Jeff Shell, an executive with NBCUniversal, was detained in Moscow last night when he tried to enter Russia. After hours of confusion, he was ultimately told that he couldn’t enter the country. Was the Kremlin still angry about Evan Almighty? Probably not. The New York Times mentions that Mr Shell is also the chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. The part they kind of gloss over? The BBG is the propaganda arm of the United States.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby
Now, simply being chair of the BBG doesn’t excuse Russia from denying Shell entry to Russia. But it does put the move under a slightly different light. I don’t think anyone can deny that the world has descended into full Cold War II chaos. And living in such a world means that the West (the United States, Britain and so on) and the former Communist bloc (Russia, China and so on) are going to continue to be at odds, because old habits die hard.
No official explanation has been given for Shell’s denial of entry into Russia, but his chairmanship of the BBG means that he’s responsible for overseeing propaganda broadcasts of news produced by the US government in foreign countries. So we might be able to guess. Russia’s version of this in the United States is called Russia Today or RT News. Shell was reportedly told yesterday that his ban was for life.
The Broadcasting Board of Governors was established in the early 2000s after the first Cold War propaganda news outfit, the United States Information Agency (USIA), folded in 1999. Today, the BBG is responsible for distributing news and opinion programs funded by the US government to the rest of the world. Those news programs are explicitly forbidden from being broadcast inside the United States under laws that prohibit the government from releasing propaganda domestically.
USIA, much like BBG, was also run by respected news and business leaders of the day — like none other than Edward R. Murrow. I reviewed a new book about the topic back in May. Mr Shell carries on a long tradition of important newsmen on the private media side of things becoming influential in American foreign policy.
The United States is on a Cold War footing with China and Russia because billions of dollars were spent preparing for wars that never came. And as long as the missiles stay in their silos, the battlefield will continue to be over the airwaves. Mr Shell is a General in that war, but it looks like he’ll have to continue to command his troops from a distance.