Russian state-owned media does little to hide its preferences in the U.S. presidential election.
News reports about the race for the White House on Russian television devote most of their time to elaborating on Donald Trump’s allegations that Hillary Clinton is corrupt and the election is rigged.
“Clinton has a choice. Either she gets the presidency or she goes behind bars,” pro-Kremlin journalist Dmitry Kiselyov said during his flagship Sunday program on the state-controlled Vesti channel. Unlike the anti-establishment Trump, he told viewers, Clinton has the full backing of the US security services, “oligarchic” corporations and the media.
Other reports on the Kremlin-controlled TV channels that are the primary source of news for most Russians have highlighted concerns about Clinton’s health, linked her to sex scandals and suggested the Democratic Party is “panicking” over recent polls.
“My colleagues at these channels completely back Trump and show all the bad things about Clinton,” said Aleksei Venediktov, the editor of liberal Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly rejected claims that the Kremlin would like to see Trump win the White House. Experts, however, point to strong similarities between their positions on major foreign policy issues, including Syria and Ukraine.
The Russian media is pushing Trump’s candidacy “very, very aggressively,” according to a European Union official who monitors the Russian media and spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.
The presidential battle has been widely covered, though it usually appears in news bulletins after domestic news and stories about Russia's military action in Syria.
Much of the focus has been on Clinton, who is portrayed as a Russophobe, a warmonger and responsible for bloodshed in the Middle East.
The latest leak of emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta inspired a report titled “what’s with Clinton’s head?” on the state-controlled NTV television channel. It showed footage of Clinton coughing heavily and tripping when entering a plane, along with excerpts from a Soviet cartoon comparing her to a sick grandmother.
Vladimir Solovyov, a prominent presenter on NTV, said it’s not that Russian media backs Trump, but rather that they dislike Clinton.
“It’s rather hard to feel sympathy for a person who raises hell on your country and everyone in it,” he said in an interview.
In contrast, negative stories about Trump often get lighthearted coverage.
Reporting fresh allegations of sexual abuse against Trump on Oct. 15, the Vesti channel aired a segment called “Too many p------“ set to jaunty music that took viewers through allegations of sexual misconduct by former president Bill Clinton and some of the claims against Trump himself.
In recent weeks, Russian media attention has concentrated on apparent flaws in the US election process, echoing Trump's claims that the election is rigged against him.
In his Sunday program, Kiselyov highlighted what he said were problems with the electoral system, which he described as “an inter-tribal mess” that had not changed since the 18th century. Some US states still used voting machines from the 1980s, he said, which he compared to soda vending machines in the Soviet Union.
Also repeated frequently are claims by Trump that the US has 1.8 million dead people registered to vote. They’re called “dead souls,” a reference to a famous 19th century Russian novel by Nikolai Gogol.
Russian television channels say what Kremlin officials cannot afford to while the outcome of the election is still unknown, according to Venediktov.
“The Russian media is always one step ahead,” he said.