Russia’s America-facing television network, Russia Today, or RT, helped to spread “fake news” about Hillary Clinton during the election, according to independent researchers — and it’s got prominent American news stars Larry King and Ed Schultz on its schedule.
The Washington Post reports that Russia “exploited American-made technology” to help spread fake news stories, employing assets on social media and in television to “erode faith in the U.S. government or U.S. government interests.” This claim is bolstered by the Foreign Policy Research Institute, which published its findings in a report entitled Trolling for Trump: How Russia is Trying to Destroy Our Democracy.
Many of the stories, curated for “buzzy content” were helped along by RT and Sputnik, both arms of Russian state media. The two outlets were heavily biased, the reports show, even at times using the hashtag #CrookedHillary to describe Trump’s Democratic opponent.
According to the Washington Post:
RT and Sputnik, state-funded Russian information services that mimic the style and tone of independent news organizations yet sometimes include false and misleading stories in their reports, the researchers say. On other occasions, RT, Sputnik and other Russian sites used social-media accounts to amplify misleading stories already circulating online, causing news algorithms to identify them as “trending” topics that sometimes prompted coverage from mainstream American news organizations.
RT has built trust with Americans by hiring or syndicating content from familiar American television anchors, among them Ed Schultz from MSNBC, and ex-CNN star Larry King. Both hosts, deposed in recent years from their longtime U.S. cable perches, have found a new paycheck from the Kremlin.
Larry King recently roped Donald Trump into an interview for his Ora.TV show,* PoliticKING with Larry King, which is broadcast on Russia Today as part of a syndication deal – providing Russian state-run media with an exclusive with the then Republican Presidential nominee.
When American media outlets questioned why Trump would be so willing speak to what they thought was a Kremlin propaganda outlet, the campaign was forced to offer an explanation — that Trump, who was “old friends” with Larry King, thought the interview was for King’s podcast.
Trump campaign spokeswoman says that they thought Larry King interview was going to be on King's podcast — not RT.
— Kevin Cirilli (@kevcirilli) September 9, 2016
Ed Schultz, it seems, even regularly encouraged Russia Today‘s efforts at cutting down the Clinton campaign, stepping in to to defend King for hosting Trump on his show, and piling on American media for criticizing Trump’s willingness to engage Russian media.
— Ed Schultz (@NewswithEd) September 9, 2016
Schultz was let go from his networks and quickly picked up by Russia Today – he was gone from MSNBC barely a week before announcing his move. RT picked up two of Larry King’s projects through syndication deals with Ora.Tv in 2012, and continues to regularly broadcast King’s material.
The quick moves could show that Russian state media, even before the 2016 election, had been looking to bring on familiar, trusted American faces to help bolster its credibility in American media.
The effort appears to have worked, but also raises the question of how complicit American anchors were in assisting Russian state run media in the proliferation of “fake news.”
How far will long-in-the-tooth cable news stars go for a paycheck these days?
*Ed note: This article original included Larry King in the list of anchors employed by Russia Today. His shows, Larry King Now and PoliticKING with Larry King, air on RT through a syndication deal with Ora.TV, a startup Internet broadcasting station created by Carlos Slim.