Almost 1,500 media articles shaped the anti-Western speech in September. Out of those, around 900 focused on anti-EU topics and the rest of 600 were related to anti-US topics.
Brexit and everything connected to that was the base for many hundreds of articles published in September in Romanian media. However, most of them were rather unrelated to Romanian everyday realities.
Nominations for top positions in the European Commission and all the scandals surrounding the hearings, though, led to fierce political debate and criticism given that the first Romanian candidate was not convincing enough to get the necessary votes. The European Council vote in favor of Laura Kovesi as first chief of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office had similar results.
As for the anti-US speech, a whole range of topics available: INF treaty demise, Iran’s nuclear deal, Trump’s canceled peace talks with the Talibans, the American spy extracted from Kremlin, Trump firing his national security adviser John Bolton, Saudi Arabia oil facilities attacked from the sky and, of course, the revelation of Trump’s call to Zelensky, the Ukrainian president.
Still, for Bucharest media and politicians, none of those was relevant (unless the possibility of the White House making public the Trump – Iohannis calls’ transcripts is real). Two other very local topics got everybody on fire: the US ban against Liviu Dragnea and the to do list/roadmap allegedly handed over by William Barr, the US general attorney.
Dragnea, finally important: designated by the US
According to a media note out on September the 5th, “Secretary Michael R. Pompeo is publicly designating the former Speaker of the Romanian Chamber of Deputies, Liviu Nicolae Dragnea, due to his involvement in significant corruption. (…) in cases where the Secretary of State has credible information that officials of foreign governments have been involved in significant corruption, those individuals and their immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the United States. The law also requires the Secretary of State to publicly or privately designate such officials and their immediate family members. In addition to the designation of Mr. Dragnea, the Secretary is also publicly designating Mr. Dragnea’s two children, Valentin Ştefan Dragnea and Maria Alexandra Dragnea.”
At the time of the media note issue, Dragnea was already serving time in jail following a sentence on May 27th.
Corruption, though, seems to be something to go easy on. For Sputnik, at least, that called the designation “the ugliest revenge” and was full of empathy for the family. Cotidianul (and, not surprisingly, Sputnik also) thought it was the perfect occasion to quote Liviu Pleșoianu (social-democrat MP) that looked in the eyes of the people and asked: “Do you agree with that, Romanian People? Do you agree to be a slave in your own country?”
Sputnik, however, didn’t think it was enough, it kept on being offensive: deemed the designation abusive (by citing some girl on Facebook), transformed the US into a gulag and Dragnea’s conviction into a politically motivated sentence (by quoting a former PSD social media consultant) and complained Dragnea’s daughter boyfriend might suffer following the ban.
Severel days later, Capital weekly published an article that promised the revelation of the real reason behind Dragnea’s designation and, given the recent editorial approach of the weekly and the ownership, that was not only a click bait hook. The content was entirely provided by Adrian Severin, former social-democrat, former MEP, former sentenced for corruption that expressed his belief that it was all about “the deep state”, the US homologue of the Romanian “parallel state”.
On the same day, Flux 24 quoted a former secret service general, Dumitru Iliescu, who “disclosed” the secret: Dragnea was executed by the US because he wouldn’t surrender to American interests and would allow China and Russia to do business in Romania. The same quotes were published by România liberă and Active News.
It is, maybe, worth mentioning that the daily paper which wrote that US troops at Deveselu who benefitted from underaged girls smuggling and prostitution networks were protected by Romanian authorities and not mentioned in the penal enquiry, Libertatea, was chosen (as they brag about it) by Edward Snowden himself to be his PR media partner in Romania following the launch of his autobiography.
Justice in Romania? Ask Washington about it
The “orders” that Romania has to take from the US is a topic that some media outlets simply can’t have enough of. Following a meeting in Bucharest in June, William Barr, the US General Attorney, invited Ana Birchall, the Romanian Minister of Justice, to meet with him again in Washington. According to a press release of the Justice Department at the end of August, “Attorney General Barr today invited Romanian Minister of Justice Ana Birchall to meet with him in Washington this coming September. The Department of Justice has worked closely with Ana Birchall and views her as a vital and trusted partner in the fight against corruption. Her leadership comes at a vital time for Romania, where controversies have raised questions about Romania’s commitment to rule of law values and have diminished public trust and caused increasing concern in the international community. Under Birchall’s leadership, Romania can once again be a model in the region for progress on anti-corruption issues.”
On September the 5th, Birchall met with the US ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, who mentioned the meeting in Washington and also spoke about a roadmap which Barr would pass to Birchall. It was enough. Lumea Justiției, a media website close to Dan Voiculescu, wrote about the “behests” Romania has to take. Which is, of course, normal, as long as Romania’s but a weak colony of the US, according to Național. The paper also quotes Călin Popescu Tăriceanu, the Senate speaker until recently, which rhetorically asked Birchall whether her actions are of her own thinking or motivated by American interests. Lumea Justiției uses Tăriceanu’s statements and adds some more to it: it calls Birchall an US soubrette.
Sputnik played its part by quoting one of its favorite analysts of everything which concluded that the Birchall’s actions are decided in Washington.
A nightmare come true: Kovesi, EPPO chief
Justice and money kept the biased wheel rolling in connection to the EU. As the top politicians in Brussels were pretty busy trying to figure out the European Commission structure, the only Justice related thing that upset the propaganda was the vote that Laura Codruța Kovesi got in the European Council, a vote which doubled that already obtained in the European Parliament. It was the final important step for Kovesi to be appointed the first chief of the newly established European Public Prosecutor’s Office. For some in Bucharest, that was too much. Călin Popescu Tăriceanu, for instance, was deeply frustrated. He was quoted by Jurnalul and Național.
But Sputnik thought this was not by far enough. At first, it suggested the vote could be annulled. Then, accused president Iohannis of committing an abuse that led to the vote in favor of Kovesi. The story about Kovesi being in the Americans’ pocket followed and, in top, the statement made by PM Dăncilă who reminded people that Kovesi is under investigation in Bucharest.
Backstage political actions orchestrated by France and Germany made Kovesi the first EPPO chief, argued Lumea Justiției and Antena 3 (quoting Norica Nicolai). Lumea Justiției was pretty active on the topic. Two days after the vote in Brussels, it insisted that Kovesi would make abuse of office the same way she has done while chief of the Anti-Corruption Directorate in Bucharest and, anyway, the vote in her favor was fraudulent.
Cotidianul also stepped in and asked a “tricky” question: who’s going to lead EPPO, infantry woman Kovesi, SRI (the Romanian interior secret service) or the FBI?
Almost a week after the vote in Brussels, Tăriceanu was still boiling: Kovesi’s double-faced, mediocre and slavish. And Jurnalul was more than happy to quote him.
Finally, eight days after the vote, Sputnik felt the need to be mean to Kovesi, yet in a childish manner: she’s not going to have a budget as generous as that of the Anti-Corruption Directorate in Bucharest.
Lead poisoning in Brussels
As for the money, a huge blow for the social-democrats: the Romanian nominee for the European Commission’s Transports position, Rovana Plumb, did not convince the JURI Committee that she’s either morally or professionally fit and had to be withdrawn eventually. The reactions in Bucharest, in the media connected to the social-democrats and their agenda, ranged from frustration to sheer slander. Antena 3 cited Bogdan Chirieac saying that what’s happening to Plumb in Brussels is an execution (Sputnik also used the quote). Cotidianul cited Mihai Fifor, social-democrats’ spokesman, arguing that Plumb was the only nominee to be questioned out of ten under suspicion, DC News (controlled by Bogdan Chirieac) quoted former MEP Renate Weber that played naive and pretended the procedure was something unheard of in the EP. Antena 3 also quoted MEP Carmen Avram that tried to weaken the JURI Committee argumentation. Jurnalul used the comparative method: Plumb may not be an angel, but look at all the other nominees!
* 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: