Twitter has announced it will ban advertising from the Russian-backed media outlets RT and Sputnik. We speak to journalist and best-selling author Max Blumenthal
AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. In the latest outgrowth of Russia-gate, Twitter has announced it will ban all ads from the Russian-backed media outlets RT and Sputnik. Twitter cited its own research and the US intelligence community’s conclusion that both RT and Sputnik attempted to interfere with the election on behalf of the Russian government. This comes as these outlets face US government pressure to register as foreign agents. Joining me is Max Blumenthal, senior editor of AlterNet’s GrayZone Project, and a best-selling author. Max, welcome. I was surprised by this announcement, but I guess given how Russia-gate has been going, I shouldn’t have been. Your thoughts on what we’ve seen today? M. BLUMENTHAL: Well, Sputnik, the radio and wire service and online news outlet which is substantially backed by the Russian government has never taken out any advertisements on Twitter and RT in 2016 was approached by Twitter with a very lucrative, expensive ad package that was specifically prepared for them during the 2016 election. So, Twitter basically prepared a portfolio for RT asking it to essentially weigh in on Twitter on the 2016 elections and RT actually refused because it was too expensive. So, Margarita Simonyan, who oversees all of RT’s operations around the world has tweeted out a photo of that folder that was, that proposal that was presented to them by Twitter. And my point in kind of raising this is that it’s very clear that Twitter is surrendering to political pressure here and it has nothing to do with election interference. Twitter has cited the DNI report on RT and Sputnik supposedly meddling in American elections as justification for a decision they’re making in order to continue to get more government grants, cooperate with the government, and look like they’re thumbing their nose at big, bad Putin, and they’re patriotic, so they can maintain their influence in Washington. And it’s obviously just a cowardly surrender to a McCarthyite atmosphere very much like the Hollywood studio heads in the 1950s. And I don’t think it will affect RT or Sputnik except that it does reinforce the Russian narrative, which I think is fairly accurate, that the US plans to promote freedom abroad while its own liberal democracy is completely collapsing from within. AARON MATÉ: Yeah, in terms of political pressure, one of the first people I saw to come out to support this decision was Senator Mark Warner of the intelligence community. Intelligence Committee. Now, he also has a connection to the Facebook story because it was him who flew out to Facebook’s headquarters in California a few months ago to pressure them after their initial review of Russian-linked accounts basically turned up nothing. And it was only after that that Facebook came out with this announcement that yes, they’ve now identified these Russian-linked accounts. So now we have Twitter following suit. I’m wondering though if something like this backfires. If people are smart enough to see that a major media company, a major social media company is caving to government pressure to censor something as benign as advertisements. I’m wondering if you think that this actually might backfire for them? M. BLUMENTHAL: I have no idea. I mean, it’s definitely forced more attention onto the sort of aftermath of Russia-gate. I mean we’re seeing the real core narrative of Russia-gate collapse, which is Trump-Russia collusion. There’s very little that’s there anymore. We saw the Steele dossier exposed as kind of a DNC, democratic psy op, or research operation, and it’s even more scandalous to me that James Comey actually continued paying for that opposition research firm to investigate the President, who was sort of supposed to be his boss, after the election. This has just not really been a good week for people who really wanted to push Russia-gate and target it at Trump. And so it’s gone beyond Trump. It’s about anything Russian, and the two soft targets are RT and Sputnik. So you’re essentially targeting media, and arguing for the limitations on press freedom and the First Amendment to suppress their reach inside the United States. And there are many initiatives in Congress to do that. Senator Jeanne Shaheen has been pushing an initiative to expand the foreign agent registration act to encompass RT, which will have wide-reaching implications for other foreign media operating inside the United States. So, this is really an attack on some of the foundations of a constitutional republic, and it doesn’t seem that way to most people, and it certainly doesn’t seem that way to most liberals, but now they’re forced to grapple with the real direction of Russia-gate. I’ve always said that it would blow back on liberals, and especially anyone on the left who thought that this was going to stop at Trump. And now we see these two networks, which have really provided a platform and resources for many people on the left who were frozen out of mainstream American media, and even progressive media, and I think it’s such an annoying cliched phrase, the silence is deafening, but if you look at the ACLU, if you look at the free speech organizations, and where they are, they’ve spoken up for, for example, Al Razee when they come under attack from Saudi Arabia. They spoke up for neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and their right to march. Where are they on this? There’s just total silence, and I think there is a little bit of discomfort, but for the most part, I’m essentially seeing consent from many of the people we would have expected to get in the way here. AARON MATÉ: Right. One of the strange facets of this very strange Trump era, at least in my own personal media consumption habits, I have sometimes turned to Sputnik and RT to get news because they provided platforms to leftists that as you say have otherwise been shut out of even progressive media. For example, going against the dominant narrative on Syria. It’s been places like RT and Sputnik that have still given space to that amongst other issues. There’s a show, great show, on Sputnik Radio called By Any Means Necessary, which gives a voice to progressive African Americans who are not seen, very often seen, elsewhere. So the ironies here are pretty astounding. M. BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, I mean, and I think that’s why they’re being targeted. If you listen to Sputnik, and you listen to the show you mentioned, it’s Eugene Puryear’s show. It’s not just about progressive African Americans. It’s about everything, and Eugene is one of the sharpest geopolitical analysts, but he is a radical voice in a very conservative media culture. The same with Brian Becker. Loud and Clear is a great show. If you’re in DC it’s on 105.5 FM, and if you just turned it on you would think you’re listening to Pacifica back in Pacifica’s golden years. Those two shows are just very classic Pacifica shows, and they have other shows very much like them. Most of their programming is left wing, caters to people like us. You turn on RT America in the day, and you’re going to see news that you really won’t see on the scandal-mongering cable news networks. They’re actually covering real issues and international affairs, and they’re much more sympathetic to Black Lives Matter, and people who are opposing police brutality than the networks that just simply freeze it out until there’s a riot. And I’ve been one of those people who has been frozen out of mainstream media, and increasingly, progressive media, so are RT and Sputnik Radio give me a voice, but so does The Real News. The Real News doesn’t have that reputation as being Russian backed, but it’s really, the Russian backing to me at this point is an excuse to suppress the voice of these radical voices, and to freeze out a network that is giving resources and a platform to people who just would not ordinarily be heard from in American media at this point. And you and I remember the good old days when Democracy Now filled that role, but it’s just not the case anymore. So it’s so much more of a dire situation for me, and it’s so clearly politically motivated, and not about election meddling. AARON MATÉ: RT and Sputnik, especially being marginal outlets are also such an easy scapegoat for liberals who are having such a hard time now with this Russia-gate narrative as you said, as it comes back to bite them. Just today there was a report on CNN that John Podesta and Debbie Wasserman Schultz may have lied to congress when they told them that they didn’t know who was funding that Steele Dossier, when in fact it turns out just this week as you mentioned, that it was a lawyer for the Clinton campaign and the DNC all along. M. BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, I mean the whole net and John Podesta, sorry, John Podesta’s brother, Tony Podesta, may be subpoenaed and be forced to testify by Robert Mueller over his consulting for the Russian-oriented government of Ukraine, which was toppled in a violent coup. It was a democratically elected government, and that’s kind of the blowback that the democrats deserve along with Fox News going 24/7 with this Hillary and uranium story. And they’re protesting that it’s not fair, but this is the kind of atmosphere that the democrats have created, that liberals have created, and that everyone else has essentially consented to. Republicans can be just as anti-Russian as democrats can, and in fact more, so if you thought this was going to stop with Trump, you were completely wrong, and we’re seeing the blowback begin pretty much today. RT and Sputnik are just kind of sacrificial lambs. They’ll continue to broadcast. They’ll continue to have a voice, and we’ll all be less free as a result. I don’t know why it’s so hard to make this point, but when I do so, I get called a Putin puppet, and just the mere fact that I go on RT sometimes kind of has made me anathema, so I just feel like it’s a very closed atmosphere that we have created in the Trump era, and it’s important to fight for any opening we have, and I think The Real News has helped provide a rare glimpse of light in that but I wonder where all of these other networks are? I think it will be really interesting to watch over these next few days if there’s any protest from progressive media about what’s happened here specifically with RT and Sputnik. AARON MATÉ: I very much share those concerns, and I also look forward to seeing what unfolds, and we’ll definitely have to have you back on, Max, to talk about it. Max Blumenthal, senior editor of AlterNet’s GrayZone Project, also a best-selling author of may great books. Max, thank you. M. BLUMENTHAL: Thanks, Aaron. AARON MATE: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.