Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Mark Ames interviewed about the US and immediate post-Soviet Russia

TeleSUR is a left-leaning South American network that takes an explicitly anti-imperialist perspective on the news. With so much concern since the election about "fake news" and more specifically Russian propaganda, I wanted to create a post to reference what TeleSUR actually is. Because I consider it a legitimate source of news and commentary which news consumers should judge critically like other media outlets.

Here is the English-language description currently on Wikipedia (internal links omitted):

La Nueva Televisora del Sur (teleSUR, English: The New Television Station of the South) is multi-state funded, pan–Latin American terrestrial and satellite television network sponsored by the governments of Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, and Bolivia that is headquartered in Caracas, Venezuela (Argentina announced in 2016 that it would discontinue its sponsorship). TeleSUR was launched with the objective of providing information to promote the integration of Latin America.
In other words, it's a public TV type news service financed by left-leaning democratic governments - and, yes, Venezuela counts as one of those despite the democratic deficits real and imagined that we hear about in US news all the time.

In a report about its founding, Indira A. R. Lakshmanan reported for the Boston Globe in Channeling his energies: Venezuelans riveted by president's TV show 07/27/2005:

A media savvy, forward-thinking propagandist, Chavez, who turns 51 tomorrow, has the oil wealth to influence public opinion well beyond his country's borders. His government has given the network use of broadcast facilities and an estimated 70 percent of financing for a regional, 24-hour satellite news channel, Telesur, which began broadcasting Sunday. Supported by the leftist governments of Cuba, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil, Telesur is being promoted as a Latin socialist answer to CNN. Telesur's critics have dubbed the channel TeleChavez, predicting it will be a mouthpiece for the president's vision of a regional revolution, all the more worrying to some at a time when Chavez is accused of curbing media freedoms at home with a law that imposes fines or jail time for dissemination of information ''contrary to national security."

Telesur executives insist the network will be independent and international, a counterbalance to North American media domination.
Abby Martin hosts a show on TeleSUR called The Empire Files. Martin previously worked for RT, now regularly and accurately described as a Russian propaganda vehicle. Laura Bennet in The Most Interesting Part of Abby Martin’s Outburst on Russia Today: Its Aftermath reports on a defining moment in Martin's career as a journalist when she sharply criticized Russia actions toward Ukraine in an RT broadcast during the 2014 crisis New Republic 03/05/2014:

When Russia Today anchor Abby Martin ended a broadcast of her media analysis show “Breaking the Set” by looking sternly toward the camera and condemning Russian intervention in Crimea, many expressed amazement that this shiny-haired insurgent was bucking the Kremlin party line. Huffpo UK described the tirade as “spectacularly off-message.” Glenn Greenwald, to no one’s surprise, praised Martin’s bravery. And Martin’s speech did indeed sound quite remarkable, especially amid the blinkered unreality of RT’s overall coverage of Ukraine (which Newsweek has called a “Cold War theme park, without the breadlines.”) As her segment came to a close, Martin gravely said: “Just because I work here, for RT, doesn't mean I don't have editorial independence and I can’t stress enough how strongly I am against any state intervention in a sovereign nation’s affairs. What Russia did is wrong.” ...

But the most telling part of Martin’s rant on Russia Today was its aftermath, during which RT’s image management seemed to go off the rails. The Telegraph reported that RT executives told the UK’s Channel 4 that Martin had been “misled by American media.” Meanwhile RT released a statement yesterday praising itself vis a vis Martin's behavior: “Contrary to the popular opinion, RT doesn’t beat its journalists into submission, and they are free to express their own opinions, not just in private but on the air.” The statement then added: “In her comment Ms. Martin also noted that she does not possess a deep knowledge of reality of the situation in Crimea. As such we'll be sending her to Crimea to give her an opportunity to make up her own mind from the epicenter of the story.” But alas Martin hadn't heard about her employer’s generous offer until the media reported it, and promptly replied on her Twitter feed that she would not in fact be going to Crimea. This whole murkiness of message helps explain why RT’s public perception as a Kremlin-managed monolith is off-base: much of RT's programming is less a well-oiled Russian propaganda machine than a defensive, shapeshifting retort to the Western media—less focused on a coherent foreign policy agenda than on asserting itself as an alternative to American cable news, its ideological chorus so miscellaneous that it somehow includes both Abby Martin and Larry King.
Bennet does mention that Abby Martin "created a 9/11 truther group in San Diego," apparently before beginning her career as a journalist. That doesn't speak well for her judgement, though Bennet doesn't elaborate on it. Flirting with dubious news/conspiracy theories as a young person can be a sign of a curious and skeptical person working their way to developing their own outlook and approach to the news.

In this interview with American journalist (and former UC-Berkeley student) Mark Ames, she asks him about the US and Russian especially during the first post-Soviet decade. I haven't fact-checked every line. But Ames' account seems consistent with what I've read about that period in more "safe" and stodgy foreign policy journals. Empire Files: Post-Soviet Russia, Made in the U.S.A. TeleSUR English 01/23/2017:

Ames has recently published a number of articles at Pando. Including this one, in which he expresses some judgments on Putin, Turkey shoots down Russian plane: Wars have a funny way of taking on a life of their own 11/24/2015.

This report talks about the eXile magazine that Ames and Matt Taibbi once produced the "raucous biweekly tabloid" that was published in Russia: From Russia With Lust The Observer 06/19/2000. It's not an entirely flattering picture of Ames.

Vanity Fair reported later on the paper after the Russian government suppressed it in James Verini's
Lost Exile Feb 2010. Verini observes, "Putin’s Russia is an infinitely more dangerous place for journalists than the crumbling country that had drawn Ames 15 years before from the same suburban town where he paced about now, but still it was Russia, and not America, that was his spiritual home."