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Sputnik and RT Under Investigation

• http://www.ronpaulinstitute.org

Somehow everything keeps coming back around to Russia. In one of its recent initiatives, the Justice Department (DOJ) appears to be attacking the First Amendment as part of the apparent bipartisan program to make Vladimir Putin the fall guy for everything that goes wrong in Washington. In the past month, the DOJ has revealed that the FBI is investigating Russian owned news outlets Sputnik News and RT International and has sent letters to the latter demanding that one of its business affiliates register as a foreign agent by October 17th. The apparent line of inquiry that the Bureau is pursuing is that both are agencies of the Russian government and that both have been spreading disinformation that is intended to discredit the United States government and its institutions. This alleged action would make them, in the DOJ view, a propaganda arm of a foreign government rather than a news service. It also makes them subject to Department of the Treasury oversight under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938.

Sputnik, which is owned by a Russian government media group headed by Putin consigliere Dimitri Kiselyov, has been under investigation due to the accusations made by a fired broadcaster named Andrew Feinberg. Feinberg, the former Sputnik White House correspondent, reportedly took with him a thumb drive containing some thousands of internal business files when he left his office. He has been interviewed by the FBI, has turned over his documents, and has claimed that much of the direction over what the network covered came from Moscow.

RT America, more television oriented than Sputnik, operates through two business entities: RTTV America and RTTV Studios. The Department of Justice has refused to identify which of the businesses has been targeted by a letter calling for registration under FARA, but it is believed to be RTTV America, which provides both operational support of the broadcasting as well as the production facilities. Both companies are actually owned by Russian-American businessman Alex Yazlovsky, though the funding for them presumably comes from the Russian government.

I have noticed very little pushback in the U.S. mainstream and alternative media regarding the Department of Justice moves, presumably because there is a broad consensus that the Russians have been interfering in our "democracy" and have had it coming. If that assumption on my part is correct, the silence over the issue reflects a certain naïvete while also constituting a near perfect example of a pervasive tunnel vision that obscures the significant collateral damage that might be forthcoming.

News organizations are normally considered to be exempt from the requirements of FARA. The Department of Justice action against the two Russian major media outlets is unprecedented insofar as I could determine. Even Qatar owned al-Jazeera, which was so vilified during the early stages of the Afghan War that it had its Kabul offices bombed by the U.S., did not have to register under FARA, was permitted to operate freely, and was even allowed to buy a television channel license for its American operations.

The DOJ is in effect saying that RT and Sputnik are nothing more than propaganda organs and do not qualify as journalism. I would have to disagree if one goes by the standards of contemporary journalism in the United States. America's self-described "newspapers of record" the New York Times and the Washington Post pretend that they have a lock on stories that are "true." The Post has adopted the slogan "Democracy Dies in Darkness" while the Times proclaims "The truth is more important now than ever," but anyone who has read either paper regularly for the past year knows perfectly well that they have been as often as not leading propaganda organs for Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, pushing a particular agenda and denigrating Donald Trump. They differ little from the admittedly biased television news reporting provided by Fox News and MSNBC.

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