Russian news agency pushed video of Portland protestors burning a Bible: report

Russian news agency pushed video of Portland protestors burning a Bible: report
© ANKUR DHOLAKIA/AFP via Getty Images

A cherry-picked video showing protesters in Portland, Ore., burning a stack of books including at least one bible originated from a Russian government-financed news agency, according to The New York Times.

A Times analysis found that Russian news agencies published stories with a conservative spin that were either outright inaccurate or exaggerated small details, such as the story of protesters burning Bibles in Portland. 

The clip originated from Ruptly, which regularly livestreams protests for a few hours each night and then compiles clips for short videos of highlights. Ruptly is a video news subsidiary of RT News, a Kremlin-financed news operation.

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The news agency is one of several Kremlin-linked organizations the Times found were perpetuating these stories from protests. 

The protests have raged in Portland since May, prompting the Trump administration to deploy federal law enforcement after demonstrators approached a federal courthouse. Law enforcement's response to protesters has come under scrutiny after videos surfaced of protesters being thrown into unmarked vehicles. 

Besides Ruptly, the only other news agency the Times found that reported on the burning of the Bible was KOIN, the local CBS News affiliate, which also reported that a group of women calling themselves Moms United for Black Lives Matter attempted to put out the fire. A Times reporter at the protest noted that a group at the demonstration was giving away free Bibles, though it’s unclear if that is where the Bible in the footage came from.

The news agency made the burning the focus of its coverage and tweeted the story twice, the Times noted. The footage was spread on Twitter and then aggregated by outlets such as the New York Post and The Federalist.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzCrenshaw looms large as Democrats look to flip Texas House seat SCOTUS confirmation in the last month of a close election? Ugly The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' MORE (R-Texas) and Donald Trump Jr., President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal prosecutor speaks out, says Barr 'has brought shame' on Justice Dept. Former Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick MORE’s son, were among the conservative figures who shared the video as well.

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Last week, a U.S. counterintelligence official announced a series of foreign threats facing the 2020 presidential election, including that Russia is using a range of measures to swing voters toward Trump and that China prefers that the president fail in his reelection bid.

The intelligence community has previously concluded that Russia sought to interfere in the last presidential election through cyberattacks and online disinformation campaigns. It also found that Russia sought to hurt Trump's political opponent in 2016, former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBloomberg rolls out M ad buy to boost Biden in Florida Hillicon Valley: Productivity, fatigue, cybersecurity emerge as top concerns amid pandemic | Facebook critics launch alternative oversight board | Google to temporarily bar election ads after polls close Trump pledges to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, designate KKK a terrorist group in pitch to Black voters MORE

Ruptly issued a statement on Aug. 13 rebuking the Times’s reporting and said that the newspaper did not contact them for comment. It rejected the implication that there was “supposed collusion” between the outlet and Russian forces.

In its statement the outlet said, “No media outlet is responsible for those who disseminate, exaggerate or misinterpret its coverage,” pointing to an opinion column the Times published by Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump stokes fears over November election outcome The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump previews SCOTUS nominee as 'totally brilliant' Abortion stirs GOP tensions in Supreme Court fight MORE (R-Ark.), which drew widespread criticism.  

“[The column] was widely condemned as racist and inflammatory but was also widely shared by many of the groups you accuse Ruptly of colluding with,” the statement said. “Did the New York Times collude with them? By your own definition, this would make you an agent of racist propaganda.”

Updated August 13, 2:42 p.m.