Ru-PAC study finds systematic bias in Western media coverage of Crimea

Key takeaways:

  • More than 97% of articles by CNN and The New York Times used negative framing to describe Russia's role and made no mention of the popular support for reunification with Russia in 90% of their articles.

  • CNN interviewed Crimeans in only 4% of the articles it published specifically on the peninsula.

  • The Washington Post was arguably the most objective in its coverage.


In a recent study by Ru-PAC, researchers found an alarming level of bias towards Russia and omission of key facts in coverage of Crimea. The study analyzed 975 articles across CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. The research was built to explore how both Russia and the situation in Crimea are presented to the American public between 2014 and 2020.


Negative Framing

The central finding in Ru-PAC's study is that there is a blatant degree of "negative framing" that is used by the three outlets in question. Words and phrases like "Russian aggression", "invasion", and "illegal annexation" were used to paint a negative picture of Russia's role in Crimea, while rarely acknowledging the fact that a majority (71.3%) of Crimeans view Russia's role as positive.


More than 97% of the articles analyzed from CNN and The New York Times used negative framing to describe events. In comparison, The Washington Post used negative framing in only 83% of its articles.

Omissions of Key Facts

Among its findings, the study found that key facts that would help contextualize the situation in Crimea were routinely omitted from the outlets' reporting on the peninsula.


For example, in more than 80% of articles, the outlets omitted that Crimea is home to a 67% ethnic Russian majority. Likewise, in more than 70% of their articles specifically about Crimea, CNN and The New York Times failed to mention that there is overwhelming popular support for reunification with Russia among Crimeans. This fact is well-documented by independent polling by the Pew Research Center and Gallup Poll, both of which found that most Crimeans believe the 2014 referendum was free, fair, and should be recognized.

Beyond omitting facts, the outlets also omitted the Crimean people from much of their media coverage. CNN, for example, interviewed Crimeans in 4% of their articles, while The New York Times and The Washington Post featured such voices in just roughly 30% of articles specifically about the peninsula.


When it came to presenting the Russian perspective, the results were quite similar. CNN made mention of the Russian point of view in 6% of its articles, while the other two gatekeepers did so in just around 25% of all the articles analyzed.


Implications

According to Ru-PAC President Hunter Cawood who led the research project, the results represent a major problem for Russia-U.S. relations. "Our study is a case in point in how there is a missing Russian voice and lack of perspective in the way American media covers issues involving Russia. Obviously, our media is full of good people with good intentions, but what we have when it comes to Russia is a monolithic consensus that shows growing shades of groupthink. Unfortunately, there is limited discussion of facts and perspectives, and this is a real hindrance to building better relations between our countries."


When asked about the difference in coverage among the three outlets, Cawood said, "Kudos to The Washington Post. Their coverage wasn't by any means perfectly objective, but they did a much better job than CNN and The New York Times in providing balance. If we want our democracy to thrive and for our policymakers to be well-informed, then it starts with presenting a balanced view of the world around us. There is almost nothing more important than that,"



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