Last week, for the eighth consecutive week, the coronavirus was the predominant topic in the Russian media ecosystem. Coronavirus’ dominance in the coverage increased, likely reflecting rising attention globally. The vast majority of this coverage consisted of basic news updates; although, some articles highlighted criticisms of various Western responses to the pandemic, emphasizing a lack of European unity and claiming media bias. Some coverage addressed the U.S. presidential race, with emphasis on divisive narratives in the Democratic primary. These included articles about various claims of unfairness, involving allegations of anti-Sanders bias in the media and among Democratic elites; criticism of Biden; and controversy surrounding Tulsi Gabbard’s exclusion from the most recent debate. Finally, a couple of pieces dealt with the controversy surrounding the first application of Twitter’s new “manipulated media” label, playing up assertions that the platform has been inconsistent and biased.
Russian state-funded media and government and diplomatic corps accounts:
Top 10 Hashtags — March 7-13:
Among the approximately 9,700 tweets collected last week (as of noon on March 13) from Russian state-funded media and government Twitter accounts, the top hashtag was #coronavirus, followed by #COVID19. Four additional hashtags in the top ten (#COVID_19, #COVID2019, plus the Greek #κορωνοιος and #κορονοιος) were also related to the virus. Nearly 2,000 tweets contained the word “coronavirus,” meaning that at least 20 percent of monitored tweets were about the virus (not accounting for tweets that only refer to the pandemic using other terms or more obliquely). Most of these posts featured basic news updates or information.
Other top tweets about the pandemic included viral videos, such as clips of fumigators dramatically marching down the streets in China and a man on public transit in Brussels wiping his saliva onto a stanchion.
Once again, the amount of coverage on the U.S. presidential race remained quite small, with less than 1.5 percent of tweets mentioning former Vice President Joe Biden or Senator Bernie Sanders. This coverage also received relatively little engagement. The majority of the top tweets mentioning Biden were critical of the former vice president, including the top three by likes:
Russian government-funded websites:
Top 10 Key Phrases — March 7-13:
About 500 of last week’s almost 1,400 articles mentioned “coronavirus” in the first 200 words, including almost all the articles that received the most engagement on Facebook. Each of the top articles about the virus was a basic news update. Some, mostly opinion pieces, highlighted criticism of the United States, the European Union, and Western media related to the outbreak:
“Sickening US Sanctions on Iran,” Column, Sputnik News, March 11, 2020.
“. . . In stark contrast to these international humanitarian actions [by Russia and China], the United States continues to impose crippling economic sanctions on Iran under its policy of “maximum pressure”. Iran’s parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani this week called on the rest of the world to demand the lifting of US sanctions because they are hampering the fight against Covid-19 in Iran.”
“America’s Wages of Sin,” Column, Sputnik News, March 12, 2020.
““The virus will not have a chance against us. No nation is more prepared or more resilient than the United States”. So said President Trump in a televised nationwide address this week from the Oval Office in a bid to calm growing apprehensions over the coronavirus global pandemic. Trump’s bravado, however, only serves to heighten concerns because it suggests this president and his administration haven’t a clue about the dangers being faced.”
“Rising tensions between member states of the EU, brought about by different approaches to dealing with the outbreak of Covid-19, could see the emergence of a new and particularly unwelcome problem for the bloc – CorExit.”
“Bias virus hits New York Times as double standards infect coverage of Covid-19 lockdown measures in China and Italy,” Op-ed, RT, March 12, 2020.
“National responses to tackling the coronavirus pandemic in China and Italy have given rise to jaw-dropping double standards at The New York Times. For it seems that locking down around 60 million people in China is tantamount to a gross human rights violation, while doing the same to 60 million Italians is a bold step forward showing an enhanced sense of community that should be universally applauded. The West = good. China = bad.”
