You might not expect a sports network to outperform some of the country’s most reputable news outlets in The Knife’s ratings, but that’s precisely what happened with the story of the Philadelphia Eagles’ canceled visit to the White House. Here’s a look at some of that coverage.
What drama adds to the debate
Considering Trump’s tweets were dramatic and one-sided, as were some of the responses to them, it may not help readers better understand the situation if the media adds its own dramatic language. If anything, the spin could further polarize the debate over whether athletes should stand for the national anthem.
ESPN, whose integrity rating was the highest of the four outlets analyzed at 74 percent, included minimal spin. In fact, its spin rating of 28 percent was largely due to the quotes it cited, most of which were dramatic. The other three outlets’ articles were between 55 and 61 percent spun. Here’s an example from The Washington Post:
President Trump disinvited the Philadelphia Eagles late Monday from a planned White House celebration of the team’s Super Bowl championship, opening a new salvo in his culture war over National Football League players standing for the national anthem.
Saying the cancellation was “opening a new salvo” and referring to the debate as a “culture war” isn’t only dramatic — it can also fuel public discord on the issue. The same is true with calling it “a long-running cultural battle,” which NBC News wrote, as well as saying it’s a “cultural controversy” and a “cultural clash,” which were the Post’s descriptors. Here’s a similar example from The New York Times, the most spun article of the four:
Instead, this year’s event to honor the Eagles has become a bitter reflection of the deep divisions in the United States over race, patriotism and Mr. Trump himself.
The Times’ spin is subjective and emotional, so it could move readers to take or strengthen a stance on the basis of feelings, rather than critical thinking. Disputes like this one are often difficult to resolve as it is. The media’s added drama may help further divide people on the subject, rather than help them come to a mutual understanding or at least respect for the other party’s position.
How opinion helps build a case
The Times, the Post and NBC were negatively slanted against Trump, implying he was wrong to cancel the visit and that he did so for personal gain. This example from the Post supports that notion:
Trump has repeatedly attacked those players, turning the controversy into a political cudgel that he sees as beneficial to his standing with supporters.
Maybe Trump is just trying to score points with his supporters. However, that doesn’t match his stated reasons for opposing the kneeling and canceling the visit. If the Post had data to validate its statement, it didn’t include it in the article. Similarly, the outlet didn’t bring to light the athletes’ responsibility in the situation. Without looking at both sides of the conflict, it favors the perspective that only Trump is to blame.
The same outlets also had this bias: that Trump’s position on kneeling is either wrong or has less merit than the argument of those who support it. Look at this line from the Post:
Trump looked for new ways to continue the cultural clash.
This line could create two impressions, especially considering the Post’s previous statement. First, it supports the notion that Trump’s intent is to create a “cultural clash” in order to serve his own interests. Second, it implies he may not have valid reasons for holding his position.
Both Trump’s and the athletes’ perspectives have merits and flaws. Trump and others see kneeling as a sign of disrespect, yet those who kneel may harbor no disrespect towards the country or the flag — in some cases it could be quite the contrary. The athletes and others view their right to protest as superseding anthem traditions, but perhaps they don’t acknowledge how their choices may adversely affect others.
In the end, the anthem debate comes down to a question of people’s values or what’s important to a person, and which value is more important. That can’t be answered at the national or NFL level, and perhaps the issue shouldn’t or cannot be resolved by government or league policies.
How disparaging remarks compound bias
A challenging decision for journalists can be whether to include what certain sources say, especially if it’s inaccurate or disparaging. And if reporters do include it, there’s the question of how to do it in a way that balances or corrects the information. The following opinion came from Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney:
Disinviting [the Eagles] from the White House only proves that our president is not a true patriot, but a fragile egomaniac obsessed with crowd size and afraid of the embarrassment of throwing a party to (sic) which no one wants to attend.
Kenney is entitled to his opinion, even though he states it as fact. However, it’s completely subjective, and it disparages Trump and the office of president by association. Should outlets have published it?
On one hand, Kenney’s statement reflects his thinking and character. It may be useful for people to know those things, especially those he governs. On the other hand, it’s damaging, especially if outlets don’t point out that his sentiments aren’t fact, but rather opinion, or if they don’t balance it out somehow.
The Times and NBC included Kenney’s quote in their reports. Considering both articles were negatively slanted against Trump, and the fact that neither balanced the quote, including it may do more harm than good.
Discussions about standing or kneeling during the anthem may be uncomfortable or even heated, but that’s the nature of most debates over controversial issues. The media could help readers navigate the subject more critically by reporting the facts objectively. Separating the facts from sensationalism could help people see in what ways both sides are right, and in what ways both sides are wrong. That perception could redirect their attention to their own values and how they factor into the equation.
Written by Ivy Nevares
Originally published on The Knife Media