At approximately 2:30 PM Eastern Standard Time on 12 January 2017, C-SPAN’s online stream was disrupted by a broadcast from RT (formerly Russia Today):
Here’s the moment Russia Today took over the C-SPAN1 feed. Unclear what happened. RT aired for about ten minutes before C-SPAN1 came back. pic.twitter.com/mhWVgCoFxF
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) January 12, 2017
On Twitter, users reported the bizarre interruption from multiple locations and asserted circulating video clips were not a hoax:
The broadcasting glitch occurred at a time of debate and scrutiny pertaining to Russia, the President-Elect, and ongoing assertions the country had “meddled” in the 2016 election. On the day of the interruption alone, retired Marine Corps general James Mattis asserted during a confirmation hearing that Russia raised “grave concerns on several fronts” and maintained Russian President Vladimir Putin was “trying to break the North Atlantic alliance [NATO].” Concurrently, a former spy credited with assembling a controversial report claiming the “Kremlin held lurid blackmail material as leverage over Trump” went into hiding, fearing retribution from the parties it implicated.
Against the backdrop of several ongoing news events involving the United States’ relationship with Russia, some viewers implied that the disruption was potentially nefarious and “disturbing“:
This afternoon, online viewers of politics-meets-Ambien channel C-SPAN were treated to a disturbing change in programming: For around 10 minutes, the web stream aired RT (formerly Russia Today) instead.
The clip below, first noticed and thoughtfully ripped by Deadspin editor Tim Burke, begins as the fairly bland proceedings of the Securities and Exchange Commission. At 1:25 the feed freezes. It looks like a technical glitch or buffering issue, until it abruptly cuts to RT’s regularly scheduled stuff 2:35 in, which is mainly the first few minutes of World’s Apart, hosted by Oksana Boyko.
It’s a Max Headroom moment of sorts, with authoritarian overtones. After all, last week’s declassified report jointly authored by the CIA, FBI, and NSA stated in no uncertain terms that RT was being used throughout the election as a tool to disseminate propaganda and swing the vote towards Donald Trump.
However, other sources reported the strange streaming incident in more neutral terms. Approximately an hour and a half later, C-SPAN confirmed the glitch on Twitter but did not indicate malfeasance was a likely cause:
— CSPAN (@cspan) January 12, 2017
In the brief statement C-SPAN stated the network believed an “internal routing issue” was to blame, as RT is one of the sources it routinely “monitor[s]”:
This afternoon the online feed of C-SPAN was briefly interrupted by RT programming. We are currently investigating and troubleshooting this occurrence. As RT is one of the networks we regularly monitor, we are operating under the assumption that it was an internal routing issue. If that changes we will certainly let you know.
In their coverage of the C-SPAN glitch, the New York Times cited a declassified intelligence report holding that RT was “consistently negative” in their reporting on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign.