MOSCOW — I wanted to better understand President Trump’s America, a place where truth is being ripped from its moorings as he brands those tasked with lashing it back into place — journalists — as dishonest enemies of the people.
So I went to Russia.
It was like a visit to the land of Alternative Truth Yet to Come. But it also gave me a glimpse into how our new national look is playing in the global information war, where competing narratives are clashing along a sliding scale of fact and fiction.
I had picked a ghoulishly perfect week to swing through President Vladimir V. Putin’s Moscow, where spring was struggling to break out over the low-slung, slate-gray cityscape.
Mr. Trump had just ordered a Tomahawk strike against Syria’s Shayrat air base, from which, the United States said, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria had launched the chemical weapons attack that killed more than 80 and sickened hundreds.
As soon as I turned on a television here I wondered if I had arrived through an alt-right wormhole.
Back in the States, the prevailing notion in the news was that Mr. Assad had indeed been responsible for the chemical strike. There was some “reportage” from sources like the conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones — best known for suggesting that the Sandy Hook school massacre was staged — that the chemical attack was a “false flag” operation by terrorist rebel groups to goad the United States into attacking Mr. Assad. But that was a view from the fringe.
Here in Russia, it was the dominant theme throughout the overwhelmingly state-controlled mainstream media.
On the popular Russian television program “Vesti Nedeli,” the host, Dmitry Kiselyov, questioned how Syria could have been responsible for the attack. After all, he said, the Assad government had destroyed all of its chemical weapons. It was the terrorists who possessed them, said Mr. Kiselyov, who also heads Russia’s main state-run international media arm.
One of Mr. Kiselyov’s correspondents on the scene mocked “Western propagandists” for believing the Trump line, saying munitions at the air base had “as much to do with chemical weapons as the test tube in the hands of Colin Powell had to do with weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”