Moscow — When it comes to the U.S. government, Russian TV pulls no punches. “Failure,” “not making any sense,” “liar” — these are just a few of the labels that anchors on Russia’s state-run TV have pinned on President Donald Trump in recent months.
Television remains the primary source of news for more than 80 percent of Russia’s population, according to polls, so for millions of viewers across the country, the berating of the U.S. leader is nothing new. Russia’s biggest and most watched TV channels, funded and controlled by the Kremlin, have cultivated the anti-American sentiment since U.S.-Russia relations soured over the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine in 2014. But Kremlin propagandists on the airwaves took a decidedly friendlier tone in their coverage of Mr. Trump during the 2016 U.S. election campaign. While the U.S., its politics and culture, was still bashed regularly, Mr. Trump received praise and support.Russians not celebrating, but hopeful with Mueller probe overThat narrative has changed significantly over the past couple of years.
Man of virtues”We really cheered for him,” Dmitry Kiselyov, host of Russia’s most popular news show, “Vesti Nedeli,” admitted happily in a segment aired in January 2017, right after Mr. Trump’s inauguration. Russian TV channels warmed up to Mr. Trump in May 2016, after he won the nomination. TV pundits had been painting Clinton as the worst possible option for the White House. She was “Russophobic,” they said, warmongering and basically a stooge of big corporations. Mr. Trump was merely the lesser of two evils. As the race went forward and Mr. Trump expressed sympathies to Russia and Vladimir Putin, TV pundits laid it on thicker; Clinton was suffering from dementia, they alleged; she used to take drugs; people who tried to expose or investigate her or her husband died under mysterious circumstances; when she worked as a lawyer, she once defended a pedophile. Mr. Trump, on the other hand, was virtuous. “He never smoked a cigarette in his life and never had a sip of alcohol,” the Rossia 1 TV channel said. Instead, he had enjoyed a “head-spinning” career, had billions of dollars in his pocket, and “success with women.” Toning it downIn February 2017, Bloomberg reported that the Kremlin had ordered state media to cut back on all the positive coverage of Mr. Trump. That report came a week after a pro-Kremlin group known as the National Liberation Movement rallied in front of Kiselyov’s office in Moscow, demanding he tone down his “Trumpmania.” The Kremlin denied ordering TV channels to do anything, but the tone changed quickly.
Mr. Trump’s first statements as president had sparked concerns that his policies towards Russia might not actually differ much from those of President Obama. “We embraced the new master of the White House too soon, didn’t we?” wondered the host of a news show aired by Zvezda, a TV channel run by Russia’s Defense Ministry.