Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts February and March – Iranian Media Mentions of 2020 Candidates (Update 1)
February and March – Iranian Media Mentions of 2020 Candidates (Update 1)

February and March – Iranian Media Mentions of 2020 Candidates (Update 1)

April 8, 2020

Post by Rachel Chernaskey

In FIE 2020’s first analysis of Iran’s media mentions at the end of January, we examined the ways in which state-sponsored media outlet PressTV discussed the 2020 candidates. President Donald Trump received the overwhelming majority of negative mentions from PressTV, Former Vice President Joe Biden saw the second-highest percentage of negative mentions and Senator Bernie Sanders saw more positive coverage to negative, but only by a slight margin in mentions (11% to 7%).

Since that first analysis, sentiment regarding the 2020 candidates has shown little change (see Figure 14 below). However, Iranian coverage has grown even more critical toward President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden as the race has narrowed. President Trump continues to be Iran’s least favorite candidate: He received the highest total and percentage of negative mentions, with 56% of his mentions being negative. Former Vice President Biden saw his negative mentions slightly tick upward, and he continues to receive more negative coverage (14%) than positive (5%). Senator Bernie Sanders, though he also received slightly more negative coverage than before, continues to be covered more positively (18%) than negatively (9%).

While many of the themes highlighted by PressTV remain the same—like tensions between the U.S. and Iran, including the killing of Iranian general Qassim Suleimani and U.S. sanctions—new narratives emerged as well. For President Trump, negative coverage spans election 2020, foreign policy decisions and, notably, the COVID-19 crisis. 

Since our previous analysis, negative mentions of President Trump have surfaced in the context of:

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders continue to be mentioned almost exclusively in the 2020 election context. For Biden, much of his negative coverage surfaces in the context of: 

  • His performance preceding Super Tuesday in the 2020 Democratic primaries
  • Part of the Democratic establishment
    • Parroting Russian talking points, a March 7 PressTV article claims that Biden is part of the “Russiaphobia hysteria that has swept the Democratic party as soon as the Hillary campaign and the DNC looked for a scapegoat for their miserable performance against Trump”
    • A March 6 article calls Biden a “crook” and asserts he is “in the back pocket of the Israeli lobby”
  • Questions about the validity of Biden’s late success
    • An article published on March 6 says Biden’s surge in support on Super Tuesday doesn’t “pass the smell test” and suggests the primary was rigged against Sanders to give Biden a win
  • Biden’s voting record and policy stances, especially on the Iraq War
  • Post-Super Tuesday, negative coverage highlights Biden’s questionable ability to beat Trump in November 

Much of Senator Bernie Sanders’s coverage pits him squarely against Trump and Biden, painting him as victimized by the political establishment afraid of his policy stances.