The US head of overseas media picked a fight with Russian state TV

Sticks and stones.
Sticks and stones.
Image: Reuters/Phil McCarten
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Many have called the growing tensions and worsening relations between the United States and Russia the “new Cold War.” And when the new head of the American government’s broadcast agency clashes with Russian state-run media, it sure seems like an accurate assessment.

Andrew Lack, a former NBC News president who was sworn in this week as head of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which runs US-backed international news media, got into a war of words with a Russian state-sponsored overseas network in an interview with the New York Times (paywall).

“We are facing a number of challenges from entities like Russia Today which is out there pushing a point of view, the Islamic State in the Middle East and groups like Boko Haram,” Lack said.

It’s not the first time a US official has taken it up with the network—John Kerry has called it a “propaganda bullhorn” last April. More recently, President Obama took a dig at the Russian government itself in the State of the Union address last Tuesday.

Needless to say, the Kremlin-backed network (which has changed its name from Russia Today to RT) was immediately up in arms. “We are extremely outraged that the new head of the BBG mentions RT in the same breath as world’s number one terrorist army,” said Margarita Simonyan, the network’s editor. “We see this as an international scandal and demand an explanation.”

“Apart from BBG itself, RT is also seeking clarification from the US State Department and the US Embassy in Russia,” RT said on its website.

The glossy English-language news network and website has a substantial following in America. RT often takes an anti US-government stance, and has been criticized for spreading Russian propaganda. Several of its anchors have spoken out against the biased coverage on air, and two of them resigned last year.

The Broadcast Board of Governors is the US agency that oversees government-funded international outlets such as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Voice of America, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, and Radio Free Asia. Quartz has reached out to the agency for comment.

In the meantime, RT and its supporters have taken up the the hashtag #NEWSISNOTTERROR: