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Narrative Intelligence: State-Run Russian Media is Manipulating the Simone Biles Story

July 30, 2021LeAnne Gault

It's difficult to tell what was more surprising this week at the Tokyo Olympics: Simone Biles' exit from events on Tuesday and Thursday, or the way Russian media has covered the story. Biles, a 24-year old 4-time Olympic gold medalist, removed herself from the team final on Tuesday after one rotation on vault. Biles cited mental health issues as the cause. She withdrew from Thursday's individual all-around competition at the Tokyo Games to focus on her mental well-being. Biles later told media that she'd been "having a little bit of the twisties," a dangerous mental block where a gymnast loses their sense of direction in the air and is unable to figure out where the ground is or how to land. Most global media have supported her decision, but not Russia.

The "Simone Biles" narrative accelerated in both Russian and Chinese media this week

Using Kudzu Narrative Intelligence️™️ to analyze how the global media is handling the narrative trend Simone Biles, it is easy to see that the trend is being exploited roughly equally by both Russian and Chinese media. However, the data also reveal a disturbing trail of Russian disinformation designed to sully Biles' reputation.  Case in point: RT (formerly Russia Today) is a Russian state-controlled international television network funded by the Russian government. In several news stories, RT gloated that Biles' performance before withdrawing was "sloppy" and that her early departure from Tuesday's competition "piled pressure on her teammates" so that they were unable to top the Russian team who took the gold in the team final. Biles "let her team down" by refusing to compete, one source claimed. According to several Russian sources including RT, Biles' decision to withdraw from competition for mental health reasons is not a sign of bravery but "woke weakness".  RT even went so far as to say, "The new woke dictionary definition of ‘brave’ has come to mean ‘selfishly letting down your teammates’, judging by Simone Biles' cringingly tense exit during the gymnastics team final at Tokyo 2020."

Chinese media, on the other hand, has offered support to Biles. The China Post in Taiwan recently published an article titled "Simone Biles makes mental health the talk of Tokyo Games" which focuses on Biles' decision and the outpouring of support and shared stories from other athletes and Olympic competitors. The Epoch Times published an editorial from Helene Elliott which stated, “We Can All Learn from Her Courage.” And another article is headlined "Simone Biles Told Her Replacement to 'Have Fun' and She Did."

Every hour, Kudzu Narrative Intelligence™️ analyzes website feeds, Twitter accounts, and YouTube channels of global and US media outlets, their editors, and reporters, to provide analytical insights on key trends and narrative frameworks.

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