Coffee and TV: Election Edition

9 November 2020, 0825 EST

A couple of years ago, I conducted a Gary Steyngart-esque experiment and watched Russian TV for a day, to find out in what kind of information bubble a regular Russian person lives. This year, I can’t use the remote because I bit all my nails during the American election week, but also the borders are closed, so both Russia and a Russian TV are beyond my reach. Never fear, I fired up Ye olde Tube to see what’s happening with the American elections in the Russian media.

Let’s flip to one of the most odious guys on Channel Two – Dimitry Kiselyov, aka “let’s burn gays’ hearts”. His Sunday evening program’s segment on the American elections was called ominously “Pulp Fiction” (like the Tarantino movie). Kiselyov accused the American elections right off the bat to have a criminal feel to them, where “the majority of mail-in ballots are miraculously for Biden”. According to Kiselyov, Trump was winning in 48 states on election day, but then suddenly was missing just a couple of thousands of votes to win. Mail-in voting can “allow fraud”: “dead souls” registered to vote and over 100% voting registration. Kiselyov continued to lie that it’s possible to come and vote without an ID and vote twice, and some precincts use “voting machines where you just press a button and it’s impossible to tally the votes at all”. Kiselyov’s main evidence (apart from the right-wing “judicial watch”) is Trump’s own statements and the fact that social media started marking his tweets and posts as potential misinformation. Kiselyov was particularly incensed that major news networks “shut his mouth” when Trump tried to claim victory during his address in the briefing room. 

Despite Kiselyov’s lies, his own correspondents from the US showed how the voting count was happening: with 2 representatives from each party sitting side by side and counting the votes on top of a machine authentication. The correspondents also didn’t shy away to show the armed Trump supporters outside of precincts who were demanding to see the counting process themselves. But then the report immediately pivoted to the “dead people voting”, fake Washington Times Gore covers, and the Giuliani press conference at the “Lawn and Order”. Even Fox News, “the only channel that was just a little pro-Trump has abandoned him”. That was the final straw for me, let’s see what the other main channel says.

Channel One news pointed out that the ones celebrating Biden’s win are minorities and Black Lives Matter supporters who fully embraced the “Ukrainian Maidan habits” – that’s bad, of course. Kamala Harris, according Channel One, also embraced Hillary Clinton fashion choices  by wearing a white pantsuit. A talk show  host of a screaming watch ironically called “Time will tell” from November 5th wondered whether the recount will last until Biden wins. The “BBQ, Beer, Freedom” guy screaming about “Biden crime family stealing the election” also made an honorary appearance. Then their correspondent from DC reported that it’s mostly BLM and Biden supporters on the streets (cue American flag burning footage) and the unrest is happening all over the country. A lonely American journalist, thrown in for the both side-ism sake, was in vain trying to ask his counterparts on the panel for proof of election fraud that all the other participants were insisting on. The ensued screaming gave me a headache, so I had to switch to another channel. 

NTV, another pro-Kremlin outlet, dutifully reported on the rioting in the wake of elections, putting the blame squarely on the BLM activists who dislike both candidates, but want a “weaker one” – Biden. Then the correspondent went on to point out the “sudden” vote surges for Biden in key states, “dead souls”, same-day voting registration, and mail-in ballot machinations with background footage from FOX news commentators and guests. The highlight was a report about a group of people in New York, who voted, then shaved their heads and went to vote again. That was my cue to vomit and switch this nonsense off. 

While all this coverage heavily relies on material from “the only channel that was a little pro-Trump”, the reason it is so effective, it’s because all these voting fraud techniques are deeply familiar to the Russian electorate. And it’s especially cynical to see all the mainstream media reporting the supposed irregularities in the US, while they keep their mouths shut when it happens in Russia. Have you seen the vote tallies for the Constitution referendum in September 2020? Voting in car trunks, on tree trunks, and 77% yes margin across precincts almost to the decimal? Russians have, and they firmly believe by now that it’s impossible to do elections otherwise. The Deep State conspiracies spread by the FOX news network and Trump himself sound extremely believable for Russians who are intimately familiar with the notion of “administrative resources” – where the state has a lot of leverage to “encourage” voting and tally the votes as needed. 

No wonder that it’s easy to believe that “those Americans” can’t do better.