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How Cold War-Hungry Neocons Stage Managed RT Anchor Liz Wahl’s Resignation

Posted on Mar 19, 2014

The “Freedom selfie” from James Kirchick’s Twitter feed.

By Max Blumenthal and Rania Khalek

(Page 4)

Off the Wahl

Six current employees of RT were interviewed for this investigation. All are Americans who made no secret of their qualms with the network’s coverage of Russia-related issues. Some said they bristled at an increasingly suffocating atmosphere rife with heavy-handed editorial imposition, while others in different positions at the network said they still enjoyed a modicum of independence. All insisted on speaking anonymously for fear of repercussions. Four of the sources were personally acquainted with Wahl and worked or interacted with her on a regular basis.

Each of those who knew her described her as apolitical.

“She’s never had a political bone in her body,” said one RT employee.

“Liz has always been apolitical and without any clear principles,” said another. “She didn’t talk about any politics outside of work.”

An RT employee who worked closely with Wahl added that Wahl rarely voiced objections about the network’s news coverage. “We do have editorial meetings in the morning to bring up questions comments or concerns, an opportunity Liz rarely took,” said the employee.

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Before joining RT, Wahl interned for the right-wing Sean Hannity on Fox News.

Last spring, according to four former co-workers, Wahl was suspended for two weeks without pay and then demoted from anchor to correspondent after a series of outbursts in the office. She had become disgruntled about her salary, the sources said, then began complaining that she was receiving insufficient assistance from producers in writing her monologues. 

“Liz wasn’t disgruntled about anything editorially. It was entirely about payment,” one ex-colleague remarked. “She learned that another correspondent who has since left had made more money than her. But that’s because this correspondent had had six more years more experience than her.” 

Wahl expressed her outrage at co-workers, often berating them, according to her former colleagues, and by “screaming” at management. She was ultimately suspended without pay for her unprofessional behavior, they told us, and demoted from anchor to correspondent until her duties were restored this past January. A review of RT America’s YouTube page shows that Wahl did not appear at the anchor desk during the latter half of 2013. 

After Kirchick’s on-air performance on Aug. 21, RT employees said Wahl gushed about his actions—one of the few times they could remember her expressing a political opinion. As Kirchick revealed in his Daily Beast exclusive, it was around this time that he and Wahl became friends.

According to her former co-workers, Wahl traveled to New York City to interview for a position at the newly founded Al-Jazeera America. In December, she confided in a friend at RT that she was “super bummed”—she had been rejected for the job. She became despondent, according to a former colleague, bemoaning that she had not appeared at the anchor desk for a full six months because of her demotion. 

At the time, the former colleague said Wahl told the same employee that she had been approached by an unnamed person who wanted her to help undermine RT. “Liz said to me, ‘I’m working with someone right now who wants to take down RT and wants me to write this hit piece,’ ” the employee told us. “She asked me what I thought and I told her it would be really messed up and not to do it. She said, ‘You’re right.’ ”

The employee added, “[Kirchick’s] obviously been trying to charm her into doing this for a while.”

The overthrow of Ukraine’s Russian-oriented government on Feb. 22 and the Russian invasion of Crimea five days later sent shockwaves through RT’s Washington bureau. Abby Martin, a host of the RT program “Breaking the Set,” who was known for her trenchant critiques of mainstream U.S. media and denunciations of American militarism, was among the staffers who bristled at Putin’s actions.

In the final segment of a March 3 broadcast of her show, Martin lashed out at the invasion: “I can’t stress how strongly I am against any state intervention in any sovereign nation’s affairs. What Russia did is wrong. … I will not sit here and defend military aggression.”

She continued: “My heart goes out to the Ukrainian people who are wedged as pawns in a global power chess game. They’re the real losers here. All we can do is hope for a peaceful resolution and prevent another Cold War between multiple superpowers.”

But Martin did not resign. Instead, she appeared in the coming days on American cable news networks chiding mainstream hosts for their own self-censorship around U.S. military interventionism and blasted the six corporations that control 90 percent of the U.S. media. “You guys are beholden to advertisers that you cannot criticize,” she told CNN’s Piers Morgan. “And that’s why I work for a station I can criticize.”

Martin would not be a useful tool for American interventionists, nor would she accept RT’s offer to travel to Crimea.

Martin’s minute-long commentary put Wahl on the spot. Two days later, Wahl decided it was time to pull the string on her parachute and hope for a safe landing. She cited RT’s alleged censorship of an interview she conducted with former Republican Rep. Ron Paul as her final straw, however Paul insisted that “what [RT] reported was exactly what I said.”

When Wahl made the media rounds in the days after she quit, she struck an uncharacteristic tone that echoed the cold warrior themes familiar to neoconservatives like Kirchick. “I have been thinking about it for a while especially in the wake of the anti-gay laws that were happening there [in Russia]; been thinking about it and decided that now is the time as we are approaching possibly another Cold War,” she explained to MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell on March 5.

A day later, Wahl told Fox News host Neil Cavuto, “Right now as we’re approaching a possible Cold War ... this war of words is part of [Putin’s] strategy.”

As Wahl’s 15 minutes neared its expiration, Kirchick gave an interview to Channel News Asia, a satellite channel funded by the autocratic government of Singapore. Asked about Russian machinations in Crimea, Kirchick called for “troop deployments in neighboring NATO states ... just [as] a way to show the Russians that we mean business.”

“The rallying,” as FPI’s Kristol put it, had only begun.


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