How Russia's State Media Covers The Opposition Movement
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Here is one fact. If you are a Russian and you are watching state television today, you are probably not seeing any of these protests. Alexey Kovalev is an expert on Russian propaganda, and he told me that he remembers tracking coverage during that wave of protests back in March.
ALEXEY KOVALEV: All the major TV networks, all the news wires - there was not a word about protests happening not just in Moscow but in a hundred cities across Russia.
GREENE: And that's really the point. Many in this country of over 140 million people get their news from state television. So if a protest is not covered there, did it really happen?
Kovalev has watched this from the inside. He spent several years working for a news organization partly funded by the state. He was translating English news into Russian. And since then, he's become an editor at the independent Moscow Times, and he runs a blog exposing fake news. The other day, he brought us to a neighborhood in central Moscow that is home to many of the state-funded outlets.
KOVALEV: So this here behind us is the headquarters of (speaking Russian), or the All-Russia State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company.
GREENE: OK, the truly ironic thing is the address of this complex.
KOVALEV: So this here - it sits on Pravda Street, or Truth Street. And there's my favorite spot down the street there that has the address 1/2 Truth Street.
GREENE: Get it - half truth? Well, if that describes the content coming out of here, Kovalev says many inside might not even realize that coincidence.
KOVALEV: And you see all these people coming out of this building.
KOVALEV: They all are employed. There's, like - thousands of people are employed with this massive propaganda machine. But most of them don't really think about that much because they are all editors and technical staff. They're not thinking of themselves as, like, these - you know, working to make Russia great again.
GREENE: So if you're sort of a mid-level or low-level editor, you might just be reading over a copy to make sure it's...
GREENE: ...Well-written. And you wouldn't have any control over the...
GREENE: ...Substance or...
KOVALEV: I've spoken to a number of people on different levels, employed in different propaganda organs. And when you confront them publicly about the work they're doing, the best they can come up with is that, OK, maybe, yeah, we're taking some liberties with the truth every now and then, but who doesn't?
GREENE: Now, sometimes he says the propaganda machine can be caught off guard. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was seen as a friend of Russia from his time leading ExxonMobil, and he knew Vladimir Putin. So a state TV channel brought his confirmation hearings to Russian audiences live. Tillerson, though, was asked, did Russia have a right to forcibly take Crimea from Ukraine?
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
REX TILLERSON: No, sir. That was a taking of territory that was not theirs.
GREENE: Kovalev remembers the two Russian anchors reacting.
KOVALEV: They're like, for a couple of seconds there, just paralyzed. Like, how should we approach this? I mean we gave this guy the order of friendship. And then it took them literally 2 seconds to come up with an answer. So Rex Tillerson was only saying this to get through the congressional hearings. He's still on our side.
KOVALEV: He'll just say anything to get past these Russophobes in the Congress like Marco Rubio.
GREENE: Alexey Kovalev has made it his mission to expose how the state media puts a blindfold over so many Russians' eyes. Or actually, wait; there's a better explanation for this in Russian.
KOVALEV: To put noodles on someone's ears in Russian is a colorful expression. It means to lie, to [expletive] someone.
GREENE: To put noodles on their ears.
GREENE: What is the phrase in Russian?
KOVALEV: (Speaking Russian).
GREENE: Noodle on your ear.
KOVALEV: Hanging noodles on your ears.
KOVALEV: Yeah, yeah. I'm a noodle remover, yeah (laughter).
GREENE: And yeah, that is actually the name of Alexey Kovalev's blog, Noodle Remover. He's just one of the voices we are hearing today as we broadcast from Moscow.
(SOUNDBITE OF ASURA'S "XP CONTINUUM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.