That really is what it is.
And I think a lot of people who get into the industry in these outlets like The New York Times and such go down the line, they believe in the myths that underpin this country. I mean, they believe in American exceptionalism, they believe in capitalism, and they believe in empire. And so it’s not that they’re lying, it’s just that that’s their belief system, and it kind of fits neatly into the way that the media functions – And, of course, posits itself as a free press.
I think that as media literate, or at least hoping to be media literate people, there is a lot of pressure and work to do. A lot of people have no time to get the Chinese perspective, Russian perspective, Western perspective, and then figure out the truth for themselves. And so I think that you have to just find outlets like The Real News, find journalists that have shown themselves to be true, to be consistent, and follow those journalists’ work and support those journalists’ work. That’s really all we can do, because we can’t expect people to do the job that we do. And that’s why we’re enlisted to do this and to kind of navigate these fields ourselves. As you mentioned, there is a very heavy fog of war going on today.
And going back to my point about Russian media, let’s just pick out one story that turned out to be false, where Russia invaded Snake Island and blew up those 13 soldiers that said go eff yourself, Russia. Well, I found out from Russian media a day after that it was a completely false story that was paraded around, Zelenskyy said that these guys were going to get medals of honor. And the whole media used them as these heroes that stood up to Russia. Well, it turned out to be false. Maybe I would never have known that story was false if I didn’t have the Russian media perspective actually validating or coming out and countering that. And that is important to discern fact from fiction. I want to know all sides. I need to know all sides. And we’re not going to really know what’s going on in the ground because there’s so many conflicting reports until, sadly, the dust is settled and the blood has been shed.
As peace loving people and as people who are pushing for accountability with the role that our government plays, I think that as journalists in the heart of the empire, the belly of the beast, it is our duty to focus on what we can do to advocate for change. Of course we can join in the cores of condemnation against Putin. That’s easy. That takes no effort at all. But what takes a little bit more effort is actually figuring out our role. Our role as citizens, our duty as journalists who live here to put pressure and to hold power to account in our own government who’s not only exacerbating tensions there, sending hundreds of millions of dollars in weaponry. We just sent anti-aircraft missiles there in Ukraine. There’s numerous pundits and politicians calling for a no-fly zone, which would actually mean a full scale nuclear war. I’m not sure if they actually know that that’s what they’re calling for. And the list goes on.
And so we need to deescalate not only tensions between these two countries, but the rhetoric. We need to bring people back to reality. This is the role that NATO’s caused. No, this doesn’t legitimize NATOs presence. This is actually… This should show us the opposite, that all of NATO’s aggression for the last 30 years brought us to the doorstep of war. It doesn’t excuse anything Russia is doing, but why are we making the situation worse? Why are we sanctioning an entire country? Why are we asphyxiating tens of millions of people, collectively punishing populations that have nothing to do with what their criminal actions of their government are doing?
Can you imagine if that’s what the whole world came together to do for Americans in the midst of the war on terror? I mean, it’s really disturbing the bloodlust and everyone is pressuring everyone to drink from the blood goblet. And we need to really be the voice of reason here, because there’s not many outlets left. And the pressure to conform and feed the algorithm to this sensationalist drivel is very strong. Because we have to operate under capitalist models still.
And that is a very difficult thing to do when you’re trying to do responsible journalism. But we have to do it no matter what the response is. And that’s just our duty, Max. And you’re doing a great job. And we’re just going to do the best we can to sift through the disinformation and keep reporting what we feel like is the most [important] thing to put front and center.
Maximillian Alvarez: Well, I’m truly honored and humbled by that. And I thank you very much for saying that, Abby. And for viewers and listeners, it goes without saying but I will say it anyway, that if you’re not watching and supporting The Empire Files you need to correct that in a hurry for all the reasons that Abby just said. Because those war drum beating, bloodthirsty, fang dripping voices are incredibly well-funded. They’re the ones who are getting the most airtime. They’re the ones that can project their message to every corner of the country and beyond.
We don’t. The Real News is viewer-supported. We’re doing our best just like every other independent media outlet is, but we are very much… It is very much a David and Goliath sort of a situation. And what we’re talking about is ultimately the potential annihilation of life on this planet. I don’t say that to be alarmist. I say that because one of the most prominent voices in that sort of corporate media ecosystem, if I may editorialize, this dipshit Sean Hannity is literally going out there and saying, why don’t we just bomb this Russian convoy and not say who did it. Putin will never figure it out. This man is literally saying in the span of one sentence, Sean Hannity goes, we can see, in full detail through satellite images thousands of miles away, this Russian convoy. Then he goes, let’s bomb it and not tell Putin who it is. It’s like, if we can see them in that clear detail, what makes you think they’re not going to see who’s bombing them in clear detail? It boggles the mind. I’m genuinely kind of speechless on that front, especially because when it comes to the US and Russia we are talking about two world powers that have over 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons.
We’re not fucking around. I’m sorry to say. Pardon my language, but we need to all recognize the actual human and non-human stakes here both for the people whose suffering we are seeing on our screens in Ukraine, the people who are fleeing, the people in Russia who are hurting from these sanctions who don’t even want this war, the leftists who are trying to demonstrate against the war in Russia and who are being viciously cracked down upon including folks that we’ve talked to here at The Real News.
There’s a lot of pain in this situation. And the fact that our concern for that pain, and the needlessness of that pain, the avoidability of that pain, that should be front and center. We shouldn’t be… I think back to my academic days, Abby, when I was studying Mexican politics in the 19th and 20th century. And I think back to these postcards that used to be sold around the US showing American citizens on the Rio Grande sitting and watching the Revolutionary War happen, literally making a day out of it, having picnics. I’m not saying that’s what we’re doing, but that’s the image that comes up for me, where we are so distanced from that horror, that reality, that human pain, but it still, in some ways, is a sort of spectacle that we feed off of. And with the time that I have remaining with you, I guess I wanted to ask you about that, because people have rightly pointed out the racist double standard with the way that the Western media has covered the war in Ukraine.
