The New York Times joined the chorus denouncing Sputnik on Thursday with a story titled, “Playing on Kansas City Radio: Russian Propaganda,” by Neil MacFarquhar, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has served as the Times’ Moscow correspondent for many years.
MacFarquhar interviewed Mindia Gavasheli, Sputnik’s Washington, DC, bureau chief, but Gavasheli told Radio Sputnik’s Loud and Clear Thursday their conversation was selectively edited to omit instances of MacFarquhar agreeing that Russian attitudes toward media censorship are not the “cartoonish” caricatures the published version of his story imagined them to be.
MacFarquhar is careful to hammer home the notion that Radio Sputnik is “agitprop,” or “agitational propaganda.” The term was invented by the Bolsheviks to describe a special section of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union dedicated to disseminating communist ideals. Thus, it seems a bit anachronistic to revive the term to describe anything state-related in the post-Soviet Russian Federation, which is decidedly non-communist. However, pretending the Cold War never ended, and recycling the old Russophobic tropes from the mid-20th century, has proven a favorite weapon for Russiagate proponents.
The Times journalist writes that “in a modern spin on propaganda, it focuses on sowing doubt about Western governments and institutions rather than the old Soviet model of selling Russia as paradise lost,” quoting By Any Means Necessary host Sean Blackmon observing during a broadcast that US politics aim “to make sure that the masses of poor and working people don’t have access to even the most essential things” as proof of this enterprise.
“It’s sad, but not astonishing, that an American entrepreneur would put business above patriotism,” an editorial by the Kansas City Star quoted by MacFarquhar says about the owner of the KCXL that agreed to broadcast Radio Sputnik. “Listener, beware.”
Hosts Brian Becker and John Kiriakou played a brief clip from the recording of MacFarquhar’s interview of Gavasheli:
MacFarquhar: “The Kansas City paper wrote a editorial claiming it was unpatriotic, so how do you feel about that?”
Gavasheli: “I think they are unpatriotic when they try to limit opinions on the air. That’s really unpatriotic.”
MacFarquhar: “Why is that unpatriotic, to try and limit things on the air?”
Gavasheli: “Why is that unpatriotic? Because, I think, America is the country of the First Amendment. There’s no other country in the world where speech is protected to this extent. You know, in Europe, the attitude is very different. Since you listen to us, you know that all our hosts - they are Americans, and not only they are Americans, they are Americans who sometimes would risk everything they have defending the principles that they believe in.”
MacFarquhar: “Is it difficult, though, working for a Russian government organization, to defend free speech, since there isn’t free speech in Russia - unlimited free speech, anyway?”
Gavasheli: “Listen, you’ve been a Moscow correspondent for many years, and I think, of all people, you know that this cartoonish image of Russia as a country where you can get only official positions from the media is absolutely not true. I don’t believe that you’re going to tell me that being in Russia, you cannot get any opposition views on the media.”
MacFarquhar: “No, of course I’m not going to say that. But, you know, it gets limited over here, and last year they started prosecuting people making insults of senior political leaders on social media, and-”
Gavasheli: “Yeah yeah, that’s what I’m saying that in Europe - not just in Russia - in Europe, the attitude towards media is very different. I agree with you on that. I still believe that in Russia you can say more things than in, say, France or Germany.”
MacFarquhar: “The other thing that the newspaper said, other people said, is that it’s not so much that it’s - yes, you have Americans that work on the Russian side, but just that the whole point of Sputnik is to try and undermine or criticize Western institutions, the government, or whatever. So yes, you have Americans on there, but they’re mostly finding fault - both right and left - with the way things work.”
Gavasheli: “So you are saying that if Americans are dissatisfied with something that’s going on in the country, they just need to suck it up and shut up, right? Instead of using whatever medium they have to express their views. Because they know perfectly well that they’re not going to be allowed to say that on CNN or Fox or MSNBC.”
Gavasheli told Loud and Clear Thursday that “Neil never pushed back on that, and I think that’s just because he knew that I was right.”
However, when MacFarquhar penned his piece for the Times, the concessions he made to Gavasheli’s points evaporated, and the original talking points about “agitation propaganda” and the absence of free speech in Russia returned.
Gavasheli blasted the revision of their conversation as “selective editing. This is what happens, unfortunately most of the time, when you speak with people and they can’t really argue with you - unless you go live with them on the air, and it’s perfectly visible for everyone. They can see what’s going on there, but in this case, it’s convenient to selectively edit your words.”
“Not that he misinterpreted me - no, absolutely not. But he used just this one bit - which is reflective of my opinions, I do not object to that - but then he adds more and more and more to that, making it look as [if] that point was wrong.”
“I have news for all these people. Every time there’s a hit piece that attacks us - like last time it was NPR publishing a hit piece against us about us starting broadcasting in Kansas City - I have to thank them,” Gavasheli said. “Because, after all of that, we’ve gotten offers to broadcast in other places. It’s not us reaching out to other people in cities across the US; it’s people who read those hit pieces, and they already learned to read between the lines, and they understand what’s really going on, and they reach out to us, offering, ‘Hey guys, do you want to broadcast in our city as well? Because we are open to it, we need something like that.’”
“What’s the definition of propaganda? Let’s take it. It’s often-untrue or biased information that is being used to promote certain views. But within this article there’s no single case of untrue or biased information being put up on the air,” the editor noted.
“They criticize Lee Stranahan for saying ‘from the capital of the Divided States of America, this is Fault Lines,’ but the whole point of the show, of Fault Lines originally, if you remember, was to make two people with very different political views - Garland Nixon, who is a lifelong Democrat, and Lee Stranahan, who worked for Breitbart and was a Trump supporter - to make them argue about things. And the surprising part of this show, the way it evolved, was that these two personalities found more and more and more in common. And these days, they oftentimes agree with each other, rather than argue about things,” Gavasheli observed.
He noted that, while many British citizens have called for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) - which also often plays its content on NPR in the morning in Kansas City - to be defunded, “I haven’t heard Russians saying anything like that about Sputnik. So you judge for yourself who is the real propaganda.”
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.