The allegations against Franken and Moore: What’s Trump got to do with it?
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The allegations against Franken and Moore: What’s Trump got to do with it?

November 20, 2017

The national debate about sexual harassment has “come full circle” as it again involves President Trump — at least that’s what The New York Times writes. But there actually haven’t been new public allegations against Trump, and it seems to be the media itself that’s revisiting previous ones. So what exactly does The Times mean by “come full circle”?

We analyzed four of the most reputable U.S. news outlets covering Trump’s tweets about Senator Franken, and the White House’s response to questions on the matter. All of their coverage was between 75 and 88 percent slanted. This means that according to The Knife’s balance ratings, at least three-quarters of each article promoted a singular viewpoint, which in this case disparages Trump and implies guilt.

As noted in our analysis of Roy Moore and Hannity, we’re neither defending Trump nor invalidating the allegations. What we’re bringing awareness to is how the media is trying Trump in the court of public opinion. The articles suggest Trump has committed five faults, each one building on the next and culminating in the most damaging of all. (As a note, we’re marking the spin terms in red, to show how they support the slant.)

Fault 1: Trump said too little about Moore

The articles suggest Trump should have been more vocal about Moore than he has been. For instance, The Washington Post wrote:

Since returning late Tuesday, Trump has not mentioned Moore in any public comments or tweets, and he has ignored questions about Moore that reporters have shouted at him.

Why mention this, except to imply he should have said more?

Fault 2: He shouldn’t have commented on Franken

Trump’s tweet about Franken wasn’t honorable, but that’s not what the outlets pointed out (nor why that may be a problem). Instead, they suggested Trump is a “hypocrite” for commenting on the allegations against Franken, given the allegations he has faced in the past. Here’s an example from AP:

Trump called his own accusers “horrible, horrible liars” and threatened to sue them, while coming to the defense of friends such as political commentator Bill O’Reilly and former Fox News chief executive Roger Ailes, accused of harassment or assault … Trump did not mention that Tweeden also accused Franken of kissing her against her will — the same thing that at least eight women have publicly accused Trump of doing.

In case the implication wasn’t clear, the outlets also cited critics who called Trump a “hypocrite,” while providing no alternate perspectives. So based on this slant, Trump’s damned if he comments on Franken and damned if he doesn’t comment on Moore.

Fault 3: He passed the ball, again

Regarding the past allegations against Trump and his supposed “hypocrisy” about them, the outlets suggested he just passes the ball to his staff, who then makes excuses for him. On this, The New York Times wrote:

But as Mr. Trump has shown repeatedly during his 10-month presidency, he is rarely deterred by conventional political wisdom even as he leaves it to his staff to fend off the cries of hypocrisy.

Now, he’s not only a “hypocrite,” but a coward who won’t defend himself. Notice how much this implies guilt, because if he were innocent, would he need defending?

Fault 4: He’s unfit to be president

The outlets suggested Trump isn’t fit to be president, because of the allegations against him. For instance, the Times wrote, “But the nation’s leader is a compromised figure when it comes to [the sexual misconduct allegations] discussion.” It also included quotes like this, without providing alternate perspectives:

“A president should be a step above in leading for the entire country,” Ms. Fagen said. “When somebody is behaving in such a (sic) immoral way, a president should call them out. Trump’s a unique case here. He’s got his own issues with respect to this. He denies them all but he’s got them.”

Ideally, presidents should be “a step above.” The problem here is that by suggesting Trump is unfit to lead, the media is trying him in the court of public opinion instead of allowing for due process — that is, trying him in a court of law, if necessary.

Fault 5: Trump is guilty by loose association

The biggest and potentially most damaging suggestion the outlets make is that Trump could be or should be implicated too (or again) in this round of allegations, and that he should be “toppled.” The outlets suggest this in different ways. One is by juxtaposing the former allegations against Trump in a story about current allegations against other people, including two ex-presidents (one of whom did admit to sexual misconduct… get it?). The allegations aren’t related, but the juxtaposition makes it seem as if they are.

AP does this more overtly by asking, “Now, as one prominent figure after another takes a dive, the question remains: Why not Trump?” The outlet further wrote:

The candidate who openly bragged about grabbing women’s private parts — but denied he really did so — was elected president months before the cascading sexual harassment allegations that have been toppling the careers of powerful men in Hollywood, business, the media and politics. He won even though more than a dozen women accused him of sexual misconduct, and roughly half of all voters said they were bothered by his treatment of women, according to exit polls.

In addition to juxtaposing two things that relate only on the basis of subject matter, AP and the other outlets suggest the president should be “toppled” without due process. That’s not entirely logical, and it’s not just. And it’s really the point of this analysis: Did Trump and the other men accused commit the alleged violations? We can’t answer that, and neither should you — that’s the reason our justice system exists.

As a society, we’ve allowed and participated in the media becoming the court of public opinion — and now social media, too. There’s a reason the presumption of innocence is vital in a democracy (for more on this, read our Hannity analysis), and this is the first right that the accused lose in a trial by media situation. By bringing awareness to this type of bias, we, as a society, can help raise the standards of journalism to match the principles of one of humanity’s most noble creations: the justice system.

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

  • 30% Spun

  • 33% Spun

  • 36% Spun

  • 58% Spun

Distortion Highlights

  • The coverage of sexual misconduct allegations may have taken a turn for the worse.
  • You may or may not not like what we’re about to say, but the coverage of Trump’s response to Franken and Moore isn’t responsible.
  • See how four U.S. sources implicate Trump in wrongdoing, and why it may be a problem for all of us.

Show Me Everything

The Raw Data

Unspun and unbiased. These are the facts.

