life as understood

by jeff carr, master of the arts, -------------------------------------------------------------------------- presumably from a couch

Yesterday, I was looking for channel 42, and I accidentally typed 422, which to my surprise, is not only a channel, but a channel we apparently get. I've never been higher than 63. Incidentally, this month's Comcast bill was also higher than expected.

After a few minutes of searching through my newfound three-digit wonders to determine what I actually have access to, I stumbled upon an old friend: RT. RT is a Kremlin-funded station based in Moscow that broadcasts in English, but from what they call a "Russian perspective." In my experience, however, it comes much closer to what I call "state propaganda." It used to be known as Russia Today, but the name was recently shortened to RT seemingly in an attempt to pass off its ridiculous reports as coming from some sort of objective global network (with authoritative British accents), as if that sort of thing exists anymore. Get with the times, Russia.

Anyway, yesterday was a rather fortuitous day to re-discover RT, since I had been wondering how I could get live reporting on today's presidential elections without all that onerous typing. This is what I found when I turned it on at around noon Pacific time (midnight in Moscow).

-With about half of the country's ballots processed, preliminary results show Putin at 63 percent. This is about what I expected, and about what his poll numbers were showing last week. (There are five candidates, and he needs 50 percent to avoid a second round of elections in a few weeks.) Zyguanov has 17, Prokhorov and Zhirinovsky have 7 or so, and Mironov has 3.

-RT's anchors keep noting that the final tally won't be in until tomorrow morning in Moscow, emphasizing the vastness of the country and the nine time zones. This reportage is clearly not for people who know Russia with any sort of intimacy, begging the question of who their target audience is.

-Putin declares victory and delivers a speech outside the Kremlin at which he is visibly emotional. A tear track traces down his right cheek. Thousands of people surround the stage. In his speech, Putin says "the people have spoken." Medvedev gets up and thanks the people for voting for "our candidate." The two anchors (one with an American accent, one with a British accent) keep accidentally calling him "President Putin" before catching themselves and laughing.

-RT's anchors and correspondents are rather diverse ethnically. They almost all speak with British accents, though they pronounce Russian names much better than most Brits. This is totally a BBC rip-off.

-They somehow score an interview with Prokhorov, the New Jersey Nets owner, and the anchor asks him how he feels about his 7 percent, which is higher than expected. He doesn't answer. He can't hear her, so her partner asks the same question, which ticks off the first anchor. It doesn't matter, because Prokhorov can't hear anyone. They cut to a different segment.

-RT notes that the elections were graced by more than a million observers, and "more than of 700 of them are international"! A correspondent interviews one of them, a bumbling British senior citizen who talks mostly about the palatial polling stations he saw, which were "much nicer than what we have back home." The correspondent gets him back on track, and he admits that his "observation" took place so early in the morning that almost nobody was there, and the only question he was able to ask to election officials was "have you tested the webcams?" (In a last minute response to expectations of fraud, the Kremlin spent hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars to install webcams in each polling station across the country. No word on how that will actually ensure fairness.)

-The 1-minute RT worldwide weather report breaks in. Reminiscent of BBC, it moves around the globe showing temperatures, three cities at a time. It starts with Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Kaliningrad (a west-facing exclave), then swoops across the whole country and hits Anadyr (a small village and Russia's easternmost point), Oymyakon (another small village known for record-low temperatures), and Vladivostok. The globe keeps spinning, and other continents are covered. The rest of Russia is never mentioned. Maybe I'm looking into this too much, but this seems to epitomize RT's missions to appear international, emphasize Russia's vastness and extremes, and skirt anything in-depth in the country where most people actually live.

-Having declared victory, Putin is now sitting in a conference room speaking with a group of on-site, in-uniform factory workers, though it's the middle of the night where they are. One holds the microphone, and dozens of his comrade workers stand nearby. He asks a little girl to come to the microphone. This is the most Soviet thing ever. They praise him incessantly and congratulate him on his victory. Putin corrects them, calling it a mutual victory. He tells them that they have proved that the workers of Russia are smarter than the "so-called intellectuals" who have been "complaining" as of late. Nice.

-In a surprising twist, Putin summons all the might of socialist labor, instantaneously grows a mustache, and actually turns into Stalin (minus the genocide).

-No, never mind, I just imagined that.

-The same scene at the factory takes place with the Pres, er, Prime Minister talking to groups of his supporters in different cities. Putin vocally points out one particularly attractive female supporter. He says he'll visit her city soon, as well as the others, because "there are things that still need to be discussed."

-Putin finishes his conference calls, and the anchors talk new numbers. With 60 percent of the votes counted, the Prime Minister now has 64 percent of the vote.

-A smug Washington correspondent comes on to "gauge the media reaction" of the West. She holds up an Economist magazine portending "the beginning of the end of Putin," which she smirkingly juxtaposes with the fact that he just won an overwhelming majority. She never mentions which publications are saying what, but she says the talk in the Western press has focused on the public discontent and the protests. (True.) However, she also notes that it would be ridiculous if everyone agreed with the government, and that 41 percent of Americans "strongly oppose" President Obama. On the election results themselves, she notes a "lack of respect of Russians' decision" among Americans and others.

-The anchors ask the question, "If the West doesn't like Putin, who would they have wanted to win?" Someone with a Columbia University affiliation gets on in Brussels and talks about how all Westerners want is for Russia to have a weak president, like Medvedev. Merkel and Sarkozy liked him because they could "push him around."

-The phrase "most Americans don't know" is bandied about at least two more times.

-An RT promo shows off its motto, "Question more." That's a new phrase for the Propaganda Committee -- of course, RT is not broadcast in Russia or in Russian.

And then the coverage starts repeating itself. It is, after all, an election, and there likely won't be much new news for several hours, especially since it's now past 1:00am in Moscow, which means it's even later everywhere else.

Meanwhile, back home, Fox News spurts some scary news about the autocrat being reelected and probably uses the phrase "a new Cold War" like a hundred times. I'm not paying much attention. CNN says next to nothing, ostensibly because nothing surprising happened. It really is hard to get the full story if you don't speak Russian, and even then, who do you trust?

On that note, allow me to introduce my newest project, The Post-Soviet Post, which among other things, aggregates the biggest stories in Russian (and Eurasian) media, condenses them into narratives, and translates them into English, while providing information about the reportage and the sources themselves (who funds them, etc.). At last!