BBG Watch Commentary

Has U.S. taxpayer-funded Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) officially lost it in late 2015 by comparing images of Soviet mass murderers to photos of Hollywood stars?

If such comparisons were supposed to be funny, most Russia experts we asked did not think so. It seemed to them more as an insult to the memory of millions of victims of Soviet crimes and their relatives. All RFE/RL did was to help to trivialize a murderous ideology which is currently being whitewashed by Putin’s propaganda machine.

History was in a way distorted for young people who could benefit the most from a more sophisticated, nuanced a truly funny way if need be of dealing with this subject. Silliness as displayed in the RFE/RL post is usually a good indicator that no one is in charge of an organization. Fortunately, it is still not a common occurrence at RFE/RL, but such lapses are now happening with disturbing frequency.

This may be also yet another example of how some of the less experienced RFE/RL writers and analysts are deceived from time to time by Kremlin’s propaganda. Russian propagandists are pushing specific silly and not so silly themes in the hope that some Western journalists will pick them up and help to amplify the message from the Kremlin.

RFE/RL’s primary role has always been to be on guard and to expose and to counter propaganda. More recently, however, there seems to be a critical lack of leadership at RFE/RL to help some of its writers spot Russian propaganda and to see the difference between truly funny and dangerously silly. There has been no permanent leadership at RFE/RL for well over a year. RFE/RL is also not getting good guidance and oversight from the Washington-based Broadcasting Board of Governors’ (BBG) part-time board of directors.

One must point out, however, that while RFE/RL is now much more prone to such failings and on occasion falling for Kremlin’s propaganda, the vast majority of individual RFE/RL journalists and services still produces a lot of outstanding journalism.

On December 31, 2015, RFE/RL posted this item: “The Hollywood Celebrities Who Look Like Soviet Figures,” with the following introduction: “News that French actor and newly minted Russian citizen Gerard Depardieu has been cast to play a 50s-era Josef Stalin in a new film left us pondering others who could fit the bill as famous Soviets.”

As of January 11, none of the images on the RFE/RL English-language website are showing any “Stars” for “Likes.” They do show 380 Facebook “Recommend/Shares.”

First, we should ask whether this is journalism worthy of RFE/RL.

While there is nothing wrong with reporting that others are making fun of Gerard Depardieu and his love for Putin and nothing wrong with political satire, it better be done in such a way that does not turn into a satire on RFE/RL. This one helps Putin distort history and offends a lot of people. Jews and non-Jews are justly angered when the Holocaust is trivialized by trivial comparisons. Lenin, Stalin, and Beria, the historical stars of RFE/RL’s collage, caused the death of more people than Hitler did.

Second, didn’t it occur to anyone at RFE/RL that this is exactly what the Kremlin’s propaganda experts would like RFE/RL to do: become as silly as RT, glorify and humanize some of the greatest Soviet murderers of the 20th century — Lenin, Stalin and Beria — and help to remove from them the stigma of genocide? Ultimately, all of this works to President Putin’s advantage since he himself has embarked on the project of distorting history of the Soviet Union.

Why not in addition to these characters, also do a similar Hollywood-style comparison for President Putin or perhaps Che Guevara. It’s something that one would expect from RT, but not from RFE/RL.

This is what RT and SPUTNIK have been doing for quite some time: distracting audiences from focusing on foreign aggression and corruption initiated by Vladimir Putin and his cronies by churning out cult of personality posts for the Internet about the Russian leader designed to amuse and confuse the Internet audience. We must say that SPUTINK’s and RT’s posts were a lot more amusing than the RFE/RL collage of images of Soviet murderers and Hollywood stars. Someone at RFE/RL should have stopped and think before releasing it to the world at U.S. taxpayers’ expense. We should not allow SPUTNIK and RT to win this propaganda war.

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