Covering Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th president of the United States, RT America might as well been a radio show.
Much like Trump’s complaint in tweets about Rep. John Lewis for casting doubt on his legitimacy, and in his address at the Capitol concerning Washington politicians, the Russian-sponsored television outlet was a lot of talk, talk, talk, and very little action in its presentation of Friday’s pageantry.
Sure, in the hours ahead of the ceremony, there was plenty of reporting, if that’s the word, on how the country Trump aspires to lead is a crime-ridden, drug-addled, angrily divided dystopia whose citizens are constantly lied to by the mainstream media establishment, suffer under the yoke of a thuggish police state, and—in Washington, D.C., at least—threatens at any moment to erupt into brutal violence.
There was even an extended pro-Trump interview with former Scottish MP George Galloway, notorious as a supporter of the late, unlamented Saddam Hussein and Russian-backed Syrian butcher Bashir al-Assad; Galloway is also a virulent Israel hater who has been occasionally associated with anti-Semitism.
That box, anyway, was successfully checked.
But as RT’s inaugural coverage got underway (and this reporter monitored its online feed), the televised festivities were largely confined to the Plexiglass anchor desk placed in front of blue-and-white backdrop of aggressively military-looking stars but zero stripes in the Washington headquarters. Heaven forfend that RT would grace its U.S. studio with the image of an actual American flag.
Pool camera shots of the Obamas greeting the Trumps at the White House, of the Supreme Court and congressional leaders marching ceremoniously to their seats, and of the presidential limousine making its way up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol—in other words, images reflecting both the humanity and majesty of this celebration of American democracy—received short shrift in favor of talking heads beamed in from camera positions in New York, Miami, Pensacola, and London.
From the latter locale, RT host Ashfin Rattansi gloated that British people were marveling at “how militarized your capital is. Looks like 1776, not 2017! How many troops have you got there?”
Sounding a repeated theme of the broadcast, Rattansi added that “the elite media here is so disparaging of Trump, betraying hatred for the new president and love for President Obama.”
The effect was stuffy and hermetically sealed.
If the employees of RT (shorthand for “Russia Today”) truly wish to spread effective propaganda on behalf of their Kremlin paymasters—as alleged in the recent government intelligence report on Vladimir Putin’s efforts to influence the election—they should probably take their cue from Leni Riefenstahl instead of Larry King.
Indeed, the 83-year-old Suspendered One—a former radio jock and long-ago prime-time star of CNN, and now, in his dotage, the host of two RT shows, Larry King Now and Politicking—featured prominently in the channel’s garrulous, visually impaired inaugural coverage.
He showed up in RT’s Washington studio to banter with former MSNBC anchor Ed Schultz, who also has his own RT show, and their RT cohost Anya Parampil, fresh from her Twitter war with CNN’s Jake Tapper.
After Parampil had mocked Tapper and Dana Bash for their inaugural eve fireworks commentary—“Suppose this is vital info,” she’d tweeted—the CNN anchor had tweeted back: “next time tune in to when we’re discussing how your boss Vladimir Putin is responsible for human rights abuses and cyberattacks of US,” prompting Parampil to respond: “Childish McCarthyism aside, your *actual• boss, Jeff Zucker, created Trump. Now let’s watch careerists like you fall in line and punch left.” And so on and so forth.
Ironically, Parampil’s employer was clearly obsessed with Thursday’s fireworks. A chyron that appeared repeatedly on the bottom of the screen, even during Trump’s speech, informed viewers: “PRE-INAUGURAL CONCERT FIREWORKS DISPLAY SEEMINGLY SPELLS OUT ‘USR’ INSTEAD OF ‘USA’”—a jokey reference, apparently, to the “United States of Russia.”
Another RT chyron in frequent rotation (another swipe at Zucker’s cable channel and its report on the emergency line of presidential succession): “CNN PONDERS CONSEQUENCES OF TRUMP’S HYPOTHETICAL DEATH AT INAUGURATION.” Initially, the chyron had mispelled one of the words as “concequences.”
Shultz and Parampil, meanwhile, frequently deferred to King, who dispensed such gems as:
“Donald Trump is Donald Trump!”
Isn’t it great how we turn things over? Nobody’s beating down the doors.”
“We will forge forward! We will make RT great again!”
“When you’re a ‘former’ in America. You’re a ‘former.’ Goodbye!”—a sentiment apparently meant to apply to Barack Obama, but decidedly not to Larry King.
At another point, instead of watching and listening to the proceedings, including a lovely choir performance, Schultz yakked on and on, speculating on what Trump’s speech might convey, and King told wandering, self-aggrandizing stories about how the former Apprentice star once comped him and his wife a hotel room while he prepped for shoulder surgery, and how George H. W. Bush, the old man, once asked him to write a letter on his behalf to the dean of Georgetown Law School because Bush didn’t know anybody there and was “too classy” to do it himself.
Shultz, for his part, seemed a little confused at times. When RT correspondent Manila Chan reported that Ellen Page, the actress, was in town to take part in the anti-Trump protests, Shultz took that as an invitation to deliver a lengthy disquisition on former NFL star Alan Page and his post-football legal career in Minnesota.
RT anchor Lindsay France, stationed at Lafayette Park in front of the White House, appeared on screen, not once but twice, to lecture American journalists on how biased and unfair they had been, and were continuing to be, to the man of the hour.
Calling the coverage a “media onslaught,” France claimed American reporters were approaching Trump with “anger and swagger.”
She made many of the same criticisms in a second appearance, apparently unaware that her fellow RT anchor, former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges, had just slammed Trump and his incoming administration as “not only ethically challenged but they have no ethics…and embrace all sorts of conspiracy theories, and have very little experience in government.”
Hedges went on: “I worry that these people just don’t have the capability to respond in a rational way,” adding that Trump and his people remind Hedges of the line in the famous W.B. Yeats poem, The Second Coming: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
If that was a tad off message, at least regarding the new president, it was right in line with RT’s daily chronicle of the well-deserved and inexorable decline of the American empire.