We’ve seen just kind of horrifying examples of anchors and correspondents being like, well, this war matters because they’re white. This war matters because they look like us. That it’s really that simple. This war matters because it’s in Europe, they’re not Brown, they don’t speak a language that’s unrecognizable, they don’t look more like me. And I’m just like, okay, the quiet part has been said very much out loud.
And when people are pushing back against that it even kind of rebounds to us here at The Real News. Like when we cover the war in Ukraine, people say, well, why aren’t you covering the wars elsewhere? It’s like, well, we’ve been doing that. We’ve tried to do that. We can’t cover everything, but we have a lot of great coverage including some that you have done on the horror unleashed upon Palestinians, on the horror that has been unleashed for decades, if not centuries, on the people of Afghanistan, the people in Yemen, the people in Syria, the people in Central and South America, the people all around the world who are under the boot of oppressive forces that we all need to try to stop.
I wanted to ask you in this kind of… Let’s get some moral clarity here and let’s think about how you yourself, as a media maker, as a journalist, as a peace activist. I want to give people the chance to sort of take the solidarity that they’re feeling with the suffering people of Ukraine right now and expand that across the globe to feel that solidarity with their fellow human beings around the world. Because then maybe we will recognize that this horror, this injustice is as unbearable as it is in Ukraine as it is everywhere else in the world. How have you done that? How have you tried to do that? Or, what are the obstacles in doing that as a media maker, as a documentarian, as an activist? Help me figure out how to get people to care as much for their fellow human beings around the world as we care about Ukraine, and to use that to fight to keep this world from falling apart.
Abby Martin: I feel your pain. I’m thinking that day in and day out. How can we get people to widen this consciousness and apply it everywhere and have moral consistency? And I don’t think it’s their fault. It’s that we’re led by what we’re told. And we don’t know any better. And the outrage, this collective outrage that’s felt, that’s palpable in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, where does that come from? That comes from the media chorus and the politicians and all the corporations acting with one voice to condemn Russia.
And that’s okay. We need to utilize that outrage, right? We need to utilize the fact that there is anger, but use that as an instructive moment. How can we actually understand that war did not start today? That war is actually a permanent state. It’s been perpetuated by the US for decades and decades. The war on terror has been never ending. In the same week, of course, as Real News has pointed out, and many others, in the same week that Russia invaded Ukraine there was a US bombing campaign in Somalia, Israel bombed Syria, and the Saudi Arabia Coalition that’s helped and facilitated by the US bombed Yemen. There’s a genocide going on in Yemen right now.
And we are internationalists. We are leftists. It is natural to be repelled by the site of soldiers invading a sovereign nation. It’s very natural and understandable to be angry and outraged at war crimes being taken place, bombs being dropped on civilians. War is hell. And people die needlessly and suffer needlessly. And that applies everywhere in the world.
And you know what we can do about it? I can’t do anything about Russia invading Ukraine right now. I’m an American citizen. I’m sitting here in Los Angeles. What I can do is try to pressure my government to stop unleashing the horror that it does on a daily basis that subjugates hundreds of millions of people around the world under the boot of US militarism. The barbarism that’s unleashed on the people of Yemen. Yes, it matters. Not just because… I know that they’re Brown and they’re poor, but yes, life matters everywhere. Human life is sacred, it doesn’t matter what skin color you have, it doesn’t matter where you live.
It’s very emotional for me because I care about all human life. And seeing what my government has done, the murder, the wars, the barbarism that’s unleashed on the rest of the world in my name, it angers me so much. And I know that people don’t know. And how dare the media, how dare the media just pick and choose what it wants people to see and care about when I know that people would care if they knew what their government was doing in their name?
And that’s where we come in. All we can do as people who live in the West is expose what our government is doing and help put that pressure to end this madness. The hypocrisy is so astounding to me that I see the BBC publishing an actual instructive manual on where to throw Molotov cocktails to kill Russian soldiers in tanks. Can you imagine if they did that with Palestinian freedom fighters against the Israeli occupation? Can you even imagine if there was a Molotov cocktail training course being aired live on Sky News, pro-Palestinian, trying to show people how to make Molotov cocktails.
I mean, it is just so fascinating the way that this unfolds when it’s a Western enemy. And that’s not okay for me. I think that we need to extend our solidarity to life. And we need to understand in that all life matters, all around the world, and it’s our duty and responsibility to try to stop the suffering and murder and end of life that’s perpetrated by our governments in the West. No matter what the media tells us to do or say, that’s our job and that’s our role. And that’s really all we can do.
Maximillian Alvarez: So that is the one and only Abby Martin, American journalist, show presenter, activists, artist. Can’t say enough about how powerful and necessary her voice is. But if you aren’t already you should be checking out The Empire Files, an invaluable investigative documentary and interview that Abby hosts. Please check out her feature documentary Gaza Fights For Freedom, and be on the lookout for the feature she is currently working on entitled Earth’s Greatest Enemy. Abby, thank you so much for your time, and for your insight, and for your passion.
Abby Martin: Thank you so much, Maximillian. And really appreciate everything you do. And thanks for having me on. Keep fighting.
Maximillian Alvarez: Keep fighting. And to all of you, please keep fighting as well. This is Maximillian Alvarez for The Real News Network. Before you go, please head on over to therealnews.com/support. Become a monthly sustainer of our work so we can keep bringing you important coverage and conversations just like this. Stay safe. And thank you so much for watching.