Conservative And Liberal Activists Continue To Take To Russian-Backed Media Two years after Russia intervened in U.S. politics, some American activists and pundits continue to appear on Russian-owned media outlets.

Conservative And Liberal Activists Continue To Take To Russian-Backed Media

Conservative And Liberal Activists Continue To Take To Russian-Backed Media

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Two years after Russia intervened in U.S. politics, some American activists and pundits continue to appear on Russian-owned media outlets.


Today, the Senate Intelligence Committee is considering how the U.S. should respond to Russia's interference in the 2016 election. One subject sure to come up - Russian-backed media networks that U.S. intelligence officials accuse of spreading propaganda. These networks often showcase American activists and pundits who parrot Russian talking points. Johnny Kauffman of member station WABE in Atlanta reports.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: From RT America newsroom, this is the news on RT America.

JOHNNY KAUFFMAN, BYLINE: This is RT America, formerly Russia Today. The TV network is part of that country's propaganda machine in the U.S. That's according to a report from the CIA, NSA and FBI. Ned Ryun has been a guest on RT America at least nine times so far in 2018. He's CEO of the conservative American Majority PAC. Here's Ryun on the network earlier this year.


NED RYUN: Because there are many, myself included, that feel that the Bob Mueller investigation is an illegitimate one and a farce.

KAUFFMAN: Part of Ryun's job is going on cable news, but RT is different.

RYUN: There is no mistaking, obviously, their relationship with the Russian government.

KAUFFMAN: RT is funded by the Russian government. But Ryun says that doesn't affect his message when he's on the network. Part of his message is that the investigation into Russian interference in U.S. politics is partisan overreach. Ryun says America's democratic institutions are resilient.

RYUN: Part of me is if there is an outlet and a voice and an opportunity to go put in a message, I see no reason as to not do that.

KAUFFMAN: Liberal activists also show up on Russian-backed media.


ANOA CHANGA: If there's a space available to occupy and get that voice across, then we should take it.

KAUFFMAN: Anoa Changa was a prominent supporter of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders during the 2016 election. That's when she started appearing on the Russian-funded Sputnik Radio. National security agencies say Russian-backed networks boosted the campaigns of now-President Trump, Sanders and Green Party candidate Jill Stein. But Changa says there's too much attention on that, and it distracts from an important debate about the Democratic Party's problem reaching voters. Here she is on the Sputnik program "By Any Means Necessary."


CHANGA: If anything, this type of rhetoric is being launched to undermine, you know, progressive candidates who are trying run may have benefited from, you know, the grass-roots support that grew up around Bernie Sanders.

KAUFFMAN: Like RT, U.S. national security agencies say Sputnik is part of Russia's propaganda machine. The network gives Changa another platform to get her message out. She denounces what she calls racial injustice and oppression. These concerns fall in line with what experts call a key message of Russian propaganda - amplifying existing political and social divisions. But for the Sputnik radio host and progressive activist Eugene Puryear, this analysis pushes aside problems such as racism and police brutality.

EUGENE PURYEAR: Well, these are concrete things, and, you know, they all get solved, I have nothing to talk about. And I can walk out of here and go off the air and be happy about it, quite frankly.

KAUFFMAN: Robert Orttung warns the Kremlin may be using the very real frustrations of political activists for its own purposes. He's a professor who studies Russia at George Washington University. Orttung says when American activists appear on Russian-backed media, it legitimizes the outlets.

ROBERT ORTTUNG: The goal is not to gain audiences by presenting credible news, but to undermine the democratic institutions in the United States and other countries in the West.

KAUFFMAN: Sputnik and RT say they're real sources of news. And all the activists we spoke to say they're not being influenced or used by Russia. Both Ryun, the conservative, and Changa, the progressive, keep appearing on Sputnik and RT. They both say they're focused on spreading a message, and if there's an opportunity to do that, why not take it? For NPR News, I'm Johnny Kauffman in Atlanta.


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