Trump, the world's bogeyman in June's Romanian press

Donald Trump. Source: Facebook public page

Almost 900 articles published in Romanian media in June covered anti-Western topics, either neutral coverage of facts or biased view of various situations. When comparing June to May, what’s striking is the proportion of anti-EU articles that dropped from more than 80% of the articles to less than 50%.

So, in June, there were published more anti-US articles than anti-EU pieces. Which is no surprise. Firstly, the campaign for the European Parliament ceased at the end of May, people voted and got over the political debate for a while. More than that, on the Monday that followed the Sunday polls, Liviu Dragnea, head of PSD, was sentenced to three and a half years in jail and put behind bars the same day. So, with him – the main promoter of anti-EU themes – out of the game, media and politicians related to him stopped being as aggressive as before. Then, Iran – US tensions intensified after Tehran shot down an American drone. Thirdly, Donald Trump, the US president, was very active on many fronts: tariffs, Brexit, China, EURO currency etc.

453 out of 876 articles covered anti-US  topics, 30 more than those related to the EU.

The vast majority of the anti-US articles were neutral news (373), this representing more than 80%. Only 34 articles were biased news and 28 – biased analyses. 18 of the articles are classified as neutral analyses. Bottom line: only around 15% of the articles covering negative US issues in June were biased. Basically, Romanian media preferred not to get too analytical about US foreign policy and internal issues and simply covered the facts by taking them from media agencies and foreign media.

There are some exceptions. The most visible is Evenimentul zilei, which published the most biased news (10) and the most biased analyses (6). Sputnik was not as efficient: only 5 biased news and 5 biased analyses. Știri pe surse secured the third place, with 8 biased news and only one biased analysis.

The US president is fine when fighting the deep state

Here are some examples of the biased type of news/analyses that Evenimentul zilei chose to publish. At the beginning of June, a former CIA officer, Kevin Shipp, is quoted stating that president Trump fights a historic fight against the “deep state” that controls justice and the Congress. As one might expect, no proof was delivered to the public to support the allegations.

Another article published by Evenimentul zilei displays this headline: “The US declared war on Romania”. Panic? No need to: once you get passed the headline, you find out it is 77 years old news.

Do you have to choose who to believe when it comes to US vs Russia? Evenimentul zilei made its choice: should Putin claim the sanctions imposed on Huawei are about “commercial selfishness”, then this is what you write and leave aside anything else that might contradict the Russian leader.

There’s no surprise, then, that an article entitled “Trump wants to tear Europe apart” is given a large space.

Another article says not only that CIA spies people around the world using everyday home technology such as TV sets but also set up a system that could lay the blame on the Russians. The quoted source is Wikileaks, no fact checking carried out by the paper.

Știri pe surse suggested the US foreign secretary, Mike Pompeo, had something to hide and was somehow linked to a conspiracy when attending a Bilderberg reunion in Montreux.

Știri pe surse also branded as “cynical” the announcement of the US led coalition in Iraq and Syria according to which around 1,300 civilians were collateral victims of the aerial bombings.

The way Știri pe surse looks at the US gives no room for doubt: the news that 2,000 soldiers are likely to be deployed in Poland was headlined “The US inflame Russia”.

Dragnea, the tricked credulous

Sputnik was very interested in quoting Military Watch Magazine’s article which says that the American missile defense system is no match for the Russian missiles Avangarde. However, Military Watch Magazine (MWM) doesn’t exactly look like a serious fact based publication but Sputnik was not bothered at all. In fact, it’s very likely that MWM only exists to spread disinformation.

One of the most vicious pieces of pure manipulation and disinformation (here, though, under the category of “biased analysis”) is an article  published by Sputnik on June 15th. The main picture of the story, depicting George Friedman and Liviu Dragnea shaking hands, goes together with the headline: “This is the hustler that fooled Dragnea – he’s now back with more lies”. The main idea: Dragnea was fooled into accepting to go further with the offshore deals for oil and gas and with the set up of the sovereign health fund but those two initiatives, eventually, sparked controversy and dragged him down.

Sputnik also covered a complicated story of a girl’s adoption implying that the adopting parents, Romanians living in the US, somehow manipulated Romanian judiciary and authorities, due to their US citizenship, in order to get the baby.

A special mention has to be made here: a journalist that used every channel at her disposal (Facebook, her own blog, the talk show she hosts at B1 TV) to try to persuade people that there’s a dark secret behind the adoption (an alleged organs smuggling, given that the adopting father works for a big pharma company in the US) was Sorina Matei, a well known figure in the small world of Romanian media.

