Opinion: The Russian media often uses conspiracy theories to create division and paranoia.
Former RT America anchor Liz Wahl reports the latest news highlights in March 2012. (photo credit:Wikimedia Commons)
In March 2014, the crisis in Ukraine had reached a pivotal juncture. Thousands of people took to the streets to protest corrupt government leadership and violent crackdowns. Dozens were killed and hundreds wounded. During these times of deadly conflict and chaos, it was critical for the media to try to get the story right. However, working as a TV anchor for Russia Today (RT), I soon realized I was part of an organization actively dedicated to skewing the facts.
The Russian state-funded station was part of a larger propaganda campaign portraying protesters as bloodthirsty fascists in an effort to misrepresent the conflict and justify Russian action. As the death toll grew, I was horrified to be part of what was becoming a manipulation machine. After the Ukraine coverage ended, I resigned, live on air, referencing the bias as the reason for my decision.
That decision put me at the center of a viral news story. I received a flood of messages, mostly on social media. Many were encouraging and inspiring but plenty were also bizarre and vile. Beyond the profanities and sexist remarks, I found the wave of anti-Semitic hate particularly shocking and confusing. I am not Jewish and I do not have any ties to Israel. But the accusations of being a “Zionist neocon” were unrelenting.
The assertion was that I was part of a Jewish, Zionist plot. Some radical anti-Israel activists wrote an article portraying my resignation as part of a conspiracy with war-hungry neocons pulling my strings to provide a pretext for another Cold War. I had become used to the knee-jerk reaction of a paranoid population attributing any atrocity to a nefarious conspiracy by power-hungry evildoers intent on controlling the world. But here they accused the Jews specifically of being behind it.
The Russian media often uses conspiracy theories to create division and paranoia.
This is nothing new. Conspiracy theories have been used to vilify Jews for centuries. Jews are accused of orchestrating economic ills or false-flag operations, and we are familiar with the more common stereotype of the war-hungry Zionist. Disagreements over Israeli policies and advocating for the Palestinian underdog often morph from anti-Israel sentiment into anti-Jewish bias. Indeed, the “counter-culture” environment at RT often fostered such an anti-Israel stance.
While the Middle East has long been a divisive topic, I find many young people attracted to this “anti-establishment” narrative of an all-powerful Israel victimizing the Palestinians. For one reason or another, it seems believing this narrative is the “cool” thing to do, whether or not you know or understand anything about the Middle East conflict.
However, when I felt this hate in my own life it was not only uncool, it was downright disturbing. I had never realized the extent of the anti-Semitism of the US leaders of the far Left, from Max Blumenthal to Glenn Greenwald – who have amassed a substantial online following.
Their followers hang on their every word under the guise of fighting US imperialism, Islamophobia and perceived injustices perpetrated by Western powers. I have painfully experienced how they cling to hateful rhetoric and aggressively spread and promote these anti-Semitic messages through nasty social media trolling.
And so I began to wonder: What was fueling this anti-Israel, anti-Jewish hate? Was the social media explosion creating a bullhorn for this hateful ideology? I had witnessed firsthand the power of bias and belief to shape ideologies. When I suddenly found myself on the receiving end of anti-Jewish hate, I wanted to figure out why. Where was it coming from? I decided to explore the whole topic. I made a film – Media 101: Reading Between the Lines – with Jerusalem U, a Jewish educational organization spotlighting key issues through film. This enabled me to address my questions.
We live in an age of constant online information bombardment, which often leads to biased and false information spreading like wildfire. How can we control the flames? I believe that education and awareness can be powerful tools against hate and bigotry.
Media 101 not only sheds a light on where anti-Jewish sentiment might come from, but also on how we can identify different types of media bias and how we can all be wiser and more responsible information consumers.
The writer, a journalist based in Washington, DC., has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, The View, The Colbert Report and international news outlets. She was a correspondent and anchor for the US branch of RT TV and made international headlines following her resignation from the channel, publicly denouncing its distorted coverage of the conflict in Ukraine and Russian intervention in Crimea.