The U.S. presidential race received considerably less coverage, with fewer than 70 articles mentioning Biden or Sanders in the first 200 words (compared to about 500 mentioning “coronavirus” out of almost 1,400 articles total during the period). Notable narratives alleged media bias against Sanders, emphasized criticism of Biden, and repeated accusations of improprieties in the Democratic race:
“The corporate media certainly spared no effort in portraying Bernie Sanders as the biggest threat to America ahead of Super Tuesday, yet they failed to set him back, US comedian and host of RT’s Redacted Tonight, Lee Camp, said. The media as well as the Democratic National Committee “spent five days before the contest trashing Bernie Sanders in any way they come up with,” Camp recalled . . . Yet, at the same time, the media tirelessly promoted a narrative that Sanders was going to win literally every state during Super Tuesday, the comedian noted, adding that when this did not happen the media immediately made it look like the self-described democratic socialist suffered a devastating defeat to the MSM and DNC darling, ‘moderate’ Joe Biden.”
“US Corporate Media Waging Russophobic War Against Sanders to Temper Dialogue Around Socialism,” Opinion, Sputnik News, March 7, 2020.
“This week, both the New York Times and National Public Radio (NPR) ran pieces dependant on a revived Russiagate narrative purporting that Moscow is interfering in the US presidential election once again, but has chosen to back Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) this time around while also attempting to aid the campaign of US President Donald Trump.”
“He ‘Murdered His Chance of Beating Trump’: Biden’s ‘Bernie Brothers’ Remarks Bewilder Netizens,” Sputnik News, March 7, 2020.
“. . . Sharing his fundraising update during a call with supporters in Bethesda, Maryland on Friday, former US Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden also lashed out at a hardline group of Bernie Sanders supporters . . . Biden apparently referred to “Bernie Bros”, a colloquial term for Sanders supporters, who have repeatedly been criticised for aggressive tactics on social media platforms, including Twitter. Netizens have, meanwhile, remained at odds over Biden’s “Bernie Brothers” remarks, with some pointing the finger at the former US vice president.”
“Joe Biden ended up in a shouting match with a Michigan factory worker who accused him of trying to take Americans’ guns away, resulting in the former VP calling the voter a ‘horse’s ass’ and saying he is ‘full of s**t.’”
“Sanders: Klobuchar and Buttigieg Ended Campaigns Under Pressure from ‘Establishment,’” Sputnik News, March 8, 2020.
“Just as Bernie Sanders began to emerge as the Democratic frontrunner, Super Tuesday saw a surprise comeback for Joe Biden who, after a string of losses in early states, won delegate majorities all across the country. Senator Bernie Sanders accused the “establishment” on Sunday of pressuring former Democratic rivals Senator Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg to withdraw from the presidential race and endorse former Vice President Joe Biden to consolidate the centrist vote.”
“Trump Accuses Democrat Elites of ‘Rigging’ Primary Race Against Sanders,” Sputnik News, March 8, 2020.
“Bernie Sanders, once a front-runner in the Democratic presidential race, has seen his favourability ratings tank in the wake of the Super Tuesday primaries, prior to which Joe Biden received vital endorsements from his fellow moderate candidates. US President Donald Trump apparently believes that the system of alliances in the Democratic Party is being unfair towards its most left-wing presidential candidate.”
“Deja Vu From 2016: Dem Establishment Frightened by Sanders, Mobilises Support Behind Biden – Prof,” Opinion, Sputnik News, March 9, 2020.
“Joe Biden has emerged as the Dem frontrunner ahead of the Tuesday Michigan primary. American academics have explained that the decision of Democratic moderates to drop out of the race is not a coincidence, adding that Bernie Sanders still remains competitive in a number of states.”
“Gabbard Urges Biden, Sanders to Stand Against DNC’s ‘Transparent Effort’ to Exclude Her From Debates,” Sputnik News, March 8, 2020.
“. . . Rep. Tusi[sic] Gabbard (D-Hawaii) has turned to Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders to help her get her on the debate stage in Phoenix, Arizona, after a new standard was introduced by the DNC. In a Twitter post on Saturday, Gabbard insists the rules had been changed intentionally with the aim of not letting her participate in the debates.”
