In 2013, Ms. Martin invited Tyrel Ventura, who is the son of Jesse Ventura, the former professional wrestler and governor of Minnesota’s Reform Party, as a guest on her show. He had a YouTube talk show, where he often spoke out against the war and was skeptical of mainstream media. After his guest appearance, he said, Mr. Solodovnikov said he liked what he heard. He also told Mr. Ventura, who is skinny with a clean-shaven head, that he looks good on TV, Mr. Ventura said.
Mr. Ventura was soon recruited to present his online show, “Watching the Hawks”, hosted with Mr. Stone, on RT America.
Around the same time, Mr. Solodovnikov got a huge break. In May 2013, RT America signed a deal with Larry King’s Ora TV to distribute shows by Mr. King and possibly other personalities, including William Shatner and Dennis Miller. Some of the programs would be created out of RT America’s Washington office. Suddenly, the network had some familiar names on its list. Ora Media chief executive John Dickey declined to disclose the value of the contract.
Soon, RT America faced a major public test. In February 2014, Russia quickly invaded and annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea, then escalated its aggression and supported separatists who attacked Ukrainian forces in the Donbass region.
RT America generally portrayed the events differently from US media. A former presenter, Liz Wahl, said her news director told her not to use the word “invasion” and to refer to Russian soldiers as “peacekeepers”.
The network deleted a question she posed to Ron Paul, the former Texas representative and presidential candidate, about how the United States should respond to Russia. She backed down, she said, as she watched a correspondent refer to Ukrainian forces as “neo-Nazi elements”. On March 5, 2014, Ms. Wahl resigned in protest.
“RT isn’t about the truth,” she later said in an interview with CNN. “It’s about promoting a Putinist agenda, and I can tell you firsthand that it’s about bashing America.”