"When I started, I knew where Putin stood geopolitically, but did not know that his views would be imposed on the news operation."
-- Liz Wahl, correspondent for the government-run network Russia Today, who quit on-air
Wait a minute, seriously, Ms. Wahl? You were a news reporter for a one-party Russian government TV network, and you had no idea that the president of Russia, who is additionally a former KGB officer, would have his views imposed on the news operation??? Really? You didn't know? If you wrote game captions for My Weekly Reader, I'd think you know that. But as a news reporter ("news"!), I'd have thought that knowing that was a basic given. Sort of like a server at the We Only Serve Spaghetti chain of restaurants knows he'll be pushing spaghetti.
While I admire Liz Wahl's refusal to report stories that she felt were nothing more than government propaganda, I do question her abilities as a reporter. I mean, honestly, how hard would it have been to do a little digging -- and by "little," I mean asking the person who'll be sitting in the cubicle next to you -- to find out how delivering the news in Russia over the one-party, government-owned TV network would work.
(Note: so as not to be confused, Liz Wahl is not the same person as the on-air host at the same RT network who a few days before had criticized the Russian government's actions in the Ukraine. That was Abby Martin, who among others things is a 9/11 "Truther," and who I've heard described as a perpetual conspiratorialist along the lines of Orly Taitz. Both she and Liz Wahl, it should be mentioned, are American citizens.)
It's important to note, as well -- for both of these incidents -- that the Russia Today network is not broadcast in Russia. It's an English-language network broadcast outside the country to the rest of the world. So, as high profile as both acts of dissension have been in the U.S., no one in Russia was tainted by actually having to see any of this. That doesn't diminish in the slightest what they said, it just meant to put it in geographical perspective.
After Liz Wahl quit on the air, among other things that she said about the RT network in an interview with The Daily Beast was, "In order to succeed there you don’t question. It’s not a sound news organization, not when your agenda is making America look bad."
It's a reasonable, valid statement for her to make. No quibbles there about the substance of her words at all. I'm just wondering why on earth she doesn't appear to have been aware of that beforehand. She was a news correspondent, after all. I'm guessing she could read. I'm guessing she...well, was interested in the news.
It is not surprising to hear that officials at the RT network dismissed her quitting on air as a "Self-promotional stunt."
The thing is, though, I think I agree with them. To be clear, agreeing that it was a self-promotional stunt doesn't lessen the spot-on accuracy of her charges. But the more I look at this -- her shock and outrage that a state-owned Russian TV news organization doesn't have open, objective, sound news, but delivers what the Russian president wants, and you don't question that the one-party government's agenda is anti-American -- the more in the back of my head I hear the police constable in Casablanca, Louis, say when raiding a well-known gin joint, "I'm shocked, shocked that gambling is going on here!" -- before picking up his own gambling winnings. What Ms. Wahl's hurt, disappointed, shocked "amazement" seems to me to be is that, in fact, she was very intentionally auditioning for a job on U.S. television, and this was the best way to bring attention to herself.
To be clear, I certainly agree with the substance of what she said. And I think it took a bit of impressive swagger to say so and quit on the air. But if I was one of those "sound news organizations" she says she admires, and I was looking to hire a reporter with crack analytical skills and insight, I might think twice about going with Liz Wahl -- at least without doing more due diligence than she apparently did. After all, she's either the most naive correspondent in the world, or the most disingenuous and untrustworthy. Neither a good thing for a reporter who's supposed to see through deception and deliver the truth.
Will she end up on the air with a U.S broadcasting job? We'll find out. Perhaps on a local station, though I suspect she's going for The Big Picture, and a national platform. The problem is that I wouldn't expect to see her end up on CNN or MSNBC, since for all her admirable outspokenness, she does seem to present on the surface a great deal more innocent, trusting Bambi-like credulity than one tends to require in a serious investigating reporter. But there's an even far bigger problem for getting hired by Fox. Not that her anti-Russian statements wouldn't be most-especially celebrated there, nor that they likely would admire how she doesn't seem to look to deeply into the the organization where she's applying to work. But rather, she said that she specifically was looking for a "sound news organization," whose agenda wasn't being imposed by the person who runs it in an effort to makes opposing political views look bad.
I think that Liz Wahl did a very interesting thing quitting on air for the reasons she did. I'd just admired her more if she'd been more honest (or less bizarrely naive) about where it was she worked. The reality is, I suspect she's not that naive. (At least I hope not, most especially for a news reporter...) Because that would be scary-naive, the kind of wide-eyed innocence that should require a person to walk around with a protective crash helmet on her head 24/7 for personal safety. So, if not, then be upfront that you took the job because you wanted to speak to a world audience and gain experience and hope maybe, possibly you could get some outside perspective reported on occasion. But as uphill and difficult as you knew it might be, you just never got the chance to do it right. And this is the last straw, and so you quit. If you'd had been honest like that, what's the worst they would they have done? Fire you? Hey, you just quit!
But if she is that innocent -- and while I don't think so, I don't remotely put it out of the realm of possibility and will accept taking her at her word -- please, dear God, somebody rent her Casablanca.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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