It is also worth mentioning that a media outlet controlled by Dan Voiculescu, Lumea Justiției, claimed that the interim Minister of Justice, Ana Birchall, was appointed only because the US wanted her to hold that position. The headline is not at all evasive: “Birchall, (appointed with) American blessing”. The article also quotes social-democrat MP Liviu Pleșoianu saying that Romania is once again enslaved by super powers.

Național supported the scenario and pretended to have published the story first.

The anti-US neutral news and analyses covered topics as migrants at the Mexico – US border and the way US authorities deal with that, Trump – Sadiq Khan row, Iran – US tensions (the majority of the articles), anti-abortion bill passed in some states, Russian S-400 missiles provided to Turkey despite US (and NATO) warnings, the presidency campaign, Kushner’s peace plan for the Middle East.

When the Pope is not Christian enough

As for the anti-EU biased news and analyses, Evenimentul zilei was again crowned the champion: 11 news, 10 analyses. Sputnik got the silver, with 7 pieces of each category, Știri pe surse published 5 news and 3 analyses and Național didn’t bother with the news and preferred to publish only biased analyses (6).

For Sputnik, far right leaders such as Matteo Salvini need to be portrayed as unfair victims of world leaders and the Pope is as good as any other world leader to be included in this narrative: should the Pope refuse to meet Salvini, a cardinal pretending there’s a conspiracy behind all this is exactly what it takes for the Russian propaganda channel.

According to Sputnik, the Pope is not even quite Christian, otherwise the Romanian Patriarch wouldn’t have to tell the Holy Father that Europe has to get back to the traditional family model.

Dan Puric cannot miss his rightful place in this picture: Sputnik thinks he’s the presidential candidate that could beat Iohannis (Puric’s weapons of choice being his anti-EU aggressive approach).

Evenimentul zilei extensively cites the social-democrat MP Liviu Pleșoianu who believes the party has been offered on a plate to Juncker and Timmermans following the imprisonment of Liviu Dragnea and, as a consequence, the surrender to the “new Securitate”.

Național also covers PM Dăncilă visit to Brussels following the elections for the European Parliament and concludes that Dăncilă’s only goal to be there was to show penitence after Dragnea’s mandate at the top of PSD.

Evenimentul zilei wonders why Poland is the new Germany (is it?) while Romania is nothing but a colony and should learn from its neighbor not only how to strengthen the economy, but also how to preserve its national core.

The EU also pulled strings in order to get the former Romanian president, Traian Băsescu, accused of having been a collaborator of the “Securitate”, the communist secret service. The reason, according to Mirel Curea, a pillar of the newsroom: the EU is afraid of Băsescu, freshly elected MEP and critical to the Union leaders and to their approach towards rule of law in the East.

However, Evenimentul zilei doesn’t like much the EU and this gets quite obvious when, mentioning the negotiations for top positions in Brussels, the paper publishes a headline like this one: “The distribution of big juicy bones is getting started”.

Germany is a common target for conspiracy propaganda. Q Magazine writes that Germany leads a hybrid war in Europe and countries such as Austria were defeated (see the corruption scandal involving the Austrian vice-chancellor) using the same methods that also “beheaded” Romanian elites.

Q magazine also hosted a column claiming that low salaries in Romania are due to the country’s colony status and that the IMF and the EU are just telling stories when talking about competition, productivity etc. Speaking of “elites”, the magazine believes that Liviu Dragnea was convicted because he was the ultimate line of defense against the dark forces fighting against the country’s sovereignty.

* The authors of this analysis/study divided the media articles into two categories (news and analysis), each classified as biased or neutral. A geographical criterion was also used to link the media articles to the EU and the US.

According to this study, a piece of news is nothing more but a short article covering a fact or a statement whereas an “analysis” may be a column, an investigative piece or any other type of article that is based on several facts and statements that are premises for the conclusion that the author of the article wishes to make public.

The neutral characteristic is attributed to those news and analyses that use actual quotes (and not made up or out of context ones), rely on fact checking and logical syllogisms, provide side relevant data (context) in order for the public to get the bigger picture.

News and analyses are labelled as biased when, on the contrary, the journalist’s work is not compliant with all of the above: quotes are partial and/or manipulated/manipulative, there’s no vetting process, neutral context is not added (and when there’s some context provided, facts are selected to match the conclusion – which, in this sort of cases, is pre-set – and not the other way round).

Based on this report:

Discursul anti-Occident – interviu cu jurnalistul Cătălin PRISACARIU