How Tucker Carlson became a war propagandist for Russian state-owned media

By | December 15, 2022

The New York Times reports:

As Russian tanks were stuck in the mud outside Kyiv earlier this year and the economic fallout of war with Ukraine took hold, one part of Russia’s government hummed with precision: television propaganda.

Spinning together a counternarrative for tens of millions of viewers, Russian propagandists plucked clips from American cable news, right-wing social media and Chinese officials. They latched onto claims that Western embargoes of Russian oil would be self-defeating, that the United States was hiding secret bioweapon research labs in Ukraine and that China was a loyal ally against a fragmenting West.

Day by day, state media journalists sharpened those themes in emails. They sometimes broadcast battlefield videos and other information sent to them by the successor agency to the K.G.B. And they excerpted and translated footage from favorite pundits, like the Fox News host Tucker Carlson, whose remarks about the war were shown to millions of Russians.

“Be sure to take Tucker,” one Russian news producer wrote to a colleague. The email referred to a clip in which Mr. Carlson described the power of the Chinese-Russian partnership that had emerged under Mr. Biden — and how American economic policies targeting Russia could undermine the dollar’s status as a world-reserve currency.

The correspondence was one of thousands of email exchanges stored within a leaked database from Russia’s largest state-owned media company, the All-Russia State Television and Radio Company, known as V.G.T.R.K. The data was made publicly available online by DDoSecrets, a group that publishes hacked documents.

The New York Times created a search tool to identify material from the 750 gigabytes of files related to the buildup to the war and its earliest stages from January to March 2022, when the available documents ended. The Times verified the documents by confirming email addresses and people’s identities. In many instances, matters discussed in the emails led to content broadcast on the air.

The emails provide a rare glimpse into a propaganda machine that is perhaps Russia’s greatest wartime success. Even as the country faces battlefield losses, mounting casualties, economic isolation and international condemnation, state-run television channels have spun a version of the war in which Russia is winning, Ukraine is in shambles and Western alliances are fraying. Along with a fierce crackdown on dissent, the propaganda apparatus has helped President Vladimir V. Putin maintain domestic support for a war that many in the West had hoped would weaken his hold on power the longer it dragged on.

To create this narrative, producers at the state media company cherry-picked from conservative Western media outlets like Fox News and the Daily Caller, as well as obscure social media accounts on Telegram and YouTube, according to the records. Russian security agencies like the Federal Security Service, or F.S.B., the successor to the K.G.B., fed other information, creating an alternative version of events such as the bombing of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol. [Continue reading…]

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