Why Russian TV propaganda is crucial to understanding the war in Ukraine

“Russians who get their truth from state media are living in an alternate reality,” says Madeline Roache.

Every day, Roache watches the morning “news” on Channel One, one of Russia’s main state television channels. She follows the stories Russian viewers hear. And she’s writing a report for NewsGuard on “alternate reality.” NewsGuard, a startup that assesses the reliability of news sources, began publishing Roache’s summaries on Monday.

Overall, Roache told CNN, on state television, “the Russian military is portrayed as triumphant – as suffering no casualties, no casualties and certainly committing no atrocities. Meanwhile, according to media of state is the Ukrainian army the army committing atrocities, killing civilians, suffering heavy casualties and losing territory to Russian forces.”

This comment from Roache struck me the most: “Russians would have every reason to be proud from what they see on state television.”

Together with producer Aaron Cooper, I compiled this report for Monday’s edition of “The Lead with Jake Tapper” on the upside-down nature of Russian state media. Experts say Putin’s programming still has a very firm grip on Russian public opinion, despite a slew of real-life news reports from Ukraine that contradict it. As CNN’s Nic Robertson told us, “It’s no surprise that so many people just toe the Kremlin lines. It’s the easiest thing for them to do. They see no alternative. They feel helpless and this is the information that they ‘I was fed year after year by Putin and by the Soviet leaders at the time.’ Watch…

The Moscow blackout

Here’s some crucial context when thinking about this: “Essentially, journalism has been banned now in Russia,” Anne Applebaum pointed out on “Reliable Sources” the other day. “It is now illegal to speak of this so-called ‘special military operation’ as a war or to call it an invasion. And that means most Western correspondents are gone. All independent Russian media that existed before the war have now been suppressed, banned, many of these journalists have also left the country, so the real story of what is happening in Russia is becoming increasingly difficult to tell.”
We get a glimpse inside the country, through the eyes of people like Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian opposition politician who recently recorded an interview with CNN+ anchor Sara Sidner. He told Sidner that this war will be Putin’s downfall. On Monday, he was arrested outside his building in Moscow, according to multiple reports. The interview also took place on Monday, and you can stream it here…

Daniel Dale’s analysis

Jake Tapper said it well on Monday: Russia is engaging in a “fierce propaganda war to justify its brutal and unprovoked invasion and to try to cover up the growing number of atrocities and massacres committed against Ukrainian civilians”.

He asked CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale to assess some of the specific deceptions Russian outfits are handing out. here is one from Dale: “The Russian government has claimed that no local residents were killed while Russian troops were in Bucha and that evidence to the contrary was staged or faked or a hoax. These claims are frankly ridiculous. They are utterly false. It has been conclusively shown that civilians were indeed killed while Russian troops were in Bucha and, according to witnesses, by Russia.”
It’s “exhausting” to follow, Dale added, “and I think that’s the point. I think what Russia is doing is throwing so much nonsense at the wall, that either some of it sticks and is raw, or just that all of it tires people out. That people get so confused and overwhelmed by all that is disputed – even the seemingly most obvious facts – that they throw up their hands and say, “I don’t know what’s true. I can’t keep track of it all. And it’s difficult, and I think we journalists have to fight against that.” Amen…

“They want to believe that their country is good”

In the latest episode of CNN’s “Tug of War” podcast, senior international correspondent Matthew Chance – who has been based in Moscow for years – explained why Kremlin propaganda is so welcomed by so many people: it’s because “they want to believe their country is good,” not an evil regime that “kills people for no reason.” Think about it, Chance said, “who would want to acknowledge there’s something wrong basically in your country?”

Sean Penn says he thought about joining the fight against Russia


Sean Penn, who recently spent time filming a documentary in Ukraine, revealed in an interview with Hollywood Authentic that the Russians’ actions enraged him so much that he had previously considered joining the fight against the country. “The only possible reason for me to stay longer in Ukraine last time would have been because I was holding a gun,” Penn said. Penn added: “If you’ve been to Ukraine [fighting] must cross your mind. And you think what century are we in? Because I was at the gas station in Brentwood the other day and now I’m thinking of taking up arms against Russia? What the fuck is going on?” Read the interview here…

Further reading

— George Packer’s final essay: “I Worry We’ll Soon Forget About Ukraine…” (The Atlantic)
— “Chinese officials and state media are increasingly repeating Russian propaganda outlets about the war in Ukraine…” (NYT)
– In other news from China, Shanghai is the “world’s largest lockdown”, and CNN correspondent David Culver experiences it firsthand. He described it to “New Day” co-anchor John Berman: “I can’t walk out that door,” he said. “There is a seal”, and if it is broken, “there are repercussions to that…” (CNN)

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