The US withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council. Here’s the media’s take.

There’s objective information — something that can be measured and understood by most — and then there’s bias (or “slant”), which is an angle on that information. Most distorted news articles are slanted in a way that favors an outlet’s point of view. Many times, as readers, we’re not just getting the facts: we’re reading the media’s take on them, except the two aren’t differentiated.

The coverage of the United States’ withdrawal from the U.N. Human Rights Council was slanted in a way that implied the decision was wrong. The Knife analyzed four of the first news outlets to report Haley’s on announcement. Here are those findings.

The story already had drama, so why add more?

The statements by U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were spun. In other words, they included language that was either subjective, dramatic or vague. Here are a couple of examples (the spin is noted below).

Haley: For too long, the Human Rights Council has been a protector of human rights abusers, and a cesspool of political bias. (The outlets analyzed also noted Haley has called the council’s position on Israel a “relentless, pathological campaign” against the country.)
Pompeo: We take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights.”

Haley’s and Pompeo’s own spin distorts the facts, making it harder for readers to objectively understand what’s happened. But it’s another thing for outlets to add sensational language of their own on top of that. Here are some examples from two of the outlets in this analysis.

The Trump administration’s irritation with the council makeup and its agenda has been telegraphed with drumbeat regularity by Haley. (Bloomberg)
The [decision to withdraw] comes as little surprise from an administration that frequently has lambasted the 47-member body for a gamut of perceived failures — including what Haley has called the council's "relentless, pathological campaign" against Israel, a staunch U.S. ally. (NPR)

This analysis doesn’t validate or invalidate the U.S.’s concerns regarding the Human Rights Council. However, the added media spin can push readers towards a particular perspective about the decision. In this case, that although there may be failures that need to be addressed in the council, the U.S. was wrong to leave it. Consider this excerpt from The Washington Post:

[The U.S. decision to withdraw] represents another retreat by the Trump administration from international groups and agreements whose policies it deems out of sync with American interests on trade, defense, climate change and, now, human rights. And it leaves the council without the United States playing a key role in promoting human rights around the world.

It captures the outlets’ bias: by leaving the council, the U.S. is turning its back on human rights. That may or may not be true, and the assessment likely isn’t black and white — it depends on which factors are being considered and how one determines whether a country is supporting human rights or not.

The U.S. government said its decision was “not a retreat from our human rights commitments,” and that the Trump administration would continue to promote human rights outside of the council and would consider rejoining in the future if adjustments are made. News outlets could have weighed the government’s statements against critics’ concerns in equal measure, helping readers to draw their own conclusions about them. The added spin and opinion simply tips the balance prematurely.

It’s a challenge to report the news when public officials’ statements are spun in themselves. In a way, news outlets are responsible for informing readers with accuracy, yet it’s also problematic when they further the distortion. There’s no easy answer on how to handle this. But when it comes to the media’s added drama, it is easy: it’s not necessary.


Written by Ivy Nevares
Originally published on The Knife Media