In recent years, political podcasting has boomed in the United States, with new series emerging across the political spectrum. Due to the medium’s decentralized nature, it is difficult to grasp the total audience for these shows, but recent polling data has found that nearly 1 in 4 Americans look to podcasting for their news, almost 9 out of 10 expect the information they receive there to be mostly accurate, and 8 out of 10 view it as equally or more trustworthy than news they receive from other sources. Despite this audience growth and implicit trust in news content shared across the medium, podcasting remains a largely underexplored space, where content can be highly opinionated and politicized, anyone can claim expertise and become a podcast host, content moderation practices are largely absent, and the spread of contested claims — particularly about elections — is common across some series. As a result, this new media ecosystem represents a seemingly fertile area for Russian propaganda about the invasion of Ukraine to reach audiences in the United States. Despite this expectation, we found the endorsement of pro-Kremlin narratives to be a rare event. When these types of narratives circulated, they primarily did so because they resonated with domestic culture war concerns in the United States, rather than out of sympathy for Russia’s cause in Ukraine.
To explore whether and how Kremlin narratives spread across popular U.S. podcasts, we transcribed 1,885 episodes focused on Ukraine-related topics that aired during the first year of the conflict (between February 24, 2022, and February 24, 2023) and remained online as of March 2023. These podcast series represent some of the most popular U.S. political podcasts and draw on the perspectives of pundits from across the political spectrum. We then searched transcripts for keywords tied to four prominent propaganda narratives. These include the claims that: (1) Ukraine is filled with Nazis; (2) the United States and Ukraine are maintaining or have supported the development of bioweapons facilities in Ukraine; (3) the United States was responsible for the explosion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline; and (4) the Bucha massacre was a false flag operation.
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