What It Was Like to Work for Russian State Television

What It Was Like to Work for Russian State Television

The person in charge was a tall and ginger-bearded veteran of Russian state-backed news, Mikhail Solodovnikov, who went by Misha. He ran the company through T&R Productions, a limited liability corporation, which declared in a 2017 Foreign Agents Registration Act filing to the Justice Department that he was the sole member and general manager and that he handled duties both as chief executive and head of editorial. He added that he “respectfully disagrees that FARA should apply” to RT America.

In an email on Saturday, Mr. Solodovnikov said he had been privileged with “legendary” show hosts and “scores of young and aspiring intellectuals and journalists,” and he pointed a finger at mainstream U.S. media for hypocrisy. “It is plain to see that most of the U.S. media establishment is celebrating an act of blunt censorship that happened to us on their watch,” he said.

In the network’s early days, he recruited budding online personalities. In 2012, Abby Martin, a vocal critic of mainstream media and a skeptic of the Sept. 11 attacks, started the show “Breaking the Set”; in the opening credits, she swung a sledgehammer at a television set airing clips of cable news stars like Anderson Cooper of CNN.

In 2013, Ms. Martin invited Tyrel Ventura, who is the son of Jesse Ventura, the former pro wrestler and Reform Party governor of Minnesota, as a guest on her show. He had a YouTube talk show, on which he often spoke out against war and was skeptical of mainstream media. After his guest appearance, he said, Mr. Solodovnikov said he liked what he had heard. He also told Mr. Ventura, who is lean with a clean-shaven head, that he had a good TV look, Mr. Ventura said.

Mr. Ventura was soon recruited to bring his online show, “Watching the Hawks,” hosted with Mr. Stone, to RT America.

Around the same time, Mr. Solodovnikov got a huge break. In May 2013, RT America signed a deal with Larry King’s Ora TV to distribute shows by Mr. King and eventually other personalities, including William Shatner and Dennis Miller. Some of the programs would be created out of RT America’s Washington office. Suddenly, the network had household names on its roster. Ora Media’s chief executive, John Dickey, declined to disclose the value of the contract.

Soon, RT America faced a major public test. In February 2014, Russia invaded and soon annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea, then stepped up its aggression and backed separatists who attacked Ukrainian forces in the country’s Donbas region.