The Alliance for Securing Democracy, a project affiliated with the US-based think tank German Marshall Fund, has published a study on how Russian, Chinese and Iranian state-backed media has covered the U.S. Presidential and Vice Presidential Debates, concluding that they used the debates to paint a picture of the US political system “as deeply dysfunctional if not irredeemable.” According to the study. titled “Debating the Debates: How Russian, Chinese, and Iranian State-Backed Media Covered the U.S. First Presidential and Vice Presidential Debates”:
Russian, Iranian, and Chinese state media coverage of the first U.S. presidential debate was almost universally negative, reflecting broader criticism found in U.S. and other global media outlets. Coverage of the more conventional vice presidential debate was less acerbic, with much of the negative coverage circling back to criticism of the presidential debate. Although there were commonalities in the coverage from the three monitored countries—most notably, the idea that the debates reflected a broader decline in U.S. democracy—Russia, China, and Iran’s coverage also revealed their individual preferences and messaging priorities.
The study went on to characterize coverage by the three influence actors as follows:
- Russian state-backed media such as Russia Today, Sputnik, or TASS focused on four key themes: the sad state of U.S. political culture, criticism of the U.S. media, divisions in the Democratic party, and Trump’s refusal to condemn white supremacy. Also, the issue of Russian interference provided an opening to hammer the U.S. for its alleged “Russophobia.”
- As for China, state-backed outlets such as T‑House or China Global Television Network (CGTN) and its commentators likened the debates to a “kindergarten dust-up” and criticized both candidates’ performances, although the overall coverage was slightly more favorable to the Biden-Harris campaign, according to the study.
- Iranian state-backed media such as Press TV, Tasnim, or Fars Agency echoed some of the themes present in Russian and Chinese state media, i.e. that the debate was a debacle, but put more focus on issues related to Iran’s core interests, such as the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal. Iran was also the only country where diplomats and government officials did not shy away from directly criticizing the debates, something Chinese and Russian government officials largely avoided.
Finally, the study notes that while Russian, Chinese, and Iranian coverage of the Presidential debates was biased to a degree, none of the countries engaged in outright disinformation:
The uncivil and chaotic first presidential debate provided Russia, China, and Iran with an easy opportunity to cast the U.S. political system as deeply dysfunctional and unpalatable to audiences at home and abroad. While there was some hyperbole and bias in each countries’ coverage, none of the three countries engaged in outright mis- or disinformation in their reporting—probably because there was no need to. In fact, most of the coverage largely echoed, and indeed sometimes directly quoted, coverage in U.S. and other western media outlets. The collective debate coverage is yet another reminder that the United States’ social and political ills are increasingly being weaponized by its adversaries—often without the need for much editorial spin, let alone outright falsehoods.
Read the entire study here here.