Journalist Max Blumenthal speaking at a rally in support of freeing imprisoned journalist Julian Assange outside the British Consulate in NYC. (Laura Brett/ZUMA Press Wire/Alamy)

Do Tyrants Need to Pay Their Useful Idiots?

Money does not explain why Max Blumenthal and his colleagues at ‘The Grayzone’ are so sympathetic to America’s enemies.

If you are an English speaker looking for positive coverage of the most repressive regimes on the planet, you probably already know about The Grayzone. Founded in December 2015 by Max Blumenthal, son of longtime Hillary Clinton fixer Sidney Blumenthal, The Grayzone has been a one-stop shop for stories fluffing the reputations of Russia, China, Iran, and of course Hamas.

The mystery of The Grayzone, for some, has been whether the outlet is being paid for their PR by the autocrats and terrorists they defend. Over the weekend, The Washington Post published an intriguing piece revealing that one of The Grayzone’s editors, Wyatt Reed, was compensated for his freelance work for Iranian state propaganda outlet PressTV while he was also working for the Russian state organ Sputnik.

This has been a pattern for The Grayzone. Another reporter for the website who is featured on its masthead, Anya Parampil, is a former host for RT, the Russian state propaganda outlet banned in Europe and Canada after Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. In 2023, Parampil wrote that she contacted a senior Russian official to help Tucker Carlson score an interview with Russian president Vladimir Putin. (Parampil and Blumenthal wed in 2020.) 

There is also the fact that The Grayzone’s pieces have been reprinted and cited by authoritarian regimes in their own outlets. A study from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in March 2021 found that between December 2019 and February 2021, English-language state-run Chinese media cited The Grayzone 252 times. That’s not surprising considering that The Grayzone has attacked researchers calling attention to the plight of the Uyghur minority in China.

All of that said, The Washington Post piece does not answer the central mystery of The Grayzone. Hiring staff that received a paycheck from authoritarian propaganda outlets is not the same as taking covert funding from those countries directly. And while Blumenthal has been a frequent guest on both PressTV and RT (he even attended the infamous Moscow RT Gala in 2015 that got retired general Michael Flynn in so much trouble), he has consistently said that his website is funded by its readers.

And for all we know, that is true. Still, if a “news” site keeps explaining away the aggression, atrocities, and oppression of the worst regimes on earth, does it really matter if the regimes themselves are paying for such great press? The sad truth is they probably don’t need to pay, as Blumenthal’s own checkered journalism career shows there are plenty of Americans who are willing to defend the most indefensible tyrants out of only their conviction.

Eli Lake is a Free Press columnist. Follow him at @EliLake

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