Home / FIE / How Russia Covered Election 2020’s “October Surprise”
How Russia Covered Election 2020’s “October Surprise”
November 23, 2020
Post by Nakeshia Diop
It is difficult to assign a singular event as the 2020 election cycle’s October surprise. There was of course President Trump’s positive COVID-19 diagnosis in early October. But after Trump’s recovery, there was another “October surprise” of sorts: allegations published in the New York Post about President-elect Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and what is purported to be the younger Biden’s laptop, said to contain emails and other compromising material. According to the Post’s story, the material on the computer shows alleged corruption by both Bidens. After the story was published, however, the Post saw widespread criticism, given the inability by others to verify many of the story’s claims or suggestions.
Russian state-sponsored mediaoutlets took aninterest in the Hunter Biden story published by the Post, using the story to continuouslycriticize both Hunter Biden and President-elect Joe Biden. RT and Sputnik News also wove different narratives together in their coverage of the allegations, in some cases using the Hunter Biden story todeflect from recent New York Times reporting that revealed President Trump’s previously unknown bank account in China. For example, oneSputnik News article frames the New York Times’s revelation of President Trump’s Chinese bank account as a smear by Biden to get back at Trump, writing it is “logical that the Biden camp would retaliate and try to find whatever they could in order to lend a point.”
Russia also pushed back against the suggestion that the story may have been part of a foreign disinformation campaign. An RTop-ed characterized Joe Biden as “blaming Russia” for the stories about his son as “a key mistake,” since “it is a very bad idea to blame his problems on a foreign power” and “when voters see something being blamed on Russia, they tend to roll their eyes.”
Overall, Russian media outlets favored sensationalized reporting on the alleged scandals surrounding Hunter Biden throughout 2020 and the responses to those stories, a strategy that served Russia’s aims of denigrating Joe Biden as a candidate, the media and tech companies close to Election Day. While ultimately the allegations and subsequent news coverage largely fell flat with Biden winning the election, this attempted fueling of the fire reinforced Russia’s apparent interference efforts aimed at denigrating President-elect Biden’s candidacy in 2020.