Journalist Andrew Feinberg spent five months as the White House correspondent for Sputnik, a media outlet run by the Russian government. Today Politico Magazine published Feinberg’s first-hand account of what it was like to work there.
One of the first times I asked a question on camera was on a Friday in early March 2017, when I inquired about why Trump was refusing to use the funding and authority granted him by Congress to send weapons to Ukraine to assist in that country’s fight against Russian aggression.
I didn’t know it then, but I’d broken one of the biggest unwritten rules of how things are done at Sputnik.
In practice, Sputnik’s mission statement—“Telling the Untold”—means that Sputnik’s content should reflect the Russian side of any news story, whether it lines up with reality or not…
On Monday—our next day back in the office—I received an email from [Sputnik editor Peter] Martinichev ordering me to clear any future questions I intended to ask at the White House with my editors, “so that everyone is on the same page.”
From then on, Feinberg would submit his questions in writing to the Russian editors. He says they often substituted their own questions for the ones he had written.
After President Trump ordered the bombing of a Syrian airfield in response to a chemical weapons attack, the Russian government claimed the bombs had hit a chemical weapon depot on the ground. That was a lie. A careful analysis by the NY Times showed that was not the case (see video below). The U.S. also had evidence the airstrike originated at the specific base U.S. missiles later hit. Nevertheless, Feinberg was ordered to ask if the White House was looking at “alternate versions and new data” about the attack.
Feinberg writes, “I began to realize that Sputnik’s mission wasn’t really to report the news as much as it was to push a narrative that would either sow doubts about situations that weren’t flattering to Russia or its allies, or hurt the reputation of the United States and its allies.” Feinberg was eventually fired from his job in May after the Washington Post wrote a story mentioning him by name:
On May 22, the White House held a briefing with budget director Mick Mulvaney, during which I asked why a proposal to keep families with undocumented immigrant parents from getting a tax credit to help them raise children even if those children were American citizens made any sense. A columnist for the Washington Post noted the exchange, identifying me as Sputnik’s White House reporter, and writing “Trump’s budget is so cruel a Russian propaganda outfit set the White House straight.”
This did not make my bosses happy. A characteristic feature of Sputnik’s news wire content is that the names of reporters rarely accompany the stories they write. While I was able to push back on this practice on a number of occasions, I was never given a concrete reason for why Sputnik wants its reporters to remain anonymous. If I were to hazard a guess, it would be so that no one can be held accountable for errors, lies and half-truths in any given story. When the Post identified me as Sputnik’s White House reporter, my bosses indicated they were not pleased, and pointed out to me that company policy was to not put bylines on stories.
Four days later Feinberg’s editor told him the company wanted to “start asking about the Seth Rich case.” When Feinberg responded that he wouldn’t be comfortable doing that, he was immediately fired.
An editor’s note at the end of the story contains a response from Martinichev, the editor who fired Feinberg. “The statement that Seth Rich was brought up in the final meeting is a complete fabrication,” he says. He also denies writing questions aimed at promoting conspiracy theories.
Russia lies a lot and its news outlets, especially RT and RT America, have long presented a biased, anti-American perspective on events. As for Russia’s claims about chemical weapons, if you have any doubt they were lying about what happened, watch this video by the NY Times: