3 ways the media could sway your views on Trump and Utah’s national monuments
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3 ways the media could sway your views on Trump and Utah’s national monuments

December 5, 2017

The Raw Data

Unspun and unbiased. These are the facts.

Trump signs proclamations to reduce 2 national monuments in Utah

In a speech on Monday in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S. President Donald Trump announced he signed two proclamations reducing the size of two national monuments. He said the measures would “reverse federal overreach” and restore the rights of the land to Utah citizens. As a result, Bears Ears National Monument is to be divided into two sections and reduced from 1.35 million acres to 228,337. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is to be divided into three sections and reduced from 1.9 million acres to about 1 million acres. According to CNN, the 3 million acres around the two monuments will remain public land.

While designating national parks requires an act of Congress, a sitting president can unilaterally designate national monuments under the Antiquities Act of 1906. These two proclamations are the first changes to 27 U.S. national monuments reviewed by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. In April, Trump directed Zinke to start a review of national monuments created since 1996 with Antiquities Act designations of 100,000 acres or more. Zinke conducted the review, looking for “the smallest area compatible” to manage historic sites and areas of interest. He submitted a report with recommendations to the White House in August and, according to The Daily Caller, he judged whether designations “burdened” local and industry interests unnecessarily.

Bears Ears was declared a national monument in December 2016 by former President Barack Obama. Grand Staircase-Escalante was designated by former President Bill Clinton in 1996. According to the Utah Automated Geographic Reference Center, Bears Ears includes historical and cultural Native American rock art, dwellings and ceremonial sites. Grand Staircase-Escalante includes cultural sites for Native Americans, dinosaur fossils, and geologic cliffs, terraces, arches and canyons.

A commission formed by Navajo, Hopi, Pueblo of Zuni, Ute Mountain and Ute Indians administers the Bears Ears territory. On Tuesday, the five tribes announced they will jointly file suit to challenge the proclamation on Bears Ears in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. According to The Washington Post, the lawsuit argues that the president may create a national monument, not reduce it. Another lawsuit filed Monday by the Conservation Lands Foundation, Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners and the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology says the Grand Staircase-Escalante reduction “jeopardizes” the local economy and tourism, and land that contains dinosaur fossils.

Distortion Highlights

  • Some news outlets seem to suggest that Trump’s downsizing of two national monuments in Utah is problematic, while others suggest the opposite.
  • The problem is, they do it with spin and by favoring one perspective over another.
  • See how neither approach is as informative as just getting the facts about the situation.

Show Me Everything

The Distortion

The Knife’s analysis of how news outlets distort information. (This section may contain opinion)

Top Spin Words

  • Sellout

    The review was attacked as a sellout to industry and a rejection of Native American interests. (The Daily Caller)

  • Outpouring of praise

    Trump’s move to shrink the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments by more than 1.1 million acres and more than 800,000 acres, respectively, immediately sparked an outpouring of praise from conservative lawmakers as well as activists’ protests outside the White House and in Utah. (The Washington Post)

  • Flash point

    The issue has been a particular flash point in the West, where some local residents feel the federal government already imposes too many restrictions on development and others, including tribal officials, feel greater protections of ancient sites are needed. (The Washington Post)

  • Dramatically

    President Donald Trump has dramatically scaled back two public outdoor parks, or national monuments, in Utah. (BBC)

  • Slammed

    Trump slammed past administrations — namely Clinton’s and President Barack Obama’s — for what he called “federal overreach.” (CNN)

  • New leases on life

    The drillers, miners and frackers who were shut out by Clinton’s and Obama’s use of the Antiquities Act would have new leases on life. (CNN)

  • Massive

    Trump Makes A Massive Reduction To Utah’s National Monuments (The Daily Caller)

  • Over the eons

    All roamed southern Utah over the eons, long before Native Americans struggled to hold their land against Mormon settlers, modern life and now, Donald Trump. (CNN)

Property is a fascinating thing, considering many wars waged throughout history have been fought over some form of property. It’s no surprise that President Trump’s recent announcement on two Utah national monuments’ reduction has riled people. But it wasn’t just Trump — the media has something to do with it.

