Dec 5, 2019

The difference between Russia and Ukraine on election meddling

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Data: ProQuest; Chart: Axios Visuals

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said this week that Ukraine meets the standard for election meddling that people first held Russia to. But that's not what the numbers show.

Why it matters: While Burr didn't draw a moral equivalence between Russia — which committed several crimes on U.S. soil during the 2016 election — and what we know about Ukraine, he muddled the debate in that direction.

What they're saying: "You considered Russia meddling with just the preference they had before you knew the rest of it," said Burr. "Apply the same standard to Ukraine."

  • "[I]t was called meddling when it was just Russia had a preference on who would win. And I'm saying, you can't go any further than that until somebody investigates Ukraine..."

But, but, but: Axios analyzed 1,847 news stories from 179 news sources that used the words "Russia," "election," "meddling" and their derivatives between Jan. 1, 2014, and Jan. 1, 2017. And it's pretty clear the concept of Russian election meddling didn't enter the American zeitgeist until the WikiLeaks email leaks on July 25.

  • That was the first time 10 news sources even used the three words in the same article in one day, and the time newspapers started using all three together to describe the 2016 election.
  • That set off a chain of events, especially with President Trump's request that Russia hack Hillary Clinton's emails three days later, when the term "Russian election meddling" started to enter the news lexicon.
  • When the stories weren't talking about Russian cyber measures, they simply weren't talking meddling.
  • In fact, there wasn't a broad understanding that Russia preferred Trump until after the hacking confirmed it. Republicans argued the hack couldn't be Russia because Russia would prefer a Democrat.

Burr did not respond to a request for comment.

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