In the hours before Election Day, Samantha Bee took some time to provide a startling reminder of what a country without a free press — the kind that president-elect Donald Trump has hinted at with threats of opening up libel laws and making “a lot of money” — really looks like.
And so Bee traveled to Russia, or what she sarcastically called “the utopian society where the ‘lamestream media bias’ doesn’t exist.” There, she talked with journalists about just how much Vladimir Putin’s regime has limited, surveilled, and, yes, even killed the press.
As Bee’s voiceover explained in increasingly panicked tones, at least 54 journalists and activists critical of the Kremlin have been killed since Putin took office in 2000.
Meanwhile, 90 percent of Russians get their information from Kremlin-sponsored TV stations that broadcast “news” programs like Duel, a Thunderdome-esque showdown that pits pundits against each other as viewers rate their performances in real time. One clip Bee played shows a Russian pundit standing in front of an apocalyptic picture engulfed in flames, insisting that “Russia is the only country really capable of turning the US into radioactive ash.”
When Russian and American journalist Masha Gessen informed Bee that the country Bee was visiting had been recently accused of drugging two American diplomats, all the host could do was blink in horror. “Your country is as fucked up as our conspiracy theorists think our country is fucked up,” Bee said.
“We are constantly surveilled, watched, listened to, probably followed,” Russian journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza told Bee once she got to Russia. “But I don’t care ... especially after I was poisoned and nearly killed.”
From the perspective of the US, where freedom of the press is constitutionally protected, this may sound too absurd to be true. But look to this widely circulated photo from just a few days ago at a Trump rally:
Again, our photographer took this in Minnesota. I had the location wrong the first time. Apologies. pic.twitter.com/OwuCt7WAUr— Patricia Zengerle (@ReutersZengerle) November 6, 2016
The current animosity toward journalists by some Americans is very real — and could result in real consequences if someone who’s adamant about shutting down journalism that is critical of their words gets into power, as with Putin when he took office.
If that doesn’t convince you, Kara-Murza pointed out that there is no political satire in Russia to speak of, since Putin shut down the only studio producing material that mocked him within three days of his inauguration.
Kara-Murza continued: “The only worse thing for a dictator than being criticized is being laughed at.”
Sometimes, Bee has to dig a little deeper for her punchlines. But for this one, all she had to do in response was point to Donald Trump’s Twitter:
Watched Saturday Night Live hit job on me.Time to retire the boring and unfunny show. Alec Baldwin portrayal stinks. Media rigging election!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 16, 2016