Aug 9, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Pizzagate promoter tapped for Kremlin-backed propaganda campaign

Photo illustration of President Vladimir Putin with a television set and the Russian flag

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Russia's state-backed media apparatus is financing four new TV programs produced by a U.S. conspiracy theorist and aimed in large part at undercutting America's image and interests in the developing world, records show.

Why it matters: The campaign shows how the Kremlin waging an information battle in key regions after its invasion of Ukraine prompted a massive global backlash.

  • Its new propaganda campaign targets the crucial geopolitical power centers of China and India and developing nations in Africa, while also stretching into the Western Hemisphere with content aimed at South America.

Driving the news: American journalist Ben Swann is producing four news-style TV shows for state-backed Russian media organ TV Novosti and two other entities, the Russian firm Kart LLC and an Armenian company called Stark Industries LLC.

  • Themes of the shows will include "the United States and NATO continuing to spread war around the world," "the economic warfare waged by the United States and its allies," and "transgender issues in the United States," according to foreign agent filings.
  • Swann previously anchored a nightly news broadcast for CBS' Atlanta affiliate, where he aired a segment promoting the false "Pizzagate" conspiracy theory.
  • He has also promoted conspiracy theories surrounding the 9/11 attacks and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
  • Swann did not respond to inquiries about his new Russian-backed shows.

Details: Swann's production company will receive more than $5 million to produce the four shows, each of which will consist of 50 episodes, according to a contract filed with the Department of Justice.

  • Swann told DOJ: "I believe that TV Novosti is an autonomous organization but it does receive funding from the Russian government through the Russian Federation."
  • It does indeed receive extensive government funding, with 2022 state subsidies totaling more than 28 billion rubles, or nearly half a billion dollars, according to a story from Russian TV network RTVI flagged by the Atlantic Council's Andrew D'Anieri.

The filings also reveal that Swann acted as a cutout for payments to ex-employees of Russian propaganda network RT America, which also received funding from TV Novosti and shut down after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

  • Swann reported receiving more than $600,000 this year to "pay employees of [RT America production company] T&R productions who were laid off when the company suddenly closed."

The big picture: The topics set to be covered in Swann's new shows mirror Russian state talking points on the pernicious roles of the U.S. and NATO in global affairs.

  • The deal with Swann's company comes as Russia ramps up its global propaganda operations.
  • Ghebi LLC, the company that produces the radio program Sputnik in the U.S., recently boosted its contract with Russian state media entity Rossiya Segodnya, Politico reported last week.
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