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. Consider, for example, when Trump’s budget proposed massive cuts to foreign aid sent to Ukraine. While these decreases in funding were a result of across-the-board cuts to the State Department and other agencies, I was told to ask whether such cuts were related to unspecified “corruption” in Ukraine’s government. Instead of humiliating myself by asking such a stupid question on camera, I emailed a White House spokesperson. Considering how ridiculous the query was, I was not the least bit surprised when I got no reply.
Considering the U.S. government conclusion that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election, using fake news stories and the slanted content at outlets like Sputnik to harm Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and bolster Trump, one might assume that I was ordered to write stories that were unabashedly pro-Trump. I never was. Instead, the stories I was told to cover invariably could be used to push narratives that the U.S. government is hypocritical, corrupt and lacks the moral standing to confront Putin’s dictatorship on human rights or any other similar issue. One prominent pro-Trump journalist who worked at Sputnik during the election told me that she was never ordered to write pro-Trump stories but often did so on her own initiative; another former Sputnik reporter said that he was pressured to exploit his contacts to get ahold of hacked emails belonging to former CIA Director John Brennan—and was fired after he refused to traffic in stolen data.