The Kremlin-funded network RT abruptly pulled an American journalist off the air for talking about the Russian government's antigay laws instead of the topic at hand.
The drama unfolded as James Kirchick, a gay journalist who has written for "The New Republic" and "The Washington Post," among other publications (including RFE/RL
), was being interviewed from Stockholm by the Moscow-based television station for a panel discussion about U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning
When the host turned to Kirchick for his thoughts, he pulled on a pair of rainbow-colored suspenders and quoted the American playwright and actor Harvey Fierstein as saying, "Being silent in the face of evil is something we can't do."
"You know, being here on a Kremlin-funded propaganda network, I'm going to wear my gay-pride suspenders and I'm going to speak out against the horrific antigay legislation that [Russian President] Vladimir Putin has signed into law, that was passed unanimously by the Russian Duma, that criminalizes homosexual propaganda, that effectively makes it illegal for people to talk about homosexuality in public," Kirchick says.
The puzzled RT host responds, "Yes..?" and Kirchick continues, saying, "We've seen a spate of violent attacks on gay people..." before the host jumps in again to suggest they get back to the discussion about Manning.
"I'm not really interested in talking about Bradley Manning. I'm interested in talking about the horrific environment of homophobia in Russia right now," Kirchick says. "And to let the Russian gay people know that they have friends and allies and solidarity from people all over the world, and that we're not going to be silent in the face of this horrific repression that is perpetrated by your paymasters, by Vladimir Putin. That's what I'm here to talk about."
WATCH: James Kirchick appears on RT
A Russian law aimed at blocking "homosexual propaganda" that went into effect last month "bars the public discussion of gay rights and relationships anywhere children might hear it."
For more than two minutes, Kirchick dominated the live broadcast, at one point telling the sputtering anchorwoman, "You have 24 hours a day to lie about America, I am going to tell the truth with my two minutes."
He also got in a swipe at the hostile media environment in Russia, saying he doesn't know how employees of RT can sleep at night, "knowing how journalists in Russia are routinely harassed, tortured, and in some cases, killed by the Russian government."
Reached afterward by RFE/RL at the Stockholm airport where he was about to board a plane to Tallinn, Kirchick said he normally didn't agree to appear on networks like RT, which he called "propaganda channels of dictatorial governments."
"But I thought, because of what's going on in Russia right now, that this would be a really good way to draw attention to this cause," he explained.
No More Taxi Ride
Kirchick said that after RT producers in Moscow abruptly cut off his audio feed, he headed to the airport in a prearranged taxi that the station agreed to pay for as part of his appearance agreement.
"So about halfway down the highway on the way to the airport, my driver gets a phone call from his boss saying that the car ride has been canceled and that he'll have to drop me off on the side of the road," Kirchick said.
"And I told him that I would pick up the tab. But at the end, actually, at the airport, he said that the ride was free, so maybe we have some anti-Putin activists in the Swedish taxi company."
He said RT didn't explain their actions but did call him to tell him his ride was being canceled. Kirchick said he used "adult language and told them where to put it."
RT bureaus in Moscow and Washington did not respond to RFE/RL's e-mailed requests for comment but sent this statement a day after our story came out:
"Mr. Kirchick was invited to appear on RT's panel as author of article 'Bradley Manning gets off easy,'
in order to contribute to RT's discussion of the Bradley Manning verdict -- obviously the major international news event. Mr. Kirchick decided to instead use this time to express his opinion on LGBT rights, a matter which, while important, was entirely unrelated to the subject of the panel. Regretfully, RT had no other recourse but to continue the discussion without him."
Kirchick said he planned to keep speaking out against Russia's antigay law, and added that he would "encourage anyone who goes on RT to hijack the forum" and do the same.