Putin handling all comers in his direct line interview. Kremlin photo

In Russia, Fake News Is the Norm

Podcast — America’s media landscape just got a lot more Russian

by MATTHEW GAULT

In the run up to America’s 2016 presidential election, fake-news mills churned out stories about both candidates. On Dec. 4, 2016, a man walked into a Washington pizza place and fired an assault rifle.

He was there to investigate a conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton and her campaign staff running a child-sex trafficking ring through the restaurant. It’s a rumor that fake news purveyors spread across social media.

There have always been dubious news sources and conspiracy theories online, but they took on a more sinister cast in 2016. President-elect Donald Trump delegitimized the press routinely in comments and statements from the campaign trail, so people turned to other sources for news and information.

It’s a media landscape eerily like the one Russians have lived with for years.

The media in Russia is lively, often entertaining and largely state-controlled. Still, an illusion of freedom remains key for the Kremlin to maintain its grasp over a country that spans 11 time zones.

Last year, War College spoke with author and former Russian television producer Peter Pomerantsev about the phenomenon he watched grow in his country. With fake news dominating the headlines in America in the wake of the Trump election, we couldn’t get that conversation out of our minds.

For many in the West, watching Russian T.V. is like staring into a broken mirror. At first glance, networks such as RT seem like any other channel, but viewers who watch long enough are treated to a bevy of bizarre pundits and conspiratorial spin.

That’s by design — and it seems as if that Eastern style has come West. Pomerantsev’s book Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible explored Putin’s postmodern dictatorship and how the Kremlin uses television to control the country.

On this episode of War College, take another listen to our conversation with Pomerantsev, which is becoming even more relevant.

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