We analyzed four articles on the subject, and found each of them was slanted or gave a partial view of the information. Here are the three main distortions we found, and why they may limit the way we approach the information.

Appeal to emotion

CNN’s article starts with:

If only the rocks could talk.

If only the sandstones could sing, imagine the stories they’d tell, of dinosaurs, mammoth hunters and the “ancient ones” known as the Anasazi.

All roamed southern Utah over the eons, long before Native Americans struggled to hold their land against Mormon settlers, modern life and now, Donald Trump.

And it ends with:

If you are an American, this is your land and these are your rocks. Pay them a visit sometime. You’ll be amazed at the stories they tell.

The historical references and figurative, emotional language (spin) may play at our heartstrings, and hint at the cons of the measures. However, they don’t provide specifics to better understand possible upsides and downsides. The best way to evaluate the changes is through data, plain and simple. In CNN’s coverage, your opinion may already be swayed before you get to the facts it provides about the situation.

Emphasizing partisanship

Like the CNN article, BBC’s and The Washington Post’s coverage also promoted a negative bias about downsizing, although the Post did it with a twist. In its headline, the Post drew attention to partisanship by noting the “praise” and “protests” that followed Trump’s announcement. In its lead sentence, CNN noted that the two presidents who established the monuments in question are Democrats. Both points are accurate, but as readers, highlighting them puts partisanship on the radar at the start of the article.

The rest continues in a similar fashion: Republican lawmakers pitted against activists’ protests in Utah and Washington; conservatives working to “curb” the president’s unilateral power in this area; competing interests between Utah locals and Native American tribes, and those of executives in the mining, ranching and oil and gas industries.

It’s true that people have voiced differing opinions about the measures, and including these can be useful. However, it can be limiting to focus more on partisanship than information that could help evaluate the measure’s merits and possible consequences.

Disproportional representation

While The Daily Caller’s article was the least distorted of the four, it was still slanted. By giving greater weight to the Trump administration’s perspectives, compared to others’, this outlet suggested downsizing is good and in the best interest of Utah residents.

Surely the four articles can’t all be correct?

There are benefits and disadvantages to every decision, including the reductions in the size of these national monuments. Take a look at our Context to evaluate some of the possible pros and cons, and to see how Trump’s actions on this issue compare to his predecessors.

Is it fact or fiction? Which outlet presents the most spin?

  • 40% Spun

  • 55% Spun

  • 59% Spun

  • 62% Spun

Fiction
or
Fact

CNN

“If only the rocks could talk.”

Rocks don’t talk.

CNN

“As the President arrives in Utah Monday afternoon, this rocky corner of the Wild West is a battlefield once again, but this time the warriors will carry briefcases and lawsuits.”

The President arrived in Utah Monday afternoon. Some groups have mentioned possible lawsuits over the proclamations.

The Washington Post

“It also plunges the Trump administration into uncharted legal territory since no president has sought to modify monuments established under the 1906 Antiquities Act in more than half a century.”

A president’s authority to make changes to national monument designations under the Antiquities Act has never been challenged in court.

Fact Comparison

  • Facts in only 1 source
  • Facts in 2 sources
  • Facts in 3 sources
  • Facts in all sources

Regardless of Trump’s decision and unless Utah politicians can figure out a way to take them back and sell them off, the 3 million acres around Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante will remain public. (CNN)


BBC, The Daily Caller and The Washington Post didn’t mention the land will remain public. This information may help readers not to jump to faulty conclusions about the land’s ownership.

Trump declared an 85% cut to the state’s 1.3m acre Bears Ears National Monument and a 50% cut to its 1.9m acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. (BBC)


Trump called for eliminating about 861,974 acres from the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which is a little over 45 percent of the monument’s 1.9 million acres, not 50 percent.

Headlines

An article’s headline can direct how the news is understood. Compare and contrast how different outlets present the story through their headlines.

How “massive”? If adding detail in the headline, why not provide specific facts?

CNN doesn’t say what makes this move “historic” in comparison to others.

Maybe environmentalists are angry. Is that all? Do other perspectives also make the headline?

The Numbers

See how the articles rate in spin, slant and logic when held against objective standards.

View Technical Sheet >