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US Media Held Murdered Russian Journalist to a Dangerous Standard

Rather than treating Darya Dugina as a member of the civilian press, US media seemed to downplay her death as a casualty of war.

The post US Media Held Murdered Russian Journalist to a Dangerous Standard appeared first on FAIR.


After the August 20 car-bomb assassination of Darya Dugina, the daughter of a Russian ultranationalist political philosopher, US media outlets quickly branded the 29-year-old as an agent in Russia’s “disinformation war.” Rather than treating her as a member of the civilian press, they seemed to downplay her death as a casualty of war.

CNN: Darya Dugina’s death provides a glimpse into Russia’s vast disinformation machine – and the influential women fronting it

CNN (8/27/22) used Darya Dugina’s assassination to talk about “Russia’s vast disinformation machine”—citing Dugina’s website, which was the 945,284th most popular site in the world in July.

CNN (8/27/22) ran an article to this effect, failing to characterize her murder as an assassination, instead stating Dugina was “on the front lines” of Russia’s war effort, linking her to “Russia’s vast disinformation machine.” NPR (8/24/22) reported that  Dugina was a “Russian propagandist” whose killing signaled the war was coming to Russian elites in their own territory. Foreign Policy (8/26/22) called Dugina a “dead propagandist” whose “martyrdom” did more to achieve her goals in death than she could have hoped for in life.

It is certainly true that during her life, Dugina, who espoused the philosophy of Russian Eurasianism, an expansionist political doctrine veiled as an objective analysis of Russian interests, had very little impact on Western audiences. This is true of most Russian journalists, despite the frequent warnings in US corporate media about the threat posed by Russian media messages. For instance, RT, often considered the foremost Russian outlet in the West, accounted for only 0.04% of Britain’s total viewing audience in 2017 (New Statesman, 2/25/22), and reached about 0.6% of the UK’s online population from February 2021 to the start of 2022—and this was before Western media platforms sharply restricted access to RT and other pro-Moscow outlets in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.

Far more prevalent for Western viewers is the constant barrage of pro-NATO, pro-Western propaganda that vastly overstates the significance of Russian disinformation. Such was the case when CNN noted that Dugina ran a “disguised English-language online platform that pushed a pro-Kremlin worldview to Western readers.” By “disguised,” CNN is suggesting that the site she worked for, United World International, engaged in outright deception by not disclosing its Russian origins—much like CNN does not describe itself as a US-based outlet, but rather as a “world leader in online news and information.”

Whether UWI is purposefully misleading or not, CNN‘s underlying assumption is that Western audiences are so fickle that the most minimal exposure to pro-Kremlin viewpoints represents a threat to national security. It’s this stance that turns journalists with foreign ideologies into the equivalent of enemy combatants.

If CNN thinks disclosure is what separates journalism from propaganda, it might have disclosed the biases of the sources it used to contextualize Dugina’s murder. The article mostly relied on information from the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab and the Center for European Policy Analysis, both of which are “used to promote the information interests of the US-centralized power alliance in Europe and North America” (, 9/5/22) and are funded by the US government, European allied nations and weapons manufacturers.

‘An appropriate target’

CNN headquarters in Atlanta

CNN personalities were fervent defenders of the US invasion of Iraq and the lies that justified it. Did that put them “on the front lines” of the war effort, negating their civilian status?

Whether or not one agrees with what they are saying, journalists of every nationality deserve protection from those who would use violence to silence them. So when CNN or other Western media downplay the assassination of Dugina on the grounds that she spread Russian propaganda, or even disinformation, that supported a war of aggression and other war crimes, they are setting a standard that puts their own colleagues at risk. (The exceptionalism that holds that US institutions can avoid the consequences faced by others is, of course, a central pillar of US propaganda.)

US corporate media have a long track record of advocating for illegal US aggression while knowingly parroting their government’s false pretenses. The New York Times, for instance, hasn’t opposed a US war since its tacit disapproval of Ronald Reagan’s invasion of Grenada in 1983 (, 8/23/17). The Times advocated for the illegal invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (8/8/01, 2/12/03); the CIA’s attempted regime change in Syria (8/26/13); and US drone wars in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia (2/6/13). With the body count from these conflicts far surpassing that of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, how would the assassination of a New York Times editorial board member differ from Dugina’s murder? Aside, of course, from the fact that Dugina supported Washington’s geopolitical adversary.

This isn’t the first time US journalists have been less than sympathetic about the targeting of journalists from nations adversarial to the US. During the Iraq War, human rights groups condemned the US bombing of Iraqi TV in Baghdad, emphasizing that it is not permissible to bomb a news outlet “simply because it is being used for the purposes of propaganda” (Amnesty International, 3/26/03). But prior to the bombing, Fox News‘s Bill O’Reilly argued, ““I think they should have taken out the television, the Iraqi television.” His colleague John Gibson wondered: “Should we take Iraqi TV off the air? Should we put one down the stove pipe there?” (Extra!, 5–6/03). After the bombing, New York Times reporter Michael Gordon said on CNN (3/25/03):

Personally, I think the television, based on what I’ve seen of Iraqi television, with Saddam Hussein presenting propaganda to his people and showing off the Apache helicopter and claiming a farmer shot it down, and trying to persuade his own public that he was really in charge, when we’re trying to send the exact opposite message, I think was an appropriate target.

On the very same day in 1999 that NATO bombed Radio TV Serbia, killing 20 journalists and other civilians (Extra!, 7–8/99), Thomas Friedman argued in the New York Times (4/23/99):

Let’s at least have a real air war. The idea that people are still holding rock concerts in Belgrade, or going out for Sunday merry-go-round rides, while their fellow Serbs are “cleansing” Kosovo, is outrageous. It should be lights out in Belgrade: Every power grid, water pipe, bridge, road and war-related factory has to be targeted. Like it or not, we are at war with the Serbian nation (the Serbs certainly think so), and the stakes have to be very clear: Every week you ravage Kosovo is another decade we will set your country back by pulverizing you. You want 1950? We can do 1950. You want 1389? We can do 1389 too.

Just a few weeks earlier, columnist Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post (4/8/99) had cheered that NATO was “finally…hitting targets—power plants, fuel depots, bridges, airports, television transmitters—that may indeed kill the enemy and civilians nearby.” Do such abhorrent, pro–war crimes arguments turn these columnists from journalists into “propagandists,” unworthy of protection from assassination?

CNN reported that Dugina’s death “has shone a light” on the inner workings of a Russian media sphere that unquestioningly parrots Kremlin talking points as if they were true. But, lacking in self-awareness, CNN and other US outlets relied heavily on Western government sources, exposing their own eagerness to toe the state line.

When US media report on Russia’s disinformation apparatus, they are implicitly claiming that something similar does not exist in the US. But if you’re interested in how US reporting advances Washington’s “soft power” objectives, the turning of a murdered journalist into an object lesson for “Russia’s vast disinformation machine” is a fine example.

The post US Media Held Murdered Russian Journalist to a Dangerous Standard appeared first on FAIR.

This content originally appeared on FAIR and was authored by Luca GoldMansour.

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