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Foreign State-Sponsored Coverage of the American Press During the 2020 Election
January 25, 2021
Post by Renée Ghosh
Russia, China, and Iran and their corresponding state-backed media outlets are all known to push state-driven narratives critical of the U.S. However, the extent to which each country’s state-backed media discusses the American press in coverage differs. FIE 2020 examined more than 300 state-sponsored media articles from RT, Sputnik News, PressTV and the Global Times that explicitly mentioned U.S. media outlets amid the 2020 election. Russian state-sponsored outlets RT and Sputnik News pushed the most frequent and most negative mentions of the American press, often likening American mainstream media to fake news and as overly biased, but Iran’s PressTV and China’s Global Times also criticized U.S. outlets, especially in the context of coverage about issues of strategic interest.
Denigrating the U.S. mainstream media and portraying mainstream outlets as in the pocket of Democrats appeared to be part of Russia’s strategy aiming to widen divisions among Americans. Common Russian state-sponsored media narratives about U.S. media institutions included:
Claims that U.S. media outlets are promoting a liberal agenda or are unfairly favorable toward Democrats
Defensiveness about themes related to coverage of Russia in the U.S. press, such as reporting on the Russian hack of the DNC in 2016 or what Russian state media often refers to as “Russiagate”
Broadly, the idea that American news organizations carry anti-Chinese sentiment was frequently suggested as justification for why American media would produce critical reports of China’s actions or policies. Anti-Chinese sentiment was also used to explain away critical coverage of Huawei and other topics relating to Chinese tech companies or 5G, as well as the Chinese government’s treatment of theUighur population. American outlets were still cited as legitimate sources, however, in Global Times coverage critical of Trump or American leadership.
Iran’s PressTV mentioned and criticized American media far less frequently than Russian and Chinese outlets, but did at times publish content critical of the American press, especially with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic and reporting on Iran. One PressTV article titled “Washington Post hypes fake news on coronavirus ‘burial pits’ in Iran” disputed reporting by the Washington Post on Iran’s handling of the severity of COVID-19 in the country, calling the article “fake news.” However, in other instances, American media outlets are cited as credible news sources, particularly in coverage that aligned with Iranian preferred narratives, such as coverage of Saudi Arabia’s hacking of Jeff Bezos’s cell phone.