RT America is a U.S.-based pay television and internet-based news channel which is part of the RT network, a global multilingual television news network based in Moscow, Russia, funded and controlled by the Russian government.
The channel is registered as a "foreign agent" with the United States Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). A 2017 report by the United States Intelligence Community characterized RT as "The Kremlin's principal international propaganda outlet" and said that RT America had been set up as an autonomous nonprofit organization to avoid FARA's registration requirement. RT America claims that it reaches 85 million people in the United States, but this figure is disputed.
RT's parent company is TV-Novosti, a Russian state-owned organization. According to the Digital Forensic Research Lab of the Atlantic Council: "[I]t is almost entirely funded by the state budget, with the exact figure ranging annually between 99.5% and 99.9%." The channel was launched in the United States in February 2010 as RT was looking to increase its reach. It was launched along with Rusiya Al-Yaum in 2007, the Spanish-language channel RT Actualidad in 2009, and the RT Documentary channel in 2011. RT America has "provided a platform for various fringe or simply false narratives in American public discourse," with guests on the network promoting conspiracy theory that 9/11 was orchestrated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the conspiracy theory that the death of Osama bin Laden had been faked.
RT has regularly featured figures from the far-right. Some of these figures have ties to fringe or extremist groups that would render them unwelcome on other channels. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2014, RT America has covered the President Barack Obama "birther" conspiracy theory on multiple occasions, including an interview with a white supremacist that failed to indicate his allegiance.
RT has regularly used Ryan Dawson as an "expert" interviewee for a variety of issues. According to The Interpreter online magazine, Dawson is a Holocaust denier and holds other extensive non-mainstream positions, none of which was mentioned by RT in its description of him. According to David Z. Morris, however, in Fortune in 2017: "RT America has been more likely to highlight legitimate but marginalized political perspectives, and further blurs the line between propaganda and commentary by employing respected U.S. journalists such as Chris Hedges, Ed Schultz, and Larry King."
An analysis published in the academic journal Politics in 2015 identified the conspiracy theories spread by RT as a tool of Russian foreign policy, used to legitimize the policies of the Russian government and delegitimize the policies of the American government. During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, RT published conspiracy theories about the murder of Seth Rich and other articles to undermine the Hillary Clinton campaign. Some of these gained traction on social media and were distributed around the internet.
In their investigation of alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. 2016 elections (as did the Obama administration), the U.S. intelligence services have "high confidence" that RT was involved in a campaign ordered by President Vladimir Putin. The New York Times reported their findings in 2017 indicating that "the attack was carried out through the targeted use of real information, some open and some hacked, and the creation of false reports, or 'fake news,' broadcast on state-funded news media like RT and its sibling."
On November 13, 2017, the United States Department of Justice insisted that RT America register as a "foreign agent" under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA). On the same day, RT's editor in chief, Margarita Simonyan, said that it would comply with the demand in order to avoid further legal action by the U.S. government, and registered the company as a foreign agent. Under FARA, RT is required to disclose financial information. The network's congressional press credentials were revoked following the network's registration as a foreign agent. RT has compared itself to the BBC and Deutsche Welle, which are not affected by FARA.
James Kirchick wrote in The Washington Post in September 2017 that "RT is not a 'news service' in any meaningful sense of the term. Reputable news services don’t employ Illuminati correspondents. RT has no regard whatsoever for basic journalistic values like objectivity or the pursuit of truth." Kirchick was a guest in August 2013 to talk about Chelsea Manning, and used the opportunity to "speak out against the horrific anti-gay legislation" which had recently been approved by President Putin. The clip went viral on social media.
William Broad of The New York Times wrote about the network's coverage of 5G, the mobile phone technology. Broad said the network aired seven programs in 2019 on the subject up to mid-April that year. One of these, entitled A Dangerous ‘Experiment on Humanity', Broad commented, linked 5G "signals to brain cancer, infertility, autism, heart tumors and Alzheimer’s disease — claims that lack scientific support". RT America has also spread false claims about the Ebola virus, vaccinations leading to autism and the American agency Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) being involved in a cover-up. It has focused on Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe, a 2016 film by the discredited British anti-vaccine campaigner Andrew Wakefield. Domestically, in Russia itself, President Putin is a firm advocate of vaccinations.
On March 4, 2014, Breaking the Set host Abby Martin (whose show was at the time produced by RT America), speaking directly to her viewing audience during the show's closing statement, said that although she worked for RT, she was against Russia's intervention in Ukraine. She said that "what Russia did is wrong", as she is against intervention by any nation into another country's affairs. Later, Martin asserted that RT still supported her despite her differences of opinion with the Russian government. RT's press office suggested that Martin would be sent to Crimea, and responded to accusations of propaganda, stating "the charges of propaganda tend to pop up every time a news outlet, particularly RT, dares to show the side of events that does not fit the mainstream narrative, regardless of the realities on the ground. This happened in Georgia, this is happening in Ukraine". Glenn Greenwald said that American media elites love to mock Russian media, especially RT, as being a source of shameless pro-Putin propaganda, where free expression is strictly barred. Agreeing the "network has a strong pro-Russian bias", he suggested that Martin's action "remarkably demonstrated what 'journalistic independence' means".
The day after Martin's statement, RT America anchor Liz Wahl resigned on air, claiming RT was a propaganda machine for President Vladimir Putin. She was recorded as saying. She said: I cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin. I am proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth. And that is why, after this newscast, I am resigning. Wahl said that what "broke" her was that RT censored a question from her interview with Ron Paul about "Russia's intervention in Ukraine". In response, RT released a statement: "When a journalist disagrees with the editorial position of his or her organization, the usual course of action is to address those grievances with the editor, and, if they cannot be resolved, to quit like a professional. But when someone makes a big public show of a personal decision, it is nothing more than a self-promotional stunt. We wish Liz the best of luck on her chosen path". In a March 2014 Politico article, Wahl expanded on her resignation statement, saying, "For about two and a half years. I'd looked the other way as the network smeared America for the sake of making the Kremlin look better by comparison, while it sugarcoated atrocities by one brutal dictator after another." When asked by Brian Stelter, host of CNN's Reliable Sources, about a clip of her interviewing a guest on RT, Wahl responded, They get these extreme voices on that have this kind of hostile toward the West viewpoints towards the world, very extremist. These are the people that they have on. And when I was on the anchor desk, they would instruct you to egg on these guests and try to get them, you know, rallied up, to really fire off their anti-American talking points. Listen, I'm all about exposing government corruption. I'm all about being critical of the government. But this is different. This is promoting the foreign policy of somebody that has just invaded a country, has invaded the country and is then lying about it, is using the media as a tool to fulfill his foreign policy interests. And RT is part of Putin's propaganda network and it's very, very troubling in the wake of what is going on in Ukraine today.