Top Spin Words

  • War

    The turn in the political dialogue threatened to transform a moment of cleansing debate about sexual harassment into another weapon in the war between the political parties, led by the president himself. (The New York Times)

  • Feeding Frenzy

    As for Trump, the president who rarely sits out a feeding frenzy is selectively aiming his Twitter guns at those under scrutiny. (AP)

  • Long a bane

    Long a bane to establishment Republicans, Moore is thumbing his nose at calls by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other GOP members of Congress to drop out of the campaign, and accusing them of trying to “steal” the race from his loyal insurgents. (AP)

  • Perilous crosscurrents

    Look no further than the bipartisan howl that greeted Ivanka Trump’s statement this week about Moore for a demonstration of the perilous crosscurrents around Trump on the issue. (AP)

  • Noise and chaos

    The charges leveled against him emerged in the supercharged thick of the 2016 campaign, when there was so much noise and chaos that they were just another episode for gobsmacked voters to try to absorb — or tune out. (AP)

  • Hypocrisy

    But as Mr. Trump has shown repeatedly during his 10-month presidency, he is rarely deterred by conventional political wisdom even as he leaves it to his staff to fend off the cries of hypocrisy. (The New York Times)

    Robins Carothers, a Jones supporter who was at the event, said Trump was being “hypocritical” in his attack on Franken and relative silence on Moore. (The Washington Post)

    Leeds, for her part, called the president “the walking definition of hypocrisy.” (AP)

    “But not enough for you @SenGillibrand? Over 20 yrs you took the Clintons’ endorsements, money, and seat. Hypocrite.” (The New York Times)

  • Surprised

    But the notion that Mr. Trump himself would weigh in given his own history of crude talk about women and the multiple allegations against him surprised many in Washington who thought he could not surprise them anymore. (The New York Times)

  • A painful sequel

    The sexual assault drama is playing out as a painful sequel for Leeds and other women who came forward during the 2016 presidential campaign to accuse Trump of harassment and more — only to see him elected president anyway. (AP)

Trump comments on sexual misconduct allegations against Franken, Moore

On Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump commented via Twitter on the allegations of sexual misconduct against Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.). The following day, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders gave a press briefing in which she was asked about the tweets, as well as his comments on the allegations against Republican candidate Roy Moore, who is running for a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama.

Trump’s tweets on Thursday reference a picture in which Franken appears to be touching then-model Leeann Tweeden’s breasts through her clothes and bulletproof vest while she was sleeping. The two had travelled together overseas on a 2006 United States Organization (USO) tour to perform for American troops. The first of Trump’s two tweets on the matter was, “The Al Frankenstien (sic) picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?”

During the White House press briefing, Sanders was asked about Trump’s comments on the allegations against Franken and Moore. On Nov. 9, Sanders said Trump believed that “if [the allegations against Moore] are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside.” At that briefing, a reporter said some “critics” had said Trump had tweeted about Franken, and had not “weigh[ed] in” on Moore. Sanders replied that suggesting Trump had not “weighed in” on the allegations against Moore was inaccurate, given his Nov. 9 statements on the subject. She added that Trump “also weighed in when he supported the [Republican National Committee’s] decision to withdraw resources from the state of Alabama.” Alabama’s special election is scheduled for Dec. 12.

The Washington Post first reported allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore on Nov. 9, which allegedly include sexual contact with a 14-year-old girl when he was 32. Moore has denied the allegations, and others that have followed.

In addition to releasing the picture with Franken, Tweeden alleged Thursday that Franken had kissed her without her consent during a skit rehearsal while on the USO trip. The same day, Franken issued an apology for the picture and some “offensive” jokes he had made, and asked that an “ethics investigation” be undertaken, with which he would “gladly cooperate.”

According to AP, during Trump’s presidential campaign, more than 12 women accused him of sexual misconduct. The Washington Post released a video during Trump’s campaign with his voice saying the following in regards to women, “I just start kissing them … I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” Trump later said his words were “locker room banter,” and those “words don’t reflect who I am.”

Fiction
or
Fact

The New York Times

“The turn in the political dialogue threatened to transform a moment of cleansing debate about sexual harassment into another weapon in the war between the political parties, led by the president himself.”

There have been reports and debate in the media of alleged sexual harassment by men, including Trump.

Associated Press

“The charges leveled against [Trump] emerged in the supercharged thick of the 2016 campaign, when there was so much noise and chaos that they were just another episode for gobsmacked voters to try to absorb — or tune out.”

Allegations of sexual misconduct against Trump were made during his 2016 campaign.

Associated Press

“As for Trump, the president who rarely sits out a feeding frenzy is selectively aiming his Twitter guns at those under scrutiny.”

Trump has tweeted about a variety of politicians, including Franken. He has not tweeted about the allegations against Moore.

Fact Comparison

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

Trump has so far remained silent about Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore. (NBC News)


The outlet states in its lead paragraph that Trump has “remained silent” on Roy Moore, while pointing out that he was supposedly “quick” to comment on the allegations against Franken. While it’s correct that Trump hasn’t tweeted about Moore, this implies the president has made no comments at all. The White House did announce Trump finds the allegations “troubling,” and that if the allegations were true, Moore should drop out of the race, which NBC also reports further down in its article.

Sanders said the president backed the Republican National Committee’s decision to withdraw resources from the Moore race. (The Washington Post, The New York Times)


Omitting the fact that Trump supported the RNC’s decision to remove funding could support the notion that he won’t oppose or criticize a member of his own party. The Post and the Times imply this by saying Trump has commented negatively on the allegations against Democratic Senator Franken, while remaining “mostly” or “largely” silent on the allegations against Moore, a Republican.

Headlines

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

Did Trump start this debate? Strangely, the Times doesn’t mention the media’s role in it.

In the end, there’s due process and potentially the discovery of truth. How exactly did Trump create his “own rