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November 7, 2016 No.
6670

The Russian State Media's Coverage Of The U.S. Presidential Elections

The Moscow-based English-language weekly Moscow Times published an article titled "Russia's State Media: Anti-Clinton, But Not Wedded to Trump," by Russian journalist Alexey Kovalev, describing the Russian state media's coverage of the U.S. presidential elections.[1] According to the author, Russian state media have been "largely sympathetic" toward Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. However, it would be "an oversimplification to say the state media went all out for Trump." Earlier, on October 24, the weekly published another article, titled "U.S. Elections According to Russian State TV," analyzing how the three Russian flagship shows - Voskresnoye Vremya (The Times on Sunday), Vesti Nedeli (Weekly News) and Sunday Evening With Vladimir Solovyev - covered the U.S. presidential campaign and their allegations that the elections will be rigged in favor of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.[2]  

Below are excerpts of the two articles published by The Moscow Times:

'Russia's State Media: Anti-Clinton, But Not Wedded to Trump'[3] : 'Trump's Against-The-Odds Campaign Garnered More Attention Than Russia's Own Parliamentary Elections'

"From the word 'go,' Russian state media have been largely sympathetic toward Donald Trump. Even prior to the Republican primaries, they reported every minor bump and hiccup in his ratings. In September, Trump's against-the-odds campaign garnered more attention than Russia's own parliamentary elections. A week before Russians went to the polls to vote for the new Duma, Vesti Nedeli ('News of the Week'), a weekly news review show on state TV channel Rossiya, spent 8 minutes covering the upcoming Russian elections and another 9 discussing whether Donald Trump might be assassinated. Most national outlets devoted extensive coverage to even the most minuscule revelations from the leaked Democratic National Commission and Clinton staff emails.

 
See MEMRI TV Clip No. 5670, Senior Russian TV Host Dmitri Kisiliov: They May Kill Trump, September 11, 2016. 

"But it is an oversimplification to say state media went all out for Trump. They were less for Trump, more staunchly against Clinton. And here they followed President Vladimir Putin's own lead: in 2011, he accused the then-secretary of state of fomenting protests in Russia. Unsurprisingly, his media have not wasted an opportunity to portray Clinton as a Russophobic warmonger.

"RIA Novosti, once Russia's largest and most respected news agency, has been the vanguard of the agitprop efforts. To its credit, the agency's DC bureau has provided mostly objective and balanced coverage of the election. But the most popular of RIA's election dispatches, which garnered almost 200,000 page views, went so far as to claim 'Clinton has problems with her head.' [The news agency referred to an e-mail sent by longtime Hillary Clinton aide, Huma Abedin, and leaked by WikiLeaks, in which she said: 'She's going to stick to notes a little closer this am, still not perfect in her head.' This sentence can arguably be interpreted and translated in different ways.]

"Few Russian media outlets endorsed Trump outright. Those that did are far from prominent. Parlamentskaya Gazeta, a dull newspaper of record to the Russian parliament's upper chamber, was one such publication. In a September 2015 op-ed, it declared 'Donald Trump a self-made man, a trait Americans love, like they love anyone who is the American Dream incarnated.' It claimed Trump would be a better leader than Obama, who was a "single issue president" (referring to Obamacare), or Clinton, who was "one of the worst secretaries of state in American history." 

'The... Recent Shift In The Russian State Media Coverage Of The U.S. Elections Is The Effort To Frame Their Supposed Illegitimacy In Russian Terms'

"Open endorsements were largely absent from the more influential media. Indeed, RT, formerly Russia Today, was largely sympathetic to a Democratic contender, Bernie Sanders, and to third party candidates like Jill Stein. But when Sanders dropped out, RT threw its full weight behind discrediting Clinton.

As the election entered the final weeks, the Russian media focus switched to the supposed illegitimacy of the U.S. elections, implicitly backing Trump's claims about 'large scale voter fraud.'

"On Oct. 23, Vesti Nedeli did just that. In a long tirade, the program's host, Russian 'chief propagandist' Dmitry Kiselyov lamented 'the downfall of the American media,' criticizing outlets such as Politico for colluding with Clinton's campaign. Another news segment on Channel One called Donald Trump 'just as evil' as Clinton, a 'boorish adventurist,' and a 'swindler.'

"The most noticeable recent shift in the Russian state media coverage of the U.S. elections is the effort to frame their supposed illegitimacy in Russian terms. Fraud techniques at Russian elections are well-documented - from the so-called 'carousels' (repeated voting with absentee ballots at multiple stations) to coercion and the use of 'administrative resources' (support from the ruling party's political machine)...

"Russia's propagandists are stopping short of saying that the U.S. elections will be just as fraudulent as the Russian elections have been. After all, that would require an admission of epic state wrongdoing. Rather, they seem more concerned with sowing seeds of doubt among their domestic audience." 

'U.S. Elections According to Russian State TV'[4] : 'Kiselyov Claimed That U.S. Elections Could Be Judged By The Same Formula That The U.S. Has Judged Other Nations' Elections'

"On [Russian TV Channel] Rossiya 24's 'Weekly News,' presenter Dmitry Kiselyov accused the American press of corrupting the presidential election by accepting favors from the Clinton campaign's staff. Kiselyov introduced the story by telling viewers that, in the final lap of the electoral race, one candidate had alleged that the election results may be falsified and suggested he might not recognize them. Kiselyov was referring to Donald Trump's comments presidential debate [on October 19], the last debate before the November election.

"Kiselyov then played a clip from the debate showing Trump lashing out at the 'dishonest media' without Russian dubbing or subtitles, leaving a large portion of Kiselyov's audience clueless as to what the candidate had said.

"Based on these comments, Kiselyov claimed that U.S. elections could be judged by the same formula that the U.S. has judged other nations' elections - not transparent, lacking competition, mass falsification, and carried out using the resources of the incumbent administration. 'They can't be called free and democratic,' Kiselyov told his viewers.

"Kiselyov explained that Trump's concerns were related to states which have early voting and lack voter I.D. laws. The audience was then shown a clip of Trump claiming that about 1.8 million dead people are allegedly still on voter rolls. Kiselyov then mentioned that the U.S. refused to allow international election observers, 'specifically from Russia.'

"What he failed to point out is that the U.S. is allowing election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the U.S. State Department invited Russian observers to join the OSCE election monitoring mission. The invitation was declined by Russia, however, which wanted to monitor the elections with their own mission. 

'When It Comes To Coverage Of The U.S. Election, It Seems Rossiya 24 Came In With Guns Blazing'

"The same theme of electoral fraud flowed through Channel One's 'The Times on Sunday' news program with its famous classic Soviet-era intro music. The story began with a title taken from the lyrics of a famous Russian pop song: 'The carousel beckons, beckons, beckons.' Of course, 'carousel' is a reference to a common election rigging tactic in which paid voters cast their ballot more than once at different polling places. In case the viewer wasn't clear on who plans to rig the election, there was a photo of Hillary Clinton on the screen.

"The story began not in Washington D.C. or at the last presidential debate, but in the chicken yard of a farm far from the capital. The narrator explained how America's traditional Election Day - the first Tuesday in November - was chosen to fit the needs of farmers. Coincidentally, the farmer interviewed by Channel One's correspondent happened to be a Trump supporter.

"After this, 'The Times of Sunday' gave a textbook explanation of the most unique feature of U.S. presidential elections: the electoral college. The reporter then informed viewers about occasions when U.S. presidents won the election without winning the popular vote, most recently George W. Bush's victory in 2000. The same concerns have been voiced by many Americans. Thus far, however, there has not been any evidence that carousel voting could be employed in the American electoral system -- well, if you exclude the claims of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani[5] ... Next came a long lecture about corporate money and lobbying in U.S. politics. The broadcast recycled a Trump campaign talking point: the idea that a candidate with such massive personal wealth would not be beholden to money interests if elected.

"The highlight of this segment was the narrator's praise for Louis Thomas McFadden, a Republican congressman from the 1930s who, viewers were told, fought against the Federal Reserve system because it was 'set up by international bankers.' The segment failed to mention that McFadden was far more direct in his criticism of the Fed and claimed that it was a plot by Jewish bankers to overthrow the government. McFadden also expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler on numerous occasions and was also praised in the Nazi German publication 'Die Stürmer.' The narrator claimed that McFadden survived two assassination attempts before succumbing to the third one; in reality, McFadden died of natural causes.

"When it comes to coverage of the U.S. election, it seems Rossiya 24 came in with guns blazing, whereas the First Channel made a decent, almost rational start before putting on the tin-foil hat."

 

Endnotes:

 

[1] Themoscowtimes.com, November 3, 2016.

[2] Themoscowtimes.com, October 24, 2016.

[3] Themoscowtimes.com, November 3, 2016.

[4] Themoscowtimes.com, October 24, 2016.