Russian RT paid more attention to American Jim Foley than Voice of America, obliterated VOA in social media

BBG Watch Commentary

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The Kremlin’s external media outlet RT (formerly Russia Today) once again beat U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) in the amount of coverage devoted to a U.S.-related news story. RT not only posted online in English more news reports and op-eds related to the murder of American journalist Jim Foley; it also obliterated Voice of America in social media outreach and online audience engagement, as RT does for practically all news stories in recent years.

Voice of America failed to post online even a basic personal profile of the slain American journalist, but one RT commentator did, although the commentary with Foley’s profile included one-sided attacks from RT commentator on Israel and U.S. policies in the Middle East.

What is most striking, however, are dismally low social media engagement numbers (Facebook and Twitter) for practically every VOA news report compared to RT reports, which got hundreds and thousands of Facebook “Shares” and hundreds of Tweets. VOA reports also get almost no comments from online readers, while RT reports usually get dozens and sometimes hundreds of comments. Even assuming that some of RT’s high social media numbers are generated by pro-Kremlin trolls, the low numbers for VOA are astounding in themselves.

During the period analyzed by BBG Watch, RT had more news reports on the Jim Foley story, which was clearly a U.S. related story, than American VOA, which is required by law to report on U.S. news and gets its budget from Congress.

On Aug. 20, VOA posted only two news reports about Foley while RT posted seven. RT also had many more Foley-related stories from the UK than VOA even though VOA has a news bureau in London. RT was also faster than VOA in reporting on UK news developments related to the murder of Jim Foley.

Several of news reports on the VOA website were not even from VOA but from the Reuters news agency. As with VOA reports, they also received very few Facebook “Shares,” very few Tweets and often zero comments from readers.

In addition to having more news reports on Foley, RT also posted four Foley-related op-eds while VOA had no editorials on the murder of the American journalist. RT op-eds were harshly anti-American and exploited the murder of Jim Foley to launch attacks on the U.S. and on Israel. Voice of America had no in-depth analysis from U.S. experts during this time period that could provide a response to Russian propaganda.

At the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) open board meeting on August 13 in Washington, DC, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Rick Stengel said that Russia has outstanding messaging capabilities on social media and observed that this is an area the United States should own, but we don’t really own it.” Stengel’s comments were echoed at the same BBG meeting by White House Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting Ben Rhodes.

Under Secretary Stengel represents Secretary of State John Kerry at BBG meetings.

BBG Watch noted earlier that in failing to arrange for prompt and extensive on the scene coverage of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and through numerous other management and news reporting failures, the top brass of the U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America has shown Under Secretary Stengel exactly why Russia’s RT outperforms VOA online and in social media by a factor of thousands day after day.

The following table shows how RT demolished Voice of America in social media outreach and audience engagement on the Jim Foley news story.

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