Progressive Spotlight: Abby Martin.

The Empire Files’ Martin Is a Force To Be Reckoned With

A photo of Abby Martin alongside text that says The Empire Files with Abby Martin. Image Description: A photo of Abby Martin alongside text that says The Empire Files with Abby Martin.

Summary: Abby Martin, the independent journalist behind Empire Files, is among the most tenacious, probing, and uncompromising reporters in the field—and she’ll never stop shining a light on abuses of colonialism, neoliberalism, and the military industrial complex.

In a world in which media consolidation has given the average American fewer options to choose from, independent outlets have become all the more important. Without them, the narrative—which is already tilted in the neoliberal order’s favor—would be wildly skewed, giving the government and their corporate allies free rein to abuse an ostensibly democratic system.

Social media and the internet in general, for all its faults, have enabled independent reporters and activists to push back against conventional wisdom, whether they’re correcting the record about an ahistorical narrative or something timely and newsworthy that’s so obviously one-sided.

One such journalist is Abby Martin, the indefatigable, unrelenting, probing, and uncompromising reporter who for more than a decade has helped shine a light on the excesses and wide-ranging abuses of the U.S. empire.

While there are plenty of journalists similarly confronting American hegemony with thought-provoking coverage and analysis, Martin, to her immense credit, takes the time to visit regions systematically crushed by Western influence, such as Palestine and Venezuela.

To say Martin is fearless would be wholly insufficient. Her coverage of colonialism and criticisms of the United States has not won her any favors from a government that often dismisses alternative journalism as enemy-influenced propaganda.

Oh, did we mention we have receipts?

In 2017, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DN) published a report on Russian “activities” and “intentions” during the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election. Billed as a “declassified version of a highly classified assessment that has been provided to the President,” the document also includes an “analytical assessment” produced by the CIA, FBI, and NSA.

It explicitly mentions Russia Today’s show “Breaking the Set,” which Martin herself hosted between 2012 and 2015. Along with another program called “Truthseekers,” the formerly classified analysis says RT “intensified” its critical coverage of the United States during the period it analyzed, and lamented how the shows mentioned above “overwhelmingly focused on criticism of the US and Western governments as well as the promotion of radical discontent.”

And this ended up in the president’s hands, which means the highest-ranking officials effectively considered Martin a Russian propagandist.

What they failed to highlight was Martin’s personal condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014, which generated national headlines, and helped debunk the idea that she—or her team on the show—were under Putin’s spell.

“Just because I work here for RT doesn’t mean I don’t have editorial independence, and I can’t stress enough how strongly I am against any state intervention in a sovereign nation’s affairs,” Martin said back in 2014. “What Russia did is wrong. I admittedly don’t know as much as I should about Ukraine’s history or the cultural dynamics of the region, but what I do know is that military intervention is never the answer. I will not sit here and apologize or defend military aggression. Furthermore, the coverage I’ve seen of Ukraine has been truly disappointing from all sides of the media spectrum and rife with disinformation. Above all, my heart goes out to the Ukrainian people, who are now wedged as pawns in the middle of a global power chess game—they’re the real losers here.”

The next year, Martin announced on Media Roots, her personal site, that she was leaving the network to focus on on-the-ground reporting.

“I never imagined the kind of support it would generate, proving how many people are hungry for raw truth and systemic change,” she said of “Breaking the Set.”

That’s also when she founded Empire Files, a podcast and video program that serves as an antidote to anyone hungry for an alternative perspective and currently boasts more than 367,000 subscribers on YouTube. It’s also where you can find one of her most important journalistic contributions, “Gaza Fights for Freedom,” a feature-length documentary she filmed during the Great March of Return protests, which lasted more than a year.

A few years ago, News Beat interviewed Martin for a wide-ranging episode about the state of journalism. When asked about the media’s biased reporting on various issues, including at the economic crisis in Venezuela and other Latin American countries at the time, she took the media to task for being a tool of the state.

“I think that you have to go back to what the essential problem of the U.S. corporate media apparatus is, and that is, it is essentially an arm of the empire,” she said. “It is a weaponized apparatus that is used as a function of the state in order to essentially sell us propaganda, to foment regime change, to basically condition us to accept the reality that we live in.”

Martin wasn’t always political. She began as an anti-war activist and described herself as a “typical suburban white American girl,” adding that it wasn’t until she attended San Diego State University, where she studied sociology and political science, that she experienced a political awakening. That included what she described as a “crash course in U.S. imperialism [and] essentially the effects of what global capitalism has done to the rest of the world.”

“I was disturbed,” she added. “I remember reading Chalmers Johnson and just thinking like, ‘How the hell did I not know this? And how do we change this?’”

In 2009, Martin founded Media Roots to combat media misinformation, promote marginalized voices, and highlight under-reported issues, which included the early days of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

In her News Beat interview, Martin returned to the subject of the declassified DNA report because it explicitly mentioned Occupy as part and parcel of Russian collusion.

“It was a crude analysis of RT, specifically my program ‘Breaking the Set’ and said that I had fomented radical discontent in the country by simply talking about poverty,” he said.

With the unfolding genocide in Gaza, Martin has been busy reporting on the horror herself, while also appearing on other shows as well, including those in which she’s often forced to debate the conflict.

As she always has, Martin has excelled in cutting through propaganda, centering those who are most vulnerable, and reminding people of the dangers of empire.

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Rashed Mian is the managing editor of News Beat. Mian previously covered civil liberties and the Muslim American community for Long Island Press. Mian graduated with a degree in journalism from Hofstra University. Mian is interested in under-reported stories that impact disenfranchised communities as well as issues related to civil liberties.