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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Kremlin-Owned Network Hires Larry King

A YouTube trailer for Larry King’s new talk show on a Russian government satellite channel.

The Russian government’s satellite news network Russia Today, or RT, announced on Wednesday that it had hired Larry King to “host a mold-breaking political talk show” for its American channel.

A brief online trailer for the new show featuring Mr. King, 79, displayed a series of words associated with the host in the minds of his new employers â€" “critical thinker,” “hard-nosed,” “depth,” “intelligence,” and “suspenders” â€" that some of his critics might take issue with. (Readers who want to brush up on their Russian can view a copy of the trailer subtitled and dubbed into that language.)

Given that the Kremlin-owned network devotes considerable air time to critics of the American government, and finds fault with President Vladimir Putin’s rule about as often as Fox News produces exposés on the Republican Party, the hiring of the 79-year-old American prompted a stream of mocking comments from Russian skeptics and the foreign press corps in Moscow.

While the Irish editor of the Russian network’s Web site, Ivor Cotty, mocked the mockers, and said that he was enthused about the new hire, a business news blogger based in Moscow suggested that Mr. King’s record as an interviewer of Mr. Putin did not inspire confidence.

Indeed, during an interview in New York in late 2000, Mr. King did not get very much from Mr. Putin when he asked about an embarrassing episode, the sinking of the nuclear submarine Kursk that year, which had cost 118 crew members their lives.

Part of Larry King’s interview with President Vladimir Putin in 2000.

In fact, as Max Read recalled in a Gawker post on Mr. King’s post-modern defection, the host even said in an interview with RT in 2011 that he is something of a fan of Mr. Putin.

Larry King talking about Vladimir Putin in an interview with RT in 2011.

Asked in that interview how Mr. Putin had come to be one of the final guests on his CNN talk show in late 2010, Mr. King replied:

I got along with Mr. Putin very well. When I met him at the U.N. conference, some years ago, I didn’t know it was 10 years ago, I immediately had a good rapport with him. I liked him very much. And so we thought of who would be the best guests.

And, I don’t know if this is generally known, but he asked to come on. He said he watched the show almost all the time and he knew I was leaving and he’d like to come on. And then he invited me to come â€" I’m coming next May to Moscow to spend some time with him. I had a â€" hard to explain, I had an affinity with him. You try to get that with a lot of guests, but I really had it with him.

As I said to some friends of mine, Vladimir Putin, if he were American, would be a successful American politician. He has a quality, this has nothing to do with politics… They change a room. They have a certain magnetism. And he has ‘it,’ whatever ‘it’ is. He has ‘it.’

Later in the same interview with RT, Mr. King shared more on his first impressions of Mr. Putin, saying: “I liked him right away. The crew liked him…. I loved his answer when I asked him what happened with the submarine and he just said, ‘it sunk,’ but that wonderful pause he took. I find him engaging, I liked him right away. You know there’s certain people that come into your life that you like. I liked him.”

As my colleague Ellen Barry observed in a report on Mr. Putin’s 2010 appearance on one of the last episodes of “Larry King Live” on CNN: “Mr. King, whose program is carried on CNN’s channels around the world, has long had a reputation for softball questions. So Mr. Putin’s decision to appear on the program allowed his voice to be heard both in the United States and abroad while avoiding being challenged on contentious topics like his own grip on power and the limits on human rights and free speech in Russia.”

The new talk show, which is a collaboration with the producers of Mr. King’s current program for the online network Ora.tv (a site financed by Carlos Slim Helú, the Mexican billionaire who also owns a share of The New York Times) is not the host’s first work for RT. Last year he hosted a debate among third-party candidates for the American presidency that was broadcast on RT.

Although the Kremlin-owned network, which broadcasts in English, Spanish and Arabic, is promoted on the Russian foreign ministry’s Web site as a source of information, alongside other official channels, a detailed press release about the new show from Ora.tv made no mention of the network’s government sponsorship at all.

Margarita Simonyan, the young editor-in-chief of RT, gushed about hiring Mr. King on her Twitter feed on Wednesday, and accepted congratulations from the network’s fans.

Although the network aims to present the news from the Russian government’s perspective to viewers abroad, and so does not broadcast inside the country, here state television does similar work, the opposition activist and blogger Aleksei Navalny did retweet a series of jokes about Mr. King’s salary posted online by other bloggers. One of those jokes compared Mr. King’s salary from the Kremlin to the money paid to a series of fading soccer stars who have recently signed lucrative contracts to play for a professional team in the troubled Russian republic of Dagestan.

Robert Mackey also remixes the news on Twitter @robertmackey.

Follow Andrew Roth on Twitter @ARothmsk.