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RT: Go Fuck Yourself

Get Putin’s propaganda network off of our platforms.
March 1, 2022
RT: Go Fuck Yourself
(Composite by Hannah Yoest / Photos: GettyImages / Shutterstock)

Now, I don’t want to get off on a rant here, but the events of the past week should make plain to the American corporations and useful idiot chuckleheads who have been propping up RT America and other Russian state television that it’s time to cut the cord once and for all.

This has been obvious to anyone with a modicum of situational awareness for a long while now, of course, though too many Americans seem to have not gotten the memo.

One might have expected that a failed NFL color commentator who fancies himself an “intelligent” comedian would be high-IQ enough to have recognized the pitfalls associated with hosting bimbomercials on a cable network that is a state-run mouthpiece for a vicious tyrant. And yet for Dennis “Mensa” Miller, staring back at his own visage on the small screen proved too alluring. While Miller proved to be a disappointment, pre-Ukraine invasion we shoudn’t have been surprised that a boozy actor in twilight or a roided-out sidekick to Gorilla Monsoon would take work as Putin’s court jester, given their limitations. Work is work.

But the problem with having official Russian agitprop on the air in America isn’t simply the personalities who are whoring themselves out. It’s the corporations who give the network space in our living rooms.

Scores of American content providers have been complicit in promulgating Putin’s propaganda. This has continued despite the U.S. government detailing exactly what it is that the Russians are doing and the late John McCain successfully pressing Congress to pass legislation that relieved cable operators of any obligation to lease space for programming owned, controlled, or financed by the Russian government.

Despite the government providing a flashing red siren about the danger and giving an off-ramp to any organization that wanted to act responsibly, those who have continued to participate in the Russian scheme have faced no real consequences.

That free pass should expire today. The first steps in this direction have taken in the last 24 hours with YouTube, Meta, and TikTok instituting Russian state media bans across Europe. It must not stop there.

We need a societal death penalty for anyone who chooses to profit off Russian state television in all its forms.

Of course, that’s just one man’s opinion.

In the declassified portion of the U.S. intelligence agencies’ report on Russia’s pro-Trump influence operation during the 2016 campaign, it was revealed that Moscow pumped nearly $200 million per year into distributing RT programming in the West. The way it normally works in cable/satellite TV is that the provider pays the channel—ESPN or TNT or whatnot—for the right to carry the network. Russia inverted the system, paying blood rubles to any carrier willing to put its channel in the lineup.

The network secured deals with the major satellite providers DirecTV [Update: DirecTV dropped RT after this story was published] and Dish. And while the McCain legislative language has caused the network to founder among traditional cable providers, RT does tout that American viewers can find them on the Buckeye cable system in Toledo and on Spring City Cable outside Chattanooga. (This could be important information for comrades Carlson and D’Souza, should they decide to decamp to Real ’Murica in order to further foment the Russophile resistance.)

I reached out to the networks in both Toledo and Spring City to see if they might want to dump the Ruskies. So far, no reply from either.

Yet while RT has had trouble getting carried by cable providers, they’ve done a good job of penetrating what are known as “over the top” streaming services.

Sling, the streaming arm of Dish Network, carries RT and even has a special “news” package that provides True Patriots™ access to both RT and Newsmax for the low price of $6 per month. Meanwhile Roku offers RT America just up the dial from Steve Bannon’s War Room. It’s these sort of streaming deals that contribute to RT popping up all kinds of places you might not expect.

Back in 2017, I noticed that it was 1 of only 40 channels carried in my room at the lovely Washington, D.C. Westin. A Google image search revealed the story was the same at the Hartford Sheraton and the South Beach Group hotel chain in Miami. RT was on the screen at a Minneapolis airport bar over the weekend. Garry Kasparov tweeted about seeing it in a cab.

These types of services provide RT much greater reach than their spot in the quadruple digits on the satellite dial. Hotels, cabs, and transportation centers airing deranged spin about Putin’s prowess to captive audiences is providing a totally unnecessary and borderline traitorous assist to the Russian dictator.

Meanwhile, online the picture is even uglier. This morning, YouTube began blocking channels “connected to Russian state-backed media outlets RT and Sputnik” just days after they took the half-decade-overdue step of pausing the monetization of RT on their platform, but that came after the network had built a subscriber base of 4.6 million people, more than double that of the Washington Post, and more even than this publication’s humble channel. (Subscribe today!)

RT’s Twitter account has nearly 3 million followers for their victim-blaming spin. On TikTok they are successfully proselytizing in Spanish to 700k+ tokkers’ FYPs sandwiched between the thirst traps and dance routines.

That’s just what we are seeing in the West.

While the pernicious effect on the homeland may not be the same, American companies pumping Russian agitprop into Moscow shouldn’t be let off the hook either. Netflix, for example, has picked a wonderful week to start sniffing glue. On March 1, as part of their entry into the Russian market, they were going to be forced to broadcast state television like Channel One and NTV. What timing!

After a bit of dithering they announced that they were refusing to comply, for now, to their credit. But this should serve as a warning for the other streamers, like Amazon and HBO, that were planning to enter the market.

Western leaders in the public and private sectors will have many choices in front of them in the coming weeks that carry more weight than the fate of the RT profiteers. We should have no illusions that cutting the cord on a half-baked propaganda network with washed-up D-list stars and weird North Korea apologia will halt Russia’s attempted advance.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. We’ve seen other unimaginably stupid attempts at democracy destabilization succeed in the not so recent past, if you don’t recall. And we can’t forget that millions of Americans think these 8chan yokels infiltrated the American security state and are constantly on the cusp of both taking down a global pedophile ring and resurrecting a handsome Kennedy scion from the dead.

So, ya know, better safe than sorry.

But even if you aren’t convinced that RT poses a threat, there’s the principle.

This great country of ours is built on free expression. The independent, creative minds we have nurtured are what led to our dominance in the media and technological space.

So while a bunch of revanchist, needle-dicked, tyrant apologists have the First Amendment right to be heard, the rest of us should feel no obligation to allow them to ride in the wake of our success and contaminate the water table.

It seems to me that if internet hordes want to target a company for their sins, the ones who have chosen to air Putin’s “Fair And Balanced” Ukraine invasion coverage seem to be committing a higher crime and misdemeanor than Spotify platforming Joe Rogan’s Rocks for Jocks.

Listen here: Tim, Sarah and Sonny on State of the Union, Russian Media, and Texas

When RT comes calling American platforms looking to buy a spot on the dial, those on the receiving end should be unanimously replying in the immortal words of the border guards on Snake Island: Go fuck yourself.

As for those who don’t have the gumption for that, who are still helping Putin spread his poison: DirecTV [Update: DirecTV dropped RT from its lineup after publication], Dish, Sling, Roku, the Hartford Sheraton, the South Beach Hotel chain, YouTube, Dennis Miller, Rick Sanchez, Jesse Ventura, William Shatner, the guy controlling the remote at the Minneapolis Airport Bar, and the rest . . . they should be shunned, denounced, and be forced to experience the consequences of their choices.

Or as my Oakland neighbor put it:

Updates: After this story was published, Axios reported that DirecTV announced they were dropping RT America, and The Daily Beast reported Dennis Miller pulled his show from the network.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.