The AtlanticThe Atlantic

I watched Russian television for five days straight

By Gary Shteyngart

20 Jul 2023 · 13 min read

informed Summary

  1. The author, Gary Shteyngart, spent five days watching Russian state television to understand the propaganda being disseminated to the Russian public.

On New Year’s Eve of 2014, I became the subject of a terrifying experiment. On assignment for The New York Times, I’d agreed to stay in a hotel room for seven days (leaving only for a brief daily swim) while watching Russian state television. Three monitors were arrayed in front of my bed constantly blasting the state-owned Channel 1 and Rossiya 1 networks, as well as the Gazprom-owned NTV. By the end of my stay, I had turned from a happy-go-lucky novelist into a squeaking gerbil of a man, psychologically compromised and barely sure of what constituted reality.

Now, slightly more than eight years later, I have decided to replicate this experiment. On the one hand, the length of my sentence has been commuted to five days from seven; on the other hand, since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the state’s propaganda has become even more loud, brash, and genocidal, making any length of exposure to it psychologically problematic. But in some way, Russians were preparing for the bloodshed of innocent Ukrainians as far back as 2014, if not earlier. The images of Ukrainians as a bunch of Nazis hoodwinked by the West were readily presented on Russian television. Back then, I did not want to believe they could lead to the massacres of Bucha and Irpin. Today, I know better.

Sign in to informed

  • Curated articles from premium publishers, ad-free
  • Concise Daily Briefs with quick-read summaries
  • Read, listen, save for later, or enjoy offline
  • Enjoy personalized content