The RT Journalists Who Spoke Out Against Russia Aren't as Courageous as You Think


Why is everyone making a fuss over Liz Wahl and Abby Martin standing up to RT? They should have made these decisions years ago. Wahl, Washington correspondent for RT, quit live on air on Tuesday night. And Abby Martin, another correspondent based in the U.S., claimed her "editorial independence" by expressing on-air outrage at Putin's trip into Crimea. Both women have received much acclaim for their actions.

The women have chosen to stake their careers on their morality. So let's assess their decisions on their terms, on moral grounds. Ukraine, so far, is an illegal but bloodless incursion. Putin has been smart, far smarter than the West was in invading Iraq or Afghanistan, which ended with hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths.

By contrast, the Russian military still won't admit their presence in Crimea. They insist that the troops are indigenous self defence forces. Putin has now managed to pull forward a referendum on independence with the aid of a Russian-dominated Crimean duma. He has sent down his friends in the biker gangs, including Russia's largest motorcycle club the Night Wolves. Their presence is being used to whip up stage managed pro-Russia protests in Crimea, Donetsk and Kharkiv. Putin also knows these gangs provide a deliberate and tempting target for the far-right groups patrolling Kiev's streets, who may soon lash out at the increasing bravado of Russian separatists in the east. Any violence would give Putin the perfect justification for his incursion. In international law, sure, it is an outrage. But Putin has taken careful steps to ensure that this doesn't turn violent, and if it does it will be neo-Nazis doing the fighting. Nobody likes neo-Nazis.

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So while repugnant politically, morally I find it hard to understand why Liz Wahl and Abby Martin would choose this particular move of Putin's to suddenly express their moral outrage. Why not his backing of Assad's regime? Assad runs medieval torture dungeons, propped up by Putin's roubles. The photos of emaciated, dead prisoners smuggled out by Qatari intelligence evoke the horrors of Auschwitz or Belsen. The families of the disappeared are stuck in limbo. Syrian human rights monitors put the number anywhere between 10,000 and 100,000 victims. Putin is backing this regime, giving his implicit support for torture. And not just torture: indiscriminate aerial bombardment of civilians. Barrels packed full of explosives rolled out the back of helicopters onto unarmed and terrified Syrian families. Why didn't any of this make Wahl or Martin speak out?

Wahl, in an exclusive interview with the Daily Beast, which will no doubt give a boost to her career, claims the decision was "a long time coming." In fact, she reached out to American colleagues only in August, apparently over discomfort at Putin's gay laws. This was in the months before the Sochi Games, when global opposition to violent homophobia in Russia and awareness of the issue was at its highest. Videos surfaced of gangs tricking young men into meeting with them then beating them savagely, pouring urine on them, making them dance or bark like dogs. They acted with impunity because of Putin. Numerous pressure groups piled pressure on Washington, where Wahl lives, to act.

Yet as an RT reporter, Wahl should have know that Putin's gay laws have a longer history than the Sochi games. They go back to 2010, to protests and beatings on the streets of St. Petersburg. Western outlets barely covered these. The attacks on defenceless young gay men, perpetrated with impunity by thugs acting with impunity, have been a long-running sore in Russian society. Only when the glare of western attention on Putin's blatantly homophobic regime was brought to bear, three years later thanks to the Olympics, did Wahl act.

Perhaps most shocking is that reporters at RT signed up for work, knowing how Putin treats other reporters. The country has become a very dangerous place to report the news, or to conduct investigative journalism, unless you are with a state broadcaster like RT. Putin's savagery against the media includes, in significant proportion, the use of deadly force. Putin hates journalists so much, he kills them. This has not made Martin or Wahl speak out. Why?

Although lawsuits and prosecutions are common (already this year, two journalists have been imprisoned), violence continues to be the main problem. Physical attacks on journalists are frequent, but usually go unpunished. Two journalists were murdered in connection with their work in 2013, one in 2012, one in 2011, five in 2009. Putin's bloody hands are all over their murders.

Anna Politkovskaya was a brilliant journalist. She made it her life's work to tell the Russian people that Putin was bad and needed stopping. RT, in contrast, was always at pains to obscure his evils.

While investigating secret torture camps in Chechnya, Politkovskaya was caught by the Russian army who subjected her to a mock rape and beat her. She received countless death threats. Her friend, the former presidential candidate Irina Hakamada had warned her about assassinations threats coming directly from Putin's office. The oligarch Boris Berezovsky, in an interview with a Russian radio station, revealed that Putin had said of Hakamada and her colleagues (i.e. her close friend Politkovskaya) that they "will take in the head immediately, literally, not figuratively" if they "open the mouth" about the Russian apartment bombings, which Politkovskaya was starting to uncover had been planned by the state.

On Oct. 7, 2006, Politkovskaya, one of Russia's finest journalists, was found dead in the elevator of her apartment block in Moscow. She had been shot four times at close-range, once in the head. Oct. 7 is a significant date. It is Putin's birthday. Many believe her assassination was a sick gift from the FSB to their hero in the Kremlin.

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Putin has been a very bad man for a very long time. Western journalists at RT, who are only realizing this now, have been wilfully ignorant over many years. We shouldn't be praising these journalists for quitting their jobs RT. We should be asking, "Why were you working for the Russian state in the first place?"