A Look At RT's 'Redacted Tonight' The satirical program Redacted Tonight mimics the style of The Daily Show but it airs on RT America, produced by a company the Trump administration required last month to register as a foreign agent.

A Look At RT's 'Redacted Tonight'

A Look At RT's 'Redacted Tonight'

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The satirical program Redacted Tonight mimics the style of The Daily Show but it airs on RT America, produced by a company the Trump administration required last month to register as a foreign agent.


Russian programming is no longer breathless proclamations about tractor production or accolades to the Kremlin. Look at a show called "Redacted Tonight" on RT America, a Russian network broadcast in the U.S. The show is hosted and written by an American comic in black jeans with a hipster beard and long, bobbed hair, Lee Camp.


LEE CAMP: You guys are looking good. You're looking good. I like it. All right. Welcome to "Redacted Tonight." The Senate and the House have both passed their version of the new tax bill. Now it's in reconciliation, which means they all - they get into a room together. And the senators go, we want to (expletive) the American people this way. And then the representatives go, no we want to (expletive) them this way.

SIMON: A lot of profanity. Actually, one profanity over and over is bleeped, if not redacted. But the show is also pointed and packed with information from a certain point of view, delivered with flip irreverence in what they may hope is the style of "The Daily Show," "Full Frontal With Samantha Bee" or "SNL." "Redacted Tonight" doesn't proselytize for Russia. It satirizes America. And Lee Camp can be devastating.


CAMP: This is the last call on the remainder of the quote, unquote, "American dream," Which has turned into a fever dream where you were already kind of sick to begin with. So you got whacked out on NyQuil. You got snot running down your face.

JULIA IOFFE: It's very shrill. I mean, Lee Camp is very shrill.

SIMON: Julia Ioffe, who writes critically about Putin's regime in Russia for The Atlantic and other platforms, has seen "Redacted Tonight."

IOFFE: And it just - it looks like, you know, the kind of rantings that I would engage in when I was an angry 15 year old.

SIMON: The U.S. Justice Department ordered RT America to register as a foreign agent last month. The BBC and Al-Jazeera, which also have American services, aren't required to register. But U.S. intelligence agencies call RT America a Kremlin-financed channel that tries to disguise its ties, and is part of what they call Russia's state-run propaganda machine.


ROOFTOP REVOLUTIONARIES: (Singing) We're all sick, tired and wasted.

SIMON: We attended a show recording last week with little more than 20 people in the studio who laughed and cheered when prompted - but sincerely.


CAMP: Welcome. Welcome. I'm Lee Camp. Now, let's take the news from behind. OK. So in that last segment, I went over how the ruling elite are stealing every last dime from the American people.

SIMON: Lee Camp ridiculed Republicans and Democrats and jeered U.S. support for a repressive regime in Honduras. One of the show's reporters, Naomi Karavani, did a story on a Berlin exhibit that shows how the CIA encouraged abstract art during the Cold War.


NAOMI KARAVANI: The CIA promoted modern art movements such as Abstract Expressionism, including artists like Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko, in contrast with the social realism of Soviet painting. And in Central America, the CIA eliminated any recognizable self-government. They created more of an abstract government.

SIMON: We asked Kelly Leonard, executive producer at Chicago's Second City, simply, is "Redacted Tonight" funny?

KELLY LEONARD: It is funny, but there's a problem. When you find out that it's financed by Russian television and the Russian government, you start to question what's not there. And you know what's not there? Any talking about hacking the election, any talk about, you know, Putin's misdeeds. And that's a little troubling, especially for someone who's in the satire business.

SIMON: Surely, as a man of comedy, just the fact that he can make you laugh is worth a lot, isn't it?

LEONARD: Yeah, absolutely. That's the troubling thing about this. There is - you know, I think comedy is a superpower. And a very smart person once said, if it can't be used for evil, it's not a superpower. And in this case, that's kind of what I feel is going on.

SIMON: No one from the audience we interviewed said they missed not hearing jokes about Michael Flynn, Russian meddling or Vladimir Putin's repression. Troy Hung told us...

TROY HUNG: I liked it - definitely better than talking about General Flynn - something more important that actually impacts people's lives. Now talk about the tax plan, how it's going to affect the American people. And yeah, I thought it was good.

SEHA ALTURK: This is my seventh time. So I love it.

SIMON: Seha Alturk and Chloe Sedlak say they're fans of "Redacted Tonight."

ALTURK: I think it's the best political standup comedy in America. And I think it's better than even Russell Brand.

SIMON: So you don't think of this as Russian propaganda?

CHLOE SEDLAK: I was looking for that to some degree. And who can say?

ALTURK: Let people say whatever they want to say. Don't label anybody. And people decide what they want to decide.

SIMON: RT says no topics are off-limits on "Redacted Tonight." Lee Camp and his correspondents have full control. We asked Lee Camp for an interview but couldn't agree to his ground rules. Our exchange was professional and cordial. He said on his show last January 17...


CAMP: My script is not written by me. It's written every week by a group of heavily bearded Russian hackers...


CAMP: ...Living in caves in Siberia.


CAMP: Once they are done with the first draft, they pass it on to Julian Assange and the New Black Panthers, OK?


CAMP: They make a few tweaks - just a few. They then email that to a team of naked, angry, Third Wave feminists.

SIMON: Julia Ioffe of The Atlantic says, despite such pointed japes, RT produces "Redacted Tonight" to assist its mission.

IOFFE: There's a term called useful idiot.

SIMON: But that was Lenin.

IOFFE: It's apocryphally attributed to Lenin. I'm sure Lee Camp and his co-conspirators on the show have the best intentions. But they're being used for propaganda purposes. You know, it's the kind of a classic page out of the old Cold War playbook where you sponsor the people who kind of agree with your message in other parts of the world, which is, you know, you're against American imperialism. You think both parties are just as bad. You decry American actions abroad and American social injustices domestically. But the thing is the kind of underlying hypocrisy of it - which is they're not doing it for the rights and the lives of the little man or the little person. It's for Putin's power.

SIMON: RT says it reaches 630 million people around the world. But that could just mean the number of people who have cable systems that carry the channel. RT segments sometimes get millions of views on YouTube, but studies show that's often sensational disaster clips, not their talk shows or "Redacted Tonight." And right-wing websites, including breitbart.com and Info Wars, have reposted some RT clips that boost Bashar al-Assad and Julian Assange. RT's actual audience in the United States has so far not been large enough to crack the rankings of cable news services, which means fewer than 30,000 people may be watching. That's not far from the average attendance at a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game.


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