Wedding Photographer

Yes, I work for Sputnik News

January 11, 2012: Protester outside the White House during a vigil against the Guantanamo Bay detention center in its 10th year. (Justin Norman, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

I works for Sputnik News. The. I said it. I am neither embarrassed nor ashamed. I am not a Russian propagandist either, despite what you may have read in the “mainstream” media. Sputnik approached me in 2017 and offered me a position as a radio talk show host. I refused them. Friends told me that it would be a mistake to work for the Russian bear. They said I would get the attention of the government, maybe even the FBI. Did I really want to do this?

About eight months passed, and Sputnik again offered me a job. I had just been released from prison after denouncing the CIA’s torture program, no one was knocking on my door to offer me a job, and I had just separated from my wife. So I went to an interview. The network editor told me he wanted to give me my own talk show. I said I was interested, but I had to have complete editorial freedom. “Done”, was the reply. I said I wanted to be able to talk about anything I wanted, to be able to criticize whoever I wanted, including Russian President Vladimir Putin. “It’s done,” repeated the editor. I asked if he would put it in writing in my contract. He did, and I started working at Sputnik in August 2017.

For the first two and a half years, I co-hosted a show with Brian Becker, a well-known progressive activist and co-founder of the ANSWER Coalition. I have deep respect for Brian, who sits to my left, politically, and the show, loud and clearhas been a success.

I said I was interested, but I had to have complete editorial freedom. “Done”, was the reply.

Later, I co-hosted a show with Lee Stranahan, a conservative/libertarian populist and former journalist for Breitbart. We agreed on almost nothing in the year we worked together. And like me, Lee was never told that he should say something or not say something or take a certain political position. We were free to express ourselves. Since the beginning of the year, I have co-hosted a mainstream progressive show with Michelle Witte, an accomplished and highly intelligent information professional. I really like going to work every day. Honestly, I don’t even see it as work because it’s so much fun.

I first realized that there were people out there who didn’t like or appreciate alternative viewpoints in 2018, when I received an email from a reporter from The New Republic. (She was actually a wedding photographer who worked as a freelance journalist.) She said she wanted to report on my new career at Sputnik. I declined, saying I wasn’t interested in being “the story”. She replied, “Listen, this story is being written with you or without you.” I gave him an interview to try to soften the blow, but the result was “The Spy Who Turned Russian Propagandist.”

But hear The Washington Post say it (or The New Republic, or the Center for Strategic and International Studies) I am a dangerous propagandist for Vladimir Putin. The truth is, whoever says this is either a propagandist themselves or has simply never listened to my show.

“Weakening of our democracy”

The same thing happened again shortly after The New Republic the article was published. In early 2020, CBS News apparently realized Sputnik was airing on a small Kansas City station. They listened to my show loud and clear and, reacting specifically to a segment I used to do every Thursday called “Criminal Injustice”, said I was “weakening our democracy”. How did I accomplish this amazing feat? I was talking about how the United Nations had declared solitary confinement in American prisons to be a form of torture. And I argued for Julian Assange.

Later in 2020, a report by the neoliberal Center for Strategic and International Studies was more direct. It said,

“Sputnik’s weekly segment Criminal Injustice on its Loud & Clear podcast similarly casts itself as calling attention to the denial of justice to citizens, mixing legitimate grievances with distorted information. Russia’s goal for these programs is not to make the US legal system fairer; it’s about telling a relentless one-sided story to trick Americans into believing that the system is as corrupt and broken as the legal system in Russia. Putin’s hope is that Americans will renounce democratic institutions, in the same way that much of his own population has come to terms with corruption in Russia.

wow! I had no idea that I was so influential, that I was so cynical in my creation of Criminal Injustice, or that I had strategized with Vladimir Putin to weaken democratic institutions. If only I could monetize it! The truth is that after spending 23 months in prison, I have seen how tough and corrupt our “democratic institutions” are.

So I decided to interview two of my friends every Thursday: Paul Wright, executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center and editor of Prison legal news and Criminal Legal News magazines; and Kevin Gosztola, an outstanding reporter who focuses on criminal justice issues. They have absolutely nothing to do with Russian “propaganda”. They simply care about human rights – much more than the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Things have gotten tough for Sputnik over the past two weeks. Our sister channel, the TV news channel RT America, was permanently shut down a week ago. And there are calls from members of Congress, the National Association of Broadcasters and neoliberal think tanks around Washington for the government to do the same with Sputnik.

They may well succeed. But their complaint that Sputnik is pushing “the Russian point of view” carries no weight. What if it was? The BBC carries the British point of view. DW carries the German point of view. Al Jazeera carries the Qatari point of view. Are we all banning them because Washington opposes a story? And then should we sit back while the Russians ban CNN, Fox, Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, all of which are available in Russia? It’s a slippery slope.

Anyway, I would love to go on CNN, Fox and MSNBC to talk about my interests, but they never invited me. Sputnik gave me this platform. If the Washington waves don’t like it, it’s bad luck for them.

Jean Kiriakou
Consortium News