RFE/RL’s Brian Whitmore counters Kremlin propaganda, management plays it safe

BBG Watch Commentary

Judging by often poor quality re-writes of wire service Russia news on Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) English-language website, one gets an impression that the U.S. taxpayer-funded media outlet has few experts left who can spot and not fall for propaganda emanating from the Kremlin and its state media. But while some of RFE/RL news items could have been just as well written by Russia’s external media giant RT or pseudo-news agency SPUTNIK, one RFE/RL English-speaking Russia expert has what it takes to counter lies, deceptions, and disinformation spread by Vladimir Putin and his propagandists. His name is Brian Whitmore.

Unfortunately, most of Brian Whitmore’s outstanding “The Power Vertical” video podcasts, although popular among viewers on Facebook, are not transcribed for web readers, which eliminates a big chunk of the potential audience which has no time to view videos or listen to podcasts. Some of his posts are available as text, and that’s great. Here is a really good one: Why Putin Is Afraid Of Lenin, By Brian Whitmore, January 26, 2016.

All of Brian Whitmore’s “The Power Vertical” video podcasts ought to be transcribed, turned into a text commentary and posted online at the same time his videos are posted. They are that good, as you may see from these three most recent ones — that is if you have time to watch them. Most online visitors, especially the busy but influential ones, don’t. They would benefit from being able just to read his excellent commentaries in much shorter time. Text reports would also be indexed by Google and other search engines, making them available to an even larger audience. He and another American analyst of Russia Paul Goble who used to work for RFE/RL some years ago are some of the best experts in their field.

Another one of BBG’s media outlets, the Voice of America (VOA), has been so mismanaged for so many years that its central news operation failed to report on White House Press Secretary’s comment that the U.S. Treasury Under Secretary Adam Szubin’s assessment in an interview with BBC that “Putin is corrupt” is “the one that best reflects the administration view.”

RFE/RL is the only expert media unit focused on Russia and the former Soviet Union that the United States has, but just like VOA it is badly micro-managed by BBG’s bureaucracy in Washington and has its own bad managers as well. There are a few VOA and RFE/RL journalists left. One of them is Brian Whitmore.

Are RFE/RL management and some of their patrons at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) perhaps afraid that if Russian officials were able to find online and read Brian Whitmore’s commentaries they might shut down RFE/RL’s large news bureau in Moscow? President Putin has closed down virtually every independent media outlet in Russia of any significance that has been critical of his rule. He closed down Russian civil society NGOs receiving foreign donations, but not Radio Liberty’s operation in Moscow.

BBC produced a 30 min. documentary on Putin being a corrupt leader, RFE/RL did not. Radio Liberty’s Russian Service management in fact fired a young and successful reporter Anastasia Kirilenko who wanted to do investigative reporting on Putin’s corruption. She ended up doing research for the BBC program and is now publishing her reports in Western media and on some of the still independent media outlets in Russia which show more bravery than RFE/RL management. SEE: A Putin Corruption Reporter Too Radical For Radio Liberty, BBG Watch, January 25, 2016.

But while RFE/RL management has no time for investigative reporting on Putin, for Kirilenko, or resources to transcribe and post all of Brian Whitmore’s Russia videos and podcasts, it has time and resources for this:

Mutton To See Here | RFE/RL
Published 28 January 2016
Just a wild sheep playing soccer. (And he saved the life of his female goat friend, too.)

How could they [RFE/RL management] find time for mere trifles such as Putin’s embezzlement, when they have to deal with sporty goats?,” someone said in a comment for BBG Watch.

We’re not saying that a little bit of tabloid journalism to attract curious individuals and get them to read more serious stuff has no place at RFE/RL, but RFE/RL management and BBG have to show first that they are committed to carrying out their U.S. taxpayer-funded mission and come up with an effective strategy on how to respond to the Kremlin’s weaponization of information. Re-writing news reports by Reuters, AP, AFP, TASS, and Interfax, quoting Russian officials without separating fact from fiction, is not going to do it, and neither will goat videos. RFE/RL needs more journalists like Brian Whitmore and programs like “The Power Vertical” presented on the web in all multimedia formats.

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More Information About “The Power Vertical” and Brian Whitmore from RFE/RL Website:

“The Power Vertical” is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It covers emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Follow the latest posts on Twitter at @PowerVertical.

Brian Whitmore is a Senior Editor and Russia analyst for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. He is the author of “The Power Vertical” Blog and “The Power Vertical” Podcast, both of which focus on Russian affairs.

Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2007, Brian worked for eight years for the Boston Globe, first in the Globe’s Moscow bureau and later as Central and Eastern European correspondent based in Prague. Before this he was a political correspondent and columnist for The Moscow Times and its sister publication The St. Petersburg Times.

Born in New Haven, Connecticut, Brian has a Bachelor’s Degree in Politics from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and an MA in Political Science from Villanova University. He has worked as a graduate lecturer in the Department of Government and International Studies at the University of South Carolina, and as a visiting lecturer in the History Faculties of Odessa State University (now Mechnikov National University) in Ukraine and St. Petersburg State University in Russia.

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