During his speech in Nashville, President Donald Trump insulted Sen. Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Candidate Phil Bredesen. Much of the media coverage centered on this, yet there were other parts of Trump’s speech that were misleading, false or illogical. Here’s a look at parts of the speech and some of the ensuing coverage.
As is customary in U.S. politics, Trump derided the opposing party and its candidate in an effort to raise support for his party’s candidate. He said:
If you want your communities to be safe, if you want your schools to be safe, if you want your country to be safe, then you must go out and get the Democrats the hell out of office.
The “if...then” nature of this statement suggests that voting Democrats out of office would necessarily lead to "safety.” Yet Trump didn’t state his premises to explain why this would be so. It’s certainly possible a Republican could be in office and there not be safety. The statement is also difficult to assess because Trump doesn't define what he means by "safety."
In addition, while government creates certain conditions for safety, such as law enforcement and national security, how citizens behave also affects the relative safety of a community, and Trump’s statement doesn’t account for that.
Trump then said of Bredesen:
He’s an absolute, total tool of Chuck -- of Chuck Schumer. He’s a tool of Chuck Schumer and of course the MS-13 lover Nancy Pelosi.
Portraying Bredesen as a puppet isn’t only disparaging, it’s also illogical, given it assumes he doesn’t act of his own accord and that Schumer can actually control him. And the insult to Pelosi is a false claim: last week, she objected to Trump’s use of the term “animals” to describe MS-13 members; she never said she loved the gang. Along similar lines, Trump said of Democrats:
They don't want the wall, they want open borders, they're more interested in taking care of criminals than they are of taking care of you ...
The generalization misrepresents and disparages the party as a whole. It also oversimplifies lawmakers’ individuality — although they often vote along party lines, there have been Republicans who voted against greater immigration restrictions, as well as Democrats, and members from both parties have also voted for greater restrictions. The statement also carries the following implications:
- That Democrats not wanting the wall means they want open borders, but this isn’t necessarily true. It’s possible to not want the wall yet still want to impose greater limits on borders.
- That not wanting the wall and/or wanting open borders means Democrats are more interested in “taking care” of criminals than their constituents. This also may not necessarily be the case. It’s possible to have a liberal stance on immigration and also be opposed to helping criminals.
Trump’s statements are problematic in that they promote political candidates winning not on the basis of their merits and running an honorable race, but on how well they can attack their opponents. The president’s remarks essentially condones and endorses a culture of mudslinging.
The media’s coverage
The Knife analyzed four news outlets that covered the speech. The four added the writers’ opinions and sensationalized the event through dramatic language. Fox News’ article, which was 61 percent spun, wrote that Trump “blasted,” “hit” and “slammed” Democrats — the outlet could have simply stated what he said. Fox also brought in an unrelated event, writing:
Trump did not mention the earlier cancellation of Roseanne Barr's television show.
The juxtaposition suggests he should have mentioned the show’s cancellation, but why? Does it have anything to do with Trump’s trip to Nashville? Probably not.
The New York Times, whose article was 59 percent spun, wrote:
During an hourlong performance before a huge American flag, Mr. Trump plainly relished his time in front of the cheering crowd, regaling them with stories of what he argued were unmatched successes as president, and drifting off script for brash asides.
This depiction is subjective and dramatic, yet it’s stated as fact. It’s also potentially disparaging towards the president. Here’s a similar example from CNN:
Corker had been a thorn in Republicans' side in the race to replace him, calling Bredesen a friend and only offering a tepid endorsement of Blackburn.
The drama and opinion may make for a more entertaining read, but it drives the way readers take in the information. In this case, the data is that Trump endorsed Blackburn and Corker called Bredesen a friend; being a “thorn in one’s side” and “tepid” are subjectives ways of describing that.
Coverage such as this is akin to a shouting match. In this case, the media’s sensationalism competes with the sensational statements Trump made. If news outlets intended to expose the flaws in what he said, data-based reporting might provide the greatest contrast.
Written by Ivy Nevares
Originally published on The Knife Media