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Russia’s RT: The Network Implicated in U.S. Election Meddling

Though the network is owned and operated by the Russian government, its executives say their journalists are independent. But two anchors who quit during live broadcasts say the network is a propaganda outlet.

In the United States, RT America is broadcast by cable companies in some cities, is carried by Dish, the satellite television provider, and can be found free online. Larry King, the former CNN host, and Ed Schultz, a former MSNBC host, both have programs on the network.

Did RT influence the American election?

The role of RT in the Kremlin’s effort to influence the election is covered in more detail than any other part of Russia’s campaign in the report, released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Friday.

According to the report, the network aggressively uses the internet and social media to conduct “strategic messaging for the Russian government.” RT videos receive more than one million views a day on YouTube, according to the report, and the network’s programming was “aimed at undermining viewers’ trust of US democratic procedures.”

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Intelligence Report on Russian Hacking

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released on Friday a report that detailed what it called a Russian campaign to influence the election. The report is the unclassified summary of a highly sensitive assessment from American intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

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The report’s assessment of RT is an awkward development for Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s nominee for national security adviser. General Flynn has appeared repeatedly on RT’s news programs, and in December 2015 the network paid him to give a speech in Russia and attend a lavish anniversary party, where he sat next to Mr. Putin. General Flynn has since defended that speech, insisting that RT is no different from CNN or MSNBC.

Mr. Trump also appeared on Mr. King’s program, “Politicking,” during the campaign.

On Friday, Margarita Simonyan, the editor in chief of RT, posted a message to Twitter that mocked the American report.

“Aaa, the C.I.A. report is out!” she wrote. “Laughter of the year! Intro to my show from 6 years ago is the main evidence of Russia’s influence at US elections. This is not a joke!”

Has RT been accused of disinformation before?

Analysts say Russia lacks the economic and military power to combat NATO, the European Union or the United States directly. The country has instead invested in “weaponized” information, using hacking, propaganda and other means to sow doubt and division in other countries. The goal is to weaken cohesion among Western allies, stir discord in their domestic politics and blunt opposition to Russia.

Last year, Swedish authorities said they traced to Russia a disinformation campaign when Sweden was considering cooperating militarily with NATO.

Russian intelligence agents used a variety of means to spread misinformation. “We mean everything from internet trolls to propaganda and misinformation spread by media companies like RT and Sputnik,” Wilhelm Unge, a spokesman for the Swedish Security Service, said during a speech to that agency last year.

In 2014, Russian news media produced multiple theories about the destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine, blaming the C.I.A. and Ukrainian fighter pilots who had mistaken the airliner for the Russian presidential aircraft. Separate Dutch and Ukranian inquiries concluded that Russian-backed insurgents had accidentally shot down the plane with a missile they got from Russia.

That same year, two RT America anchors quit during live broadcasts to protest the network’s coverage of Russia’s invasion and occupation of Crimea. “Personally, I cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government which whitewashes the actions of Putin,” said Liz Wahl, one of the anchors. The other was Abby Martin, who said before quitting, “What Russia did was wrong.”

It is not clear how many people RT and Sputnik reach. The numbers released by the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board in Britain for the week of the “Brexit” vote in late June, a week of particularly heavy TV watching nationwide, for example, showed it had 926,000 viewers, or 1.57 percent of the audience.

Source: NYT > World

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