Why is America’s leading liberal magazine publishing its pieces with a Russian propaganda outlet?

Pieces from The Nation are popping up on RT.

RT has begun publishing material from The Nation. CREDIT: GETTY / ANADOLU AGENCY
RT has begun publishing material from The Nation. CREDIT: GETTY / ANADOLU AGENCY

The past year and a half has been a busy one for RT. Early last year, the United States’ director of national intelligence described the outlet, formerly known as Russia Today, as Moscow’s “principal international propaganda outlet.” A few months ago, RT registered with the Department of Justice as a foreign agent.

And now, RT has a new contributor: Stephen Cohen, a contributing editor with liberal magazine The Nation.

A number of Cohen’s pieces from The Nation have been cross-posted on RT’s website since January. A note at the bottom of each of the articles alerts readers that the piece in question “was originally published by The Nation.”

Many of the pieces fit within Cohen’s reputation as a vocal critic of the ongoing investigations into Russia’s interference efforts during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The articles Cohen has published on RT also happen to fit within Moscow’s denials of any interference efforts.

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To wit, Cohen’s most recent piece on RT described the ongoing investigations as “the number-one threat to American national security, a reality for which the Democratic Party, though not solely, bears a very large responsibility.” Another June piece noted that the “core narrative” of the ongoing investigations “has always lacked actual evidence.”

And one of the first pieces Cohen — a professor emeritus at both Princeton and New York University — elected to publish with RT appeared to equate those covering and highlighting Russia’s social media interference campaigns to those who purveyed the so-called “Red Scare” of the 1950s.

Some of the material The Nation's Stephen Cohen has recently published with RT.
Some of the material The Nation's Stephen Cohen has recently published with RT.

But not all of Cohen’s pieces with RT have focused on the ongoing investigations. For instance, one pointed to the recent poisoning in the United Kingdom of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal. British authorities have blamed Russia for the poisoning of Skripal — who worked as a double agent for London — but Cohen claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin “had no conceivable motive” to poison Skripal. (In another recent piece at The Nation, which was not cross-posted on RT, Cohen wrote that Russia’s 2018 presidential vote was, contrary to Western observers’ analysis, neither a sham nor a fraud.) 

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Caitlin Graf, a spokesperson for The Nation, told ThinkProgress via email that The Nation “does not have a formal arrangement with RT.” However, Graf added that the magazine’s “fairly liberal contributor’s contract” allows writers “to independently authorize publication or broadcast of their content following its publication by The Nation. We ask that they include crediting language stating said content was originally published by us.”

Graf added that The Nation has, in the past, asked other sites to remove material cross-posted from the magazine if it has been cross-posted without The Nation’s permission, “but our contract otherwise leaves republication up to the writer’s discretion.” 

Questionable decisions

While it often presents itself as a news outlet, RT tends to push conspiracy theories as fact, and often invites fascists and white supremacists like Richard Spencer on as analysts.

But Cohen’s decision to cross-post with RT isn’t the first time his analysis of the ongoing investigations into Russian interference — and his analysis of the Putin regime more broadly — has been called into question.

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Cohen, who was once described by The New Republic as “Putin’s American Toady,” has questioned the notion that Russia invaded southern Ukraine, saying Russia’s incursion was “an invasion only in the sense that [Russian troops] left the base on Crimea.”

He also described the illegal referendum in Crimea in 2014 as “legitimate,” while charging, according to Coda Story, that “all of his enemies were ‘McCarthyists’ who were keeping him from speaking out.” 

Cohen’s writings at The Nation have led to staffers at the magazine “openly revolting against the magazine’s pro-Russian tilt,” as The Chronicle of Higher Education summed last fall. (White supremacist David Duke has endorsed Cohen, and Duke’s website wrote that Cohen “has no peer in his ability to destroy the anti-Russia and anti-Putin lies.”)

Now, it appears Cohen’s material is no longer confined to the pages of The Nation, but has begun extending to Russia’s most popular propaganda site as well. 


UPDATE: After this article’s publication, Cohen told ThinkProgress that RT had initially reached out to him with the cross-posting request, writing via email that “RT correctly asked me and I personally gave it permission to re-post my Nation commentaries.” He did not respond to ThinkProgress’ questions regarding potential concerns about publishing with RT.