The Lesson Marina Ovsyannikova Offers to Chuck Todd and Lester Holt

Yesterday, an editor at Russia’s official Channel One news, Marina Ovsyannikova, came onto a live broadcast and held up a sign condemning Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Predictably, she was quickly detained; thus far, her attorneys have been unable to locate her (though one outlet has said she’ll be charged under Russia’s new crackdown law).

Shortly after her detention, a pre-recorded video was released, in which she explained her actions. She spoke of the shame she feels about her past involvement in Putin’s lies.

What is happening right now in Ukraine is a crime and Russia is the aggressor. And the responsibility for this aggression lies on the conscience of only one person. This man is Vladimir Putin. My father is Ukrainian. My mother is Russian. And they were never enemies. And this necklace on my neck is a symbol of the fact that Russia must immediately stop the fratricidal war and then our brotherly peoples will still be able to reconcile.

Unfortunately, in recent years I have been working on Channel One, working for Kremlin’s propaganda. And I am very ashamed of it. I am ashamed that I was letting them tell those lies from the screen. I’m ashamed that I allowed to “zombify” the Russian people.

We kept silent in 2014, when all this was just in the beginning. We didn’t go to rallies when the Kremlin poisoned Navalny. We just silently watched this inhumane regime.

And now the whole world has turned away from us, and even 10 generations of our descendants will not be enough to wash away the shame of this fratricidal war. We are Russian people — thoughtful and smart. It’s up to us to stop this madness. Come out to rallies. Don’t be afraid of anything. They can’t imprison all of us.

It was an incredibly brave — and because she planned her actions in advance — well-executed protest.

But make no mistake. Ovsyannikova is not, like another brave journalist who spoke up this week, Yevgenia Albats, someone who has criticized the regime in the past, someone whose witness now is a continuation of years of brave reporting.

Rather, Ovsyannikova is someone who, a profile describes, “was a cog in a big machine of Channel One’s news production.” She was part of the the production of official truth. And as she describes, hers is the lesson of regret for that complicity, someone who will forever own a part of Putin’s crimes because she took the comfortable route of contributing to and participating in Putin’s exercise of power. She will almost certainly pay a stiff price for her speech, but she is also someone who did nothing, up till now, as Putin kept raising the price of speaking freely.

While Ovsyannikova’s protest will likely resonate for some time, I would hope that complicit journalists in countries where it’s not too late to defend democracy reflect seriously on Ovsyannikova’s shame. Even as Russia rains bombs down on Ukraine, journalists like Chuck Todd and Lester Holt invited Bill Barr onto their TV to tell lies about Russia’s attack on democracy in the United States, to tell lies about Trump’s extortion of Ukraine, to tell lies about his role in an attack on democracy. Like Ovsyannikova, Todd and Holt sit, comfortable, polished, and complicit, as Barr told lies that were a direct attack on democracy and rule of law.

And like Ovsyannikova, they are doing nothing to rebut the lies of authoritarianism before it’s too late.

Update: Ovsyannikova has surfaced and is thus far facing only administrative crimes, so days, not years, in jail.

Update: Ovsyannikova was fined 30,000 rubles and released, but that apparently only covers the social media video, not the protest on TV.

73 replies
    • bmaz says:

      Yes, and he always was. It was kind of surprising they tried David Gregory instead of going strait to Todd.

    • Rayne says:

      And Todd as well as Holt and the rest of the US anchor/punditry will never know what it is to be genuinely fearful for their lives and still commit to telling the truth.

      RIP Anna Politkovskaya

      • bmaz says:

        On a related note, the blond activist who held up a no war sign on Russian news has been spotted in a Moscow court, with a lawyer. So she is not dead, that is a good start. Bet she still has some serious problems though.

        • milestogo says:

          She was fined the equivalent of 280 USD but still faces a charge on the new “don’t say war” law. I think the WW publicity has likely helped her maybe the same reason Navalny isn’t yet dead. Though in some ways I’m surprised by both and it may show that some tiny semblance of a rule of law is still operating on the fringes of the Russian justice system.

      • What Constitution? says:

        Not the right metric, with all due respect. Todd and Holt can’t be permitted to postulate an excuse for their pathetic toadyism based on the idea that never having to test their principles under actual physical threat justifies their unctuousness. It’s the opposite of that. That’s Todd in 2009, both “critiquing” and “dismissing” the moral necessity to prosecute governmental torture as “the view from 30,000 feet.” “Right” and “wrong” treated as a luxury, not a guideline. Never gonna stand up to Bill Barr’s malevolence with that as a mantra. It should be easier, not harder, to tell the truth when you aren’t worried about being immediately shot — and it’s less honorable, not more, to fail to do the right thing when your life hardly depends on it. Bring us some reporters who will meet that basic standard and ask some real questions when given the opportunity.

        The actions of the on air Russian newsperson were indeed heroic, but they only highlight the lack of integrity in the Todds and Holts in America today, they don’t suggest any kind of excuse for it.

        • RMD says:

          it is not the reporters….it’s who puts them on air.
          As Noam Chomsky puts it, “you don’t get to be in that position by accident” {paraphrase]

      • Theodora30 says:

        After January 6 I wouldn’t be so sure that they won’t/don’t know what it is like to fear for their lives. The far right goes after journalists the same way they go after government officials. A lot of journalists have gotten serious death threats in recent years.

        • Rayne says:

          Like the Capital-Gazette mass shooting and Cesar Sayoc’s pipe bombs to Dems and CNN? Yeah, I get it — and yet Trump doesn’t have the bully pulpit *right now* to incite those kinds of events. The Todd ilk are quite safe at the moment.

          *Right now* is when journalism should go all out to knock down fascism because if they don’t it will rebound and then they will have something to worry about.

  1. Peterr says:

    From the post in the last link:

    You cannot win an interview with Bill Barr. Gaslighters like Barr are too skilled at exploiting our attention economy. The mere act of inviting him on accords a man who did grave damage to the Department of Justice and the Constitution in service of kleptocracy as a respectable member of society. Even assuming you’re prepared enough to challenge his lies (thus far none of the journalists who interviewed Barr has been), he’ll claim your truth, the truth, is just partisanship designed to smear those who believe kleptocracy is moral. More likely, you’ll end up like Savanah Guthrie did, letting Barr claim, unchallenged, that the allegation that Russia conducted a concerted effort to compromise Trump is a lie.

    Part of this, I think, reflects an attitude by some journalists to believe their own press. “We are Meet The Press/NBC Evening News/The Today Show – we can handle these shifty politicians!” Maybe so, but only if you prep yourselves six ways from Sunday and commit yourselves to letting no lie go unchallenged. Or you could refuse to book the interview and tell the world why.

    But that would go against the code of the Villagers.

    • Theodora30 says:

      Barr should have been crucified for saying he would vote for Trump again in 2022 if he is the Republican nominee. Clearly Barr has no problem voting for a guy who is willing to break our laws and destroy our democracy just for partisan reasons. That shocking story has gotten very little media attention.

      • bawiggans says:

        There is a kind of propaganda genius to this declaration that leverages the very awfulness of his tale of the Trump administration’s corruption and malfeasance by concluding that even so, Biden and the Democrats are so much worse that he would still support Trump. This is the essential message of the whole media campaign and it is what will resonate through all future coverage of Barr’s book tour.

        • Tom Marney says:

          I’m not sure about calling it genius. One oft-overlooked aspect of the right-wing psyche is an inability to comprehend the fact that there are peer societies to our own that can be compared and contrasted in order to gain insights into how things are and how they ought to be. right-wingers will reflexively deny it just as they deny almost anything else said about them, though one did in fact tell me, “It’s disingenuous to compare the US to other nations.” No, dumbass. It’s disingenuous not to, if the comparison is fair, which it often is. For starters, there’s healthcare financing, firearms policy, and the fact that the death rate from covid in the US has been three times that in Canada. Trump supporters completely unable to discuss any of these subjects coherently. They can’t read graphs, either.

          The program of the Democratic Party isn’t radical. It amounts to endeavoring to bring the US closer to our peer nations in terms of the sophistication of our public policy. Barr’s insistence otherwise may be a rather redundant sop to the far-right base, or it may be an indication that his psyche is just as addled by right-wing nuttism as that of any rank-and-file redhat.

          • Dark Phoenix says:

            The MAGA morons justify Republican obstruction to everything other countries have by claiming the rest of the world has fallen to the evil forces of “Marxism”… But when pressed, none of them can actually DEFINE it.

      • Beth from Santa Monica says:

        This is the thing that infuriates me about reporters talking to the likes of Barr (Kinzinger too!) who wax on about the unfitness of Trump in the same breath in which they say they can’t support the Democrats because their policies are bad policies and they are bad for the country. How about challenging that empty phrase, oh Lester Holt?!? How are these policies bad? Who knows? What policies? Who knows? What policy could possibly be worse than the abject danger posed by the utterly unfit Trump?

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Only if by “handle,” you mean asking only those questions pre-approved by the politician’s front man, using equally pre-approved demeanor and body language. That’s how Russert and Todd “handle” the Beltway’s toughest politicians. It’s what enables them to book ’em in the first place.

  2. Pete T says:

    I may get soem flak for this – flak jacket on.

    But I think Shepherd Smith now of CNBC hour long news previously one of the only sane voices at Fox (though I rarely watched him there because, well, Fox) is one of the better on air news anchors.

    OK – the pool is not all that deep anymore. We aren’t talking Edward R Murrow or Walter Cronkite these days.

      • VinnieGambone says:

        In the film Hanoi Hilton there’s a scene where the captors throw a christmas dinner for the POWS so they can film it to show the world the kind treatment the captured received.
        Just before that jailers caught one of the guys planning an escape. They are going to execute him after the filming of the christmas dinner. He rises to speak. He gives one of the most patriotic scenes I have ever witnessed. In it he says: ” I do not die for love of country only. I die for the love of countrymen.”

        Wish I knew how to do that sceen capture stuff. Certainly that thought is in the hearts of these brave people. And in America now we have Americans perfectly willing to kill fellow Americans for

    • Chris A says:

      I agree… Shep is fantastic. He covers more in one hour than you would get anywhere else… and he actively protects his viewers from bs. For that reason I doubt he would ever invite someone like Barr on the show. In fact, if I remember correctly, he told his Fox audience “We’ve been deceived” after Barr’s misleading summary of Mueller’s report.

    • THW says:

      I.F. Stone, of I.F. Stone’s Weekly, was probably the most interesting journalist of the sixties. He solved both the limited-time problem and the problem of access by never attending press conferences. Instead, he read the press statements and the newspapers and the Congressional Record and all manner of other public records. His forte was quoting a public record that definitively showed that an individual or a department was simply lying, but he also wrote elegant and eloquent analyses and critiques. If you’ve never heard of him, start with the documentary about him, also called “I.F. Stone’s Weekly.” His filing technique alone is worth seeing, consisting mainly of voluminous cardboard boxes and a prodigious memory with remarkable spatial recollection of where something was in those boxes.

  3. Trevanion says:

    Your piece underscores a DC truth hardly even whispered about – that it doesn’t matter whether it is careerism or natural cravenness that yields being cowed in situations that scream for some integrity. The resultant rot is the same, and runs deeper than anyone wants to admit.

    And never mind the ridiculous pose of insider savviness while doing so.

  4. BobCon says:

    The one thing I would add is that there is a lot more culpability than just the on camera personalities at NBC.

    NBC News chief Noah Oppenheim is an obvious disaster — he spiked Ronan Farrow’s scoop on Harvey Weinstein, which not only was a bad decision on the evidence, but it was an inappropriate insertion of himself into the editorial process. The Daily Beast has reported how he has repeatedly driven NBC News shows to promote side projects of himself and his wife.

    It’s not at all surprising that Oppenheim’s organization coddles Barr — if he pressures his people for the benefit of a serial rapist like Weinstein, what are the odds he’s doing the same for the GOP coverup of Putin enabling?

    People like Todd and Holt should speak up, but they have a lot of ground they’ll need to cover.

    • Theodora30 says:

      Big network honchos have no problem protecting powerful people that they admire or want as guests. For example one network killed a completed story about Colin Powell lying under oath to Iran Contra investigators. That juicy tidbit was no based on anonymous sources, it is in the Independent Counsel’s final report. That network’s higher ups killed the story because they didn’t want to anger Powell because he might refuse to be a guest on their programs.

        • Leoghann says:

          It’s not just their silence and attempted rehab of Andrew Cuomo. Because of all the free, positive publicity they gave him, CNN played a big part in electing the orange traitor. And that’s one example of many.

          During Zucker’s tenure, CNN has become nothing but an entertainment venue, only slightly better than Fox News.

            • BobCon says:

              This piece by Noah Oppenheim is pretty telling.

              It starts out with reasonable enough complaints about reporters filing stories to fit predetermined frameworks, but then it goes completely off the rails:

              His efforts to spin US attempts at nation building are jaw dropping, embarassing PR that were easily disprovable at the time, let alone with the benefit of hindsight.

              Oppenheim was a Neocon true believer back then, and I don’t think he’s given any good reason to think he ever changed.

              And now he runs NBC News where he tried to bury coverage of Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer. What are the odds he’s running interference for Barr and the GOP backers of Trump’s Ukraine fiascos?

              • Ginevra diBenci says:

                NBC News has a foundational problem: Its stated purpose (accurate and insightful journalism) ends up short-circuited by its true purpose, profits. To me the perfect metaphor is its incessant selling of itself-as-product, as in those “This Is Who We Are” ads on MSNBC.

                BobCon, thank you for unearthing that unearthly Oppenheim piece. Its most telling line: “But there are only so many schools and police stations you can visit before you almost start wishing for a bang.” The problem is not so much a neocon in search of evidence confirming his worldview, as it is a so-called journalist looking to sell a story with a “bang.” Or as he goes on (and on) to write, an American in a hero role he can describe as unsung even as he’s sunging him. Audiences eat this stuff up, and as long as that’s what mainstream news organizations feed them that’s how they will perceive the world too.

  5. OldTulsaDude says:

    Media personalities are enslaved by their own desires for fame. These are entertainers chasing the lights rather than digging through the muck for real news. Their mantra is “Don’t rock the boat”.

  6. Ravenclaw says:

    So tough to “win” in an interview with such a clever and superficially respectable deceiver as Barr. The dream is to conduct the first half of the interview all smiles and letting him spew, then switch gears to a direct statement of the fact that he has just told a series of dreadful lies and ask him, not for a response to an accusation (it was simple fact), but for his justification for lying and misdirecting the American people. Then see what he does with that, and no matter what, conclude (full face to the camera) with a repetition of the simple fact that this man lied again and again.

    One may dream.

    • bmaz says:

      That is actually how many trial attorneys conduct cross examination. But news people are not that disciplined. In fairness, they usually have only a short amount of time, whereas an attorney in trial or deposition has a captive witness.

      • Peterr says:

        I don’t have a particular problem with MSNBC airing those ads, but I’ve got to wonder at the business model of Lindell’s company that he and his ad execs think that spending ad money at MSNBC will bring in any measurable amount of business.

    • MB says:

      Sure, anything for a buck, that’s the corporate model. In MSNBC’s relatively short existence, they’ve also flirted with several outspoken left-of “left-of-center” anchors, who enjoyed various short-to-medium tenures before being canned or quitting: Phil Donahue (anti-Iraq war), Keith Olbermann (uber-crank who “discovered” Rachel Maddow), Ed Schultz (hardcore labor union), Cenk Uygur (Young Turks) and even David Shuster. Mehdi Hasan (previously of Al Jazeera and The Intercept) seems to have found a career and home at MSNBC currently. But I’m sure they consider his show to be an “experiment” compared to the ratings for solid-gold Chuck and Morning Joe…

      • FiestyBlueBird says:

        Ed Schultz. I’d forgot about that guy. But thought I remembered, and checked just now, and yup, Ed went over to RT for a time. Yikes.

        • MB says:

          RT had/has a fair amount of programming with American talent: non-political programming with Larry King and William Shatner even. And yes, Ed Schultz – who died in 2018. Also on RT: Chris Hedges, Mike Papantonio and Thom Hartmann (via syndication). A lot of them have voluntarily stepped down after the Ukraine invasion.

        • Nord Dakota says:

          OT but I remember Ed very well–my babysitter years ago was his gf for awhile when he was a settled feature in local ND market as a conservative. My mom fumed when he said on air that he wouldn’t let his kid sell Buddy poppies around Memorial Day because begging is what libs do–my mom, a VFW aux member who marched in the Memorial Day parade every year, was really pissed off. Then he met a nurse who educated him about disadvantaged people, starting with homeless vets and branching out from that. She was the one who turned him into a lib before he entered the national market. IDK if she was still around when he moved to RT, which was pretty weird. (When he met the nurse, he shipped the gf off and paid for her to go to school to become a radiology technician).

    • BobCon says:

      The way ads are sold through third party brokers, a lot of times neither the company nor the broadcaster know what’s going where until after it airs.

      Channels will handle a lot of sales directly, but often they’ll have blocks of time they end up dumping on a broker. Maybe Ex Lax declines an option to buy 20 hours of time in April, MSNBC can only line up a replacement to buy 12 hours, so they put out a call for bids from brokers for the rights to the remaining eight hours, and it’s up to the broker to scramble for whatever they can get.

      It’s usually possible for certain sales to be explicity put off limits by either a company or broadcaster, but usually that doesn’t happen until a lot of complaints roll in, and it has to be done with every third party broker.

  7. john paul jones says:

    The Yevgenia Albats interview is well worth watching, all twelve minutes of it. It’s not often that one ends up close to tears over “mere journalism,” but that did it. Over-riding sense from both her and Marina Ovsyannikova was the shame they both feel that their beloved country could do such things.

  8. d4v1d says:

    Having not watched TV since the early aughts, I don’t recognize the Chuck Todd of which you speak. He’s a regular guest on a Boston radio talktalktalk show and he is very well aware of what these liars are up to. So it makes your point about his comfortably cashing big paychecks to be part of the machine. I hope he gets your message, but it appears he might have to grow a spine first. He would be pulled off the set mid-broadcast if he uttered what I presume to be the honest opinions he expresses on a blue state radio station.

  9. KathyS says:

    Am I of the very few who sees a connection between 1. the 5 “letters of the FSB colonel”, 2. the troll farms’ messaging “I do not support Ukraine, there’s no atrocities in Ukraine, Putin is right, but I am for peace” which has been already the leading trolls message for 2-3 days in Facebook and 3. that “sudden protest” of a person who has been creating and spreading propaganda for 8 years? All of these portray Russians as “victims” while they actually support Putin. Putin also likes to portray himself as the “victim of US and the bad capitalists”. That chick is released after a fine amounting to less than 300 USD? Somewhere sometime in the unknown future more allegations she might receive… it might not. Navalny is in jail taken right from the airport. Moreover, what is the result of showing the sign “No War” in English to Russians who speak Russian not English? How many Russians have seen her poster, she has appeared with it for 2 minutes, there’s a lag time of 2-3 minutes between what happens in a studio in a live transmission and what is seen on TV. If that has been a live transmission and not a prerecorded clip? All social media do not function in Russia, the Russian people have nowhere to see the poster again or her Mea Culpa if they have seen them at all. I do think that this is FSB/GRU psy-op for the merciful public in the democracies.

    • P J Evans says:

      English is the second language of a lot of people in Russia.

      The important people will be most fluent, but many can understand those two words.

    • Arabiflora says:

      I’m with you thinking this is an elaborate psyop, if for no reason other than the fact that the blond anchor has been seen (a) alive and (b) holding a press conference. That does not comport with the vaunted “iron grip shutdown” on free speech supposedly imposed in Russia on protest/free speech. Related, at least to me, how is it that although Russia is generally acknowledged to have total air superiority, why is it that their armored units are merely plinking away at high-rise apartment buildings in Kyev and Zilinskyy can still broadcast his appeals for assistance from what surely must by now be a well-know location?

      • madwand says:

        My thought also, the lawyer and the presser smacks of an influence op. As to Zelenskyy I would think he’s moving around a bit.

      • Rayne says:

        You do realize we’re also suspicious of newcomers to this community, knowing that psyops can be conducted in *this* social media platform as well, yes?

        what surely must by now be a well-known location” could be construed as either gross naïveté or influence in itself when multiple sources have shared OSINT about hit squads detailed to decapitate Ukraine’s leadership and the public has been told of only one Chechen team which has been eliminated so far.

    • Tom says:

      My thinking was that Putin’s men don’t want to make a martyr of Ms. Ovsyannikova by lowering the boom on her. They may also be calculating that a lesser penalty will make her actions less newsworthy. I also wonder whether Putin is fearful of the level of anti-war demonstrations across Russia to date and is reluctant to poke the bear, in a manner of speaking, by giving the populace yet one more reason to take to the streets in protest.

      Can’t help but think of Basil Fawlty’s “Don’t mention the war!” routine.

  10. Eureka says:

    OT in the news: they caught the fugitive MoMA stabber sleeping on a bench (in the starry night) down in Center City Philadelphia by the bus terminal. The suspect had previously told the NY Post that he was headed to Mar a Lago.

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