A look at the dramatic and biased coverage of the Trump-Kim summit

News about North Korea is often biased and spun, and the coverage of the Trump-Kim summit was no different. The Knife analyzed four media outlets that portrayed the event dramatically and with a positive or negative slant. This type of distortion may make for a more entertaining read, but it can also be misleading. Reporting the facts alone, as our Raw Data does, could instead help readers come to their own conclusions about the meeting relatively free from the media’s biases.

A ‘historic’ agreement

Fox News’ article portrayed the summit as mostly positive, suggesting it was a win for and by President Trump. There is some truth to this, if the objective of the meeting was to establish rapport with Chairman Kim and sign the agreement. But there may have also been some exaggeration on the outlet’s behalf. For instance, in its lead sentence it called Kim signing the agreement — and specifically agreeing to “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” — a “historic concession.” Was it?

Not exactly. Fox didn’t mention that North Korea has entered into similar agreements in the past and broken them. Leaving out this information could lead readers to think this agreement will definitely succeed, inspiring a type of false hope that’s founded on incomplete data. The omission contributed to the article’s slant rating of 70 percent. Whether or not this agreement succeeds‚ it’s useful to consider what North Korea has done in the past. 

The Associated Press (AP), The New York Times and The Washington Post had a negative slant, suggesting Trump was wrong to meet with Kim and that his decision to end joint military drills with South Korea gave away too much, which we’ll examine next. Their slant ratings were 85, 73 and 66 percent, respectively.

Was Trump’s concession ‘too much’?

The Times called Trump’s decision to end joint military exercises a “major concession,” and AP described it as a “striking concession.” Both outlets noted how the decision took officials in the U.S. and South Korea “by surprise,” and the Times said it was “a complete reversal” of previous decisions to continue the drills. It was a reversal, but spin terms like “striking” and “complete” dramatize the decision and may suggest it was a mistake. In the least, the spin casts doubt on Trump’s decision. AP also wrote:

Yet Trump faced pointed questions at home about whether he got little and gave away much — including an agreement to halt U.S. military exercises with South Korea.

Concessions are standard in negotiations, and Trump expressed his reasoning for the decision, saying the drills would be “inappropriate” while the two countries held talks. Neither the Times nor AP explained why stopping the drills would be “giving away too much,” but they nonetheless cast the decision in a negative light.

Was it wrong for them to meet?

The Times, the Post and AP juxtaposed information in ways that could imply Trump was wrong to meet with Kim. Consider the following excerpts:

Trump came away clearly buoyed by the interactions with the leader of a brutal regime whom the president referred to derisively last year as “Little Rocket Man.” (The Washington Post)
Mr. Trump’s harsh words about the nation’s closest allies stood in stark contrast to his expression of sunny feelings toward Mr. Kim, a brutal dictator who is known for human rights abuses and who ordered the execution of his own uncle. (The New York Times)
The U.S. president brushed off questions about his public embrace of the autocrat whose people have been oppressed for decades. (AP)

Kim and his predecessors have oppressed the people of North Korea — that’s not what’s in question here. It’s also true that Trump’s claim that Kim “loves his country very much” is questionable. What’s notable is the contrast in writing, for example, about Trump’s supposed “clear buoyancy” when meeting the leader of a “brutal regime.” The juxtaposition might question Trump’s judgment in agreeing to the meeting, or it could suggest the meeting shouldn’t have happened in the first place, given North Korea’s treatment of its people.

The three outlets further slanted their coverage by not providing alternate perspectives to the above, for example, that positive things may come from the meeting, or that part of diplomacy involves meeting and compromising with adversaries.

The outlets also noted that critics questioned whether the meeting “legitimized” Kim. For instance, AP wrote:

Critics of the summit leapt at the leaders’ handshake and the moonlight stroll Kim took Monday night along the glittering Singapore waterfront, saying it was further evidence that Trump was helping legitimize Kim on the world stage.

One could argue the first meeting between heads of state is a public recognition or “legitimization” of each person’s authority. However, the outlets didn’t provide the specific downsides such legitimization might incur, if any at all. So it leaves readers with an implication that the outlets don’t back with data.

It’s too early to tell whether each country will honor the current agreement and what the consequences — positive or negative — of the summit will be. Among many possible outcomes, the agreement could be upheld and it could be the first step to denuclearizing North Korea. The North could also back out of the agreement and relations between the two countries could continue as they’ve been, or perhaps further deteriorate. Or, whether the agreement holds or not, there could be virtually no measurable change to the status quo other than the two leaders having met, discussed various matters and signed a joint agreement. In any scenario, there’ll likely be some downsides and upsides. Again, the outlets The Knife analyzed implied pros or cons, but did so in a biased and dramatic way, and didn’t provide specifics to back up the implications.


Written by Ivy Nevares
Originally published on The Knife Media