Media coverage of the US election in Arabic, Chinese, and Russian media


Prof Randolph Kluver 

Professor of Communication at Texas A&M University, where oversees a research group utilizing the Media Monitoring System, which harvests foreign language media content in broadcast, web, and social media formats. He has published widely on political communication, new media studies, and global media.


US2016 - Section 5

Section 5: Overseas Perspectives

The US Presidential election typically draws significant interest from overseas, both among allies, like Germany or the UK, and among geopolitical rivals, such as Russia and the People’s Republic of China. There are multiple reasons for this, including the outsized impact of US economic, political, and cultural strengths. But beyond the obvious interest in how presidential policies might impact relations or interests of other countries, there are consequences for how nations view US political values and processes as well. 

Given the obvious geopolitical tensions related to China, Russia, and the Arab world during the campaign, we studied media coverage in each of those regions to determine the dominant narrative about the election, and initial responses to the victory of Donald Trump from each country. We incorporated analysis of multiple news sources, triangulating between official or government-aligned news sources, oppositional or independent news sites, and other sites without express political agenda, such as economics or business news sites. 

During the campaign, Arabic media expressed concern over both candidates, but especially Trump. His comments regarding potential bans on Muslims entering the United States were especially troubling throughout the region. Clinton was largely covered as a more ‘responsible’ candidate, but her association with Obama-era policies regarding non-intervention in the Syrian civil war and the rise of ISIL was also covered extensively. 

After the election, reporting on the outcome largely followed the narratives in major US news outlets that Trump won because of economic concerns, although some articles appeared that seemed to indicate that a Trump victory would lesson Jewish influence on US politics. Qatar’s Al Jazeera ran an extensive story on Trump’s victory, focusing especially on the role of the US media. The broadcaster cast Trump’s victory as a victory over US media, which had largely conspired to make sure that Clinton would win the race. 

During the campaign period, Chinese media also covered the election prominently, focusing especially on Trump’s business experience and his outsider status to the political process. Although many Chinese on social media were very supportive of Trump, as an outsider and as an opponent of corruption, the main media outlets focused more on Trump’s criticisms of China as a currency manipulator, and warned that he might create a trade war with China. A number of Chinese media outlets repeated a claim that such a trade war would cost 5 million US jobs. These media outlets, however, refrained from showing an outright preference, usually masking criticism by citing the words of US academics or media figures. As the Trans Pacific Partnership is largely seen in China as an attempt to ‘contain’ China geopolitically, there was favorable coverage of Trump’s opposition to the agreement.

After the election, Chinese media focused on the challenges that Trump would face as a political novice and in repairing the damage done to his reputation and to the established political parties. Xinhua, China’s main news agency, ran an extensive article detailing the difficulties Trump would have in undoing the damage of his language during the campaign, which helped to lead to social disintegration and disarray. 

Russia’s involvement in the election was extraordinary, both from the fears that Russia was actively seeking to help Trump win, as well as the seeming mutual respect of Trump with Vladimir Putin. Russian media during the campaign focused on Trump’s business acumen, his strong leadership skills, and his willingness to pull away from NATO. Trump was portrayed as a ‘reasonable’ candidate, and contrasted sharply with Clinton, which Russian media tied to the numerous conflicts over Russian engagement in Syria, the Ukraine, and elsewhere. 

After the election, there was obvious satisfaction with Trump’s election, with wide reports of the membership of the Duma breaking into applause once Trump’s victory was announced. An article in the Moskovskij Komsomolets, a Moscow-based daily, argued that Trump was like Gorbachev, revealing the internal fractures and weaknesses of what seemed like a strong and prosperous country. What was truly surprising about the Russian coverage was the number of articles reprinted from Western press outlets, such as the New York Times, the Independent, and other outlets, which argued that a Trump victory meant vindication for Russia. One such piece, which originated in the Daily Beast, published by Inopressa, was entitled “Now it is Putin’s world.” 

We found that global press coverage of the election was widespread and, although it took cues from prominent US outlets, shaped the coverage to reflect local or national concerns. These outlets reported on all of the scandals covered in the US press, but with an additional overlay of where US ties and relationships with the various countries would go under the next president. By and large, the coverage also became a way to criticize both US political values and geopolitical strength. The scandals of the election were used to illustrate the deficiencies of US democratic practice, and the outcome of the election was used to show the inherent contradictions and weaknesses of US society.