Dmitri Babich has worked as a journalist in Russia since 1989, for newspapers, news agencies, radio, and television. He says that he used to always interview people, while lately people interview him.
According to Babich, myths about Russian media, such as that one cannot criticize the president in Russia, can be dispelled simply by visiting Russian news websites and using Google Translator. More newspapers in Russia oppose Putin than support him, Babich says.
If Russian news is propaganda, Babich asks, why are people so afraid of it? Was anyone ever afraid of Brezhnev’s propaganda? (One might reply that it wasn’t available on the internet or television.) In Babich’s view the threat of Russian news lies in its accuracy, not in its falsehood. In the 1930s, he says, French and British media, in good “objective” style, suggested that Hitler wasn’t anything much to worry about. But the Soviet media had Hitler right. (On Stalin perhaps not so much.)
Today, Babich suggests, people are making the same mistake that the British and French media made back then, failing to appropriately stand up to a dangerous ideology. What ideology? That of neoliberal militarism. Babich points to the swift response of NATO and the Washington establishment to any proposals from Donald Trump to ease up on hostility toward Russia.
Babich is not naive about Trump. While he says that Barack Obama was decidedly the worst U.S. president ever, he does not predict great things from Trump. Obama, Babich explains, had incompetence to match his militarism. He imposed sanctions on Russia that hurt the most pro-Western organizations. “He became a victim of his own propaganda.”
I asked Babich why I’d heard such positive comments on Trump from so many Russians. His answer: “Unrequited love for the U.S.,” and “hope,” and the thought that because Trump won he must be smarter than he seems. “People hate to wake up,” Babich concluded.
Pressed on how people could possibly place hope in Trump, Babich said that because Russia has never been colonized (despite Sweden and Napoleon and Hitler trying), Russians are only now learning what Africans colonized by the West understood about the colonizers.
Asked why Russia would make alliances with China and Iran, Babich replied that the U.S. and E.U. wouldn’t have Russia, so it is taking its second choices.
Asked about Russian journalists who have been killed, Babich said that while more were killed in the time of Boris Yeltsin, he has two theories. One is that an opponent of Putin’s is responsible. Babich named a politician who died around the time of the last killing. The other theory is that people enraged by the media are responsible. Babich said he couldn’t take seriously the idea that Putin would himself be responsible for killing someone right next to the Kremlin.
Asked about the approach of RT (Russia Today) television, Babich said that the approach of the news agency Ria Novosti of trying to imitate the New York Times gained no followers because people can already just read the New York Times. By opposing U.S. crimes and giving voice to alternative perspectives RT has found an audience. I think this interpretation is borne out by the CIA report earlier this year hyping the danger of RT. If the U.S. media were providing the news, Americans wouldn’t look for news elsewhere.
Babich and I discussed these and other topics on the RT show “Crosstalk” on Sunday. The video should, sooner or later, be posted here.