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Poland: 19-25 September 2016

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If elected president, Hillary Clinton would unleash a nuclear war, according to a report by a local Polish TV station.

Event: In its current affairs program “You Must Know It!” webcast 19 September, local TV station CW24tv stated that Hilary Clinton would wage nuclear war against Russia and China in the event she is elected president of the United States. CW24tv’s programming often contains conspiracy theories and material critical of the West. The original story was disseminated by the Russian state-owned news portal Sputnik.

The false fact or narrative:The story claimed that Clinton—the Democratic candidate for U.S. president—would start a nuclear war between the United States and Russia or China. “…Such is the opinion expressed by a person who acts as a representative of the United States in Ukraine,” said program host Maciej Maciak, referring to an interview with James Jatras of the American Institute in Ukraine, a privately funded NGO. Another program host, Jan Stocki, claimed that this institute receives U.S. government funds and executes official U.S. policy. In order to give added credence to his comments, both journalists suggested that Jatras and his alleged links with the U.S. and Ukrainian government were highly credible. Yet neither broadcast offered proof that Jatras had any reliable information.

Reality on the ground: The American Institute in Ukraine has no links with U.S. or Ukrainian authorities, nor does it implement U.S. government policy. Its stated objective is to inform Ukrainians that not all Americans support Ukrainian membership in NATO. The institute often criticizes U.S. policy in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics. Furthermore, the program’s hosts quoted a news item published by the English-language website Infowars, apparently to hide from readers its connection with Russian propaganda. Citing Infowars rather than Sputnik also makes the story more credible to a Polish audience.

Technique: Opinions presented as facts.

Audience: American and Polish public opinion.

Analysis: Kremlin officials openly sympathize with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. By spreading information that his opponent, Hillary Clinton, would wage war on Russia as president, Russia’s state-owned media seeks to portray her as an irresponsible politician who wants to conducts a crusade against Moscow. The aim is to influence U.S. public sentiment and increase the credibility of a Trump victory. The story also tries to convince Poles that Clinton—who is widely admired in Poland—is irresponsible and frivolous.