The Manafort trial coverage: Don’t think of a Russian elephant

The Manafort trial coverage: Don’t think of a Russian elephant

The news media has perhaps the biggest influence in the court of public opinion, especially when it comes to politicized issues. The information it publishes, which is often distorted, shapes how we view people and events. It seems the principles on which the justice system runs don’t apply to the media. News outlets sometimes do the opposite.

Paul Manafort’s current trial has little to do with the Russia investigation, and the parties involved reportedly decided to keep the two issues separate to avoid prejudicing the jury. News outlets did mention this in their coverage, but their articles did the complete opposite: they focused mostly on Russia.

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Trump against the New York Times. Who wins?

Trump against the New York Times. Who wins?

It’s unlikely that in the ongoing dispute between President Donald Trump and the news media one side is completely right and the other is fully wrong. In fact, much may be learned from both perspectives. Yet the way they present their views may do them and the public a disservice. As many arguments go, each side tries to invalidate the other’s perspective (rather than both critically evaluating what each brings and finding solutions). Sunday’s coverage of the exchanges between Trump and the New York Times’ publisher A.G. Sulzberger is the latest example.

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Sessions’ speech: What the media emphasized, dramatized and omitted

Sessions’ speech: What the media emphasized, dramatized and omitted

Speeches, especially political speeches, are useful roadmaps to examine media distortion. There can be stark contrasts in how news outlets report on a given speech, especially by what’s emphasized, dramatized or omitted.

Three of the four outlets analyzed by The Knife emphasized a particular part of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ speech to high schoolers, while the fourth omitted it altogether. Here are the particulars: A video of the speech shows the crowd chanting “Lock her up!” in an apparent reference to Hillary Clinton. Sessions repeated the phrase once, then laughed and said, “I heard that a long time over the last campaign.” That’s pretty straightforward, but the media largely didn’t report it that way. Consider these headlines:

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The misrepresentation of Zuckerberg’s comments on free speech

The misrepresentation of Zuckerberg’s comments on free speech

There’s an easy way to misrepresent and discredit a nuanced argument: simply strip what someone says of its context, oversimplify it and add your own interpretation of what was meant. Or easier still, lose sight of the bigger picture of what’s being discussed, get stuck on specifics and then argue away.

That’s more or less how media outlets reported Mark Zuckerberg’s comments on Facebook’s policies relating to free speech. This analysis teaches you how this was done, step by step.

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A timeline of Trump’s post-Helsinki comments on Russia

A timeline of Trump’s post-Helsinki comments on Russia

President Donald Trump’s comments on Russia dominated traditional and social media this week. It’s understandable why — Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election is a sensitive matter and a national security priority, and Trump’s comments about it were seemingly inconsistent or contradictory. The media could report what was said in an objective way, without added drama, opinion or judgments about it. However, that’s not how a number of news outlets handled it.

This analysis provides a brief but objective timeline of what was said. This way, readers can evaluate the comments and inconsistencies free from the media’s distortions.

Also included at the end is a brief analysis of those distortions, and how they can bias readers. We hope the comparison is educational.

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Goldman Sachs named a new CEO. Here’s what the media did with it.

Goldman Sachs named a new CEO. Here’s what the media did with it.

The Knife’s Raw Data articles provide objective news summaries. Some of them, if stripped of contextual information that’s useful but perhaps not essential, can be sized down to a single sentence. Today’s example: On Tuesday, Goldman Sachs announced that David Solomon would replace Lloyd Blankfein as its next CEO. But that’s quite a departure from the way some news outlets reported on the story.

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A news report on espionage and a raid isn’t enough? Just add drama.

A news report on espionage and a raid isn’t enough? Just add drama.

According to media reports, Israel’s raid on an Iranian military base in January had all the trappings of a spy movie: undercover agents (some presumably Iranian), a tight and precise timeline, blowtorches cutting through safes, the theft of hundreds of classified documents on a nuclear weapons program and a successful exit no one has yet explained. Except it wasn’t a spy movie — these are the facts of the operation. News outlets could have stuck to that, but instead they added drama and left out key information.

Here’s a look at what was added and what was missing, and why it may matter to readers.

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NATO’s meeting on defense: Two different takes on the same story

NATO’s meeting on defense: Two different takes on the same story

It’s not uncommon to hear two sides of an argument and marvel at the stark difference between the points of view. What’s becoming more common is to read two media articles that, upon comparison, reveal they’re both reporting on the same news event. Wednesday’s NATO meeting coverage captures that very experience. What accounts for the difference in stories? The media’s slant.

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Lessons from the media’s reporting on the Thai cave rescue

Lessons from the media’s reporting on the Thai cave rescue

One of the topics the Knife analyzes is accidents and natural disasters. News coverage on these topics tends to be distorted, taking an already tragic or unfortunate event and dramatizing it. The news of the rescue of the first four boys from the Thai cave had some added drama, but three of the four outlets analyzed here reported on the rescue efforts more objectively than usual.

Sunday’s Thai cave coverage had the highest ratings of all, except for one news outlet. Although this sample is limited, it shows that more than half of the news reports analyzed are distorted upwards of 54.5 percent on average.

Here’s a look at how the rescue coverage was different, and what news consumers and the media can learn from it.

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Compounding distortions in the coverage of the calls to abolish ICE

Compounding distortions in the coverage of the calls to abolish ICE

When news outlets sensationalize already sensationalized information, it makes it harder to discern fact from fiction in reporting. Such a pattern is often observed when the statements public officials make are spun or otherwise distorted, and then news outlets add further distortions. A case in point: the coverage of the recent calls for (and responses to) the dismantling of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Here’s a synopsis of what happened and how the distortions compounded (the subjective, vague or dramatic language is marked in each example):

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Subtle slant in the coverage of Bolton’s remarks on North Korea

Subtle slant in the coverage of Bolton’s remarks on North Korea

Sometimes news reports can seem objective, especially if the media focuses most of the coverage on what people say or do. The coverage of National Security Advisor John Bolton’s remarks to the press are similar in this way — the four outlets The Knife analyzed stuck mainly to quotes. However, there were subtle forms of slant that can still affect the way readers take in the information.

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The slant in the coverage of the travel ban ruling, from most to least visible

The slant in the coverage of the travel ban ruling, from most to least visible

Of all the different ways media outlets distort information, slant can be the most difficult to detect. We examined some of the coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Trump administration’s travel ban, and found some forms of slant were more obvious than others. This analysis shows three different slant techniques, with tips on how you can apply them to future news coverage and other information.

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Big drama, little data in Turkey’s electoral coverage

Big drama, little data in Turkey’s electoral coverage

News outlets analyzed by The Knife called Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections “high-stakes” (CNN), “pivotal” (The New York Times and The Washington Post) and “one of the most consequential in years” (The Post). Considering the changes to Turkey’s constitution last year, which grant incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan more power, those descriptions may be accurate. However, the outlets used more dramatic or vague language than facts to back the point.

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