President Trump’s tweets are the focus of media coverage almost on a daily basis, and Sunday’s posts calling for an investigation into the FBI and the DOJ certainly made headlines. News outlets could report on what the president writes, without added distortions, so readers can decide for themselves what he meant. Instead, they often spin and bias the information in ways that lead readers to specific conclusions. Here are four examples from The New York Times and Breitbart.
President Trump on Sunday demanded that the Justice Department investigate whether the department or the F.B.I. “infiltrated or surveilled” his campaign at the behest of the Obama administration, following through on his frequent threats to intervene in the special counsel inquiry as he targets those he views as political enemies. (NYT)
President Donald J. Trump announced his decision to demand an official investigation of former President Barack Obama’s administration on Sunday for infiltrating or surveilling his presidential campaign for political reasons. (Breitbart)
The terms marked above are spin, and this kind of subjective or dramatic language often reveals an article’s slant. In this case, the Times may suggest Trump is trying to obstruct Mueller’s investigation, possibly for personal gain. Breitbart’s slant may be less obvious because it uses less spin (see this Knife analysis for a deeper look at Breitbart’s pattern of distortion.) But Breitbart exhibits an important slant by suggesting Trump is right in his allegation and states this as fact, even though there’s no public evidence for this.
Take a look at these three descriptions from the Times:
Mr. Trump made the order on Twitter during a day of public venting …
Trump began the day railing about the scope of Mr. Mueller’s investigation.
In a series of morning tweets that has become a weekend ritual for the president …
The drama and subjectivity can shape how readers perceive the president, and it’s the outlet’s opinion. To more clearly capture the facts, the outlet could write “Trump tweeted” and then just report the tweets.
Dishonor and missing data
Breitbart also disparaged the following individuals and organizations:
Trump again redirected the continuing investigation towards failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Democrats, Tony Podesta, the DNC, and politically biased FBI officials.
Describing Clinton as “failed” is disparaging, and claiming that FBI officials are biased without proof is jumping to conclusions. Also, putting Podesta, Democrats and the DNC in the middle could portray them in a negative light as well, simply by association.
Finally, the Times also supported its bias towards Trump by juxtaposing his announcement with former President Nixon and Watergate. Look at these two sentences.
But in ordering up a new inquiry, Mr. Trump went beyond his usual tactics of suggesting wrongdoing and political bias by those investigating him, and crossed over into applying overt presidential pressure on the Justice Department to do his bidding, an extraordinary realm where past presidents have hesitated to tread ...
Legal experts said such a presidential intervention had little precedent, and could force a clash between the sitting president and his Justice Department that is reminiscent of the one surrounding Richard M. Nixon during Watergate, when a string of top officials resigned rather than carry out Nixon’s order to fire a special prosecutor investigating him.
These excerpts may suggest Trump’s order for an investigation is meritless and that his tenure at the White House may parallel Nixon’s.
Some of Trump’s tweets, and the reasoning behind them, aren’t always clear, and they’re often insulting and disparaging too. Yet the way outlets report on them can limit people’s understanding because they add preconceived notions that are either subjective, partial or not backed with evidence. Reporting what Trump says and leaving it at that may give readers a better shot at deciphering the tweets.
Written by Ivy Nevares
Originally published on The Knife Media