Those are strange words coming from an ex-MSNBC liberal better known for casting Trump as a racist lout. But RT is a strange place. It styles itself as an edgy CNN or BBC, delivering unvarnished news and commentary with a mostly hip, young cast. But just under the surface is a bought-and-paid-for propaganda vehicle trying to nudge viewers toward Russia’s side of the story at a time when Moscow has increasingly become an international pariah, estranged from the West over its military aggression in Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere, its elites sanctioned and its economy struggling with isolation, decaying infrastructure and collapsing energy prices.
In its early days, RT mostly offered a Kremlin-friendly diet of international coverage, feeding the Obama-bashing, America-in-decline narrative with C-list commentators who couldn’t get an airing elsewhere on cable TV. But that was before Donald Trump—whose unlikely mutual admiration for Russia’s strongman president has been one of the stranger subplots of this American political season.
The blustery billionaire has praised Putin as a strong leader, spoken of closer ties with Moscow and mused about whether NATO is obsolete. At the foreign policy speech Trump delivered in Washington on April 27, the Russian ambassador to the United States was sitting in the front row. As Trump has risen, RT has gotten much more interested in the U.S. presidential campaign. Tune in to Ed Schultz and his colleagues these days and you’ll find a presidential race featuring Hillary Clinton as a malevolent warmonger, Bernie Sanders as an insurgent hero—and Donald Trump as a foreign policy savant.
A network that up until now has found little to celebrate about America has finally settled on a candidate it can believe in. Vladimir Putin’s TV channel isn’t just covering the 2016 campaign: Increasingly, it’s choosing sides.