Now Is It Time to Panic? the Moral Dimensions of Russian Interference in the 2016 US Elections.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 16:20
Oral Presentation
John SONNETT, University of Mississippi, USA
News of Russian interference in the last US Presidential election first emerged in June 2016, and the story has only grown since then. Claims and counter-claims about hacking, fake news, and document leaks have become institutionalized in the news media and in a special prosecutor's grand jury investigation. Although the evidence is still being debated, Russians have once again become folk devils in much of American news, suggesting a new Cold War. Is this scandal a witch hunt, a red scare, and an unjustified moral panic? Or is it a genuine moral crisis playing out through political channels? This study examines English-language news to identify the moral dimensions of the debate and uses field theory to locate these debates within a transnational field of online news media. Data come from Google site searches for moral concepts such as right, wrong, protection, honesty, and integrity, and this semantic field is analyzed using social network analysis and correspondence analysis. Preliminary results show that moral judgments correspond to political divisions between left and right--and center and margin--of the journalistic field. Key outlets from Russia and the US also use contrasting moral discourse: the Washington Post emphasizes positive words like privilege, reliability, and right, while RT emphasizes negative words like evil, immorality, and lying. These findings suggest that the rise of right-wing populism in the age of Trump constitutes a legitimate moral crisis, regardless of the legal conclusions sought by investigators. This study contributes to moral panic research by demonstrating a relational approach to moral claims and counter-claims and by clarifying moral conflicts by mapping them onto social and institutional contexts. Further research will update these results by linking moral concepts to particular people and events in the wider scandal and by examining change over time.