A couple of articles addressed Twitter’s decision to apply its new “manipulated media” label to a video of Biden shared earlier in the week. Both articles suggested that Twitter’s use of the label was biased:
“The Trump campaign fired off a withering reply to Twitter after the company said the president had shared a “manipulated” video clip, accusing the platform of unfairly enforcing its rules to help Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden.”
“By tagging Trump’s Biden video as ‘manipulated’ Twitter actually manipulates US electorate,” Op-ed, RT, March 9, 2020.
“Imagine thinking so little of Americans’ intelligence to label a factual video clip ‘manipulated’ because it’s being used as a meme in the presidential election campaign. Twitter just did that, following in Facebook’s footsteps. For the first time ever, Twitter applied a ‘manipulated’ tag to a video retweeted by President Donald Trump and shared by his social media director Dan Scavino. Mainstream media critics of the president were really excited at the news, calling the video “deceptively edited.””
A final notable article highlights criticism of British media’s foreign policy coverage:
“A new analysis of British media’s coverage of foreign policy has found that, by and large, the UK press acts as “an appendage of the state” and has been “misinforming the public” and “failing to report” completely on key issues. The statistical analysis was carried out by Declassified UK, a new “public service journalism” project investigating Britain’s foreign,military and intelligence policies and run by journalist and historian Mark Curtis . . . On Twitter, Curtis said the current state of UK press reporting on foreign policy is “shocking” and that the media was “systematically misinforming” the public on numerous issues, as well as routinely “falsely reporting” on the UK’s “supposed benevolent role” around the world.”
Russian state-owned media:
The coronavirus continued to receive the most coverage for a single topic on monitored Russian state-owned media YouTube channels, accounting for about a third of output. Notable videos about the virus include one that criticizes CNN’s coronavirus coverage and another that references a coronavirus conspiracy:
“CNN’s coronavirus coverage mostly Trump-bashing — study,” RT America, March 10, 2020.
“”Eat the Press” host Steve Malzberg joins News.Views.Hughes to discuss mainstream media’s Trump-centric coronavirus and television personality Bill Maher’s cheeky defense of former ‘Hardball’ host MSNBC’s Chris Matthews.”
“Coronavirus: Who are the winners and losers?” RT UK, March 9, 2020.
“With global financial markets flat lining, airlines collapsing, and even films being rescheduled, it seems the coronavirus is set to create many losers…but who is capitalising off all this chaos?” (*Note: The video references the “Dean Koontz predicted the coronavirus” conspiracy theory by noting that Koontz’ 1981 novel The Eyes of Darkness included a virus named “Wuhan-400” and then asking whether this name is a coincidence. The video also uses graphics similar to those used in a previous RT UK video about the 5G coronavirus conspiracy.)
A couple of videos cast doubt on U.S. concerns about Huawei, both of which are from RT’s U.K.-focused channel:
“It’s their way or Huawei: Why the US doesn’t like the 5G giant,” RT UK, March 11, 2020.
“’American companies or UK companies can be forced to give access to the infrastructure they supply – Chinese companies aren’t under the same rules!’ Cyber security expert Dr. Johannes Drooghaag thinks the real fuss over Huawei’s 5G contract with the UK is that the US won’t be in control.”
“Yay for Huawei: Commons vote to keep current 5G contract,” RT UK, March 11, 2020.
““There would be a lot easier ways for the Chinese to spy on us” Cyber security expert Jeremy Swinfen Green thinks the benefits of having #Huawei’s 5G networks far outweigh the ‘supposed’ spying concerns.”
A final video of note shows the intersection between two topics often pushed in Russian media: criticism of Western media and race issues:
“Pundits going after members of the Black conservative community,” RT America, March 8, 2020.
“Horace Cooper sits down with Steve Malzberg to discuss the media’s attitude towards black conservatives.” (*Note that this clip is from a new RT show called “Eat the Press,” which RT’s website describes as “a take-no-prisoners media critique bloodbath hosted by Steve Malzberg. Watch him expose the smugness, hypocrisy, bias and lies that saturate mainstream news and reveal its so-called journalism for what it really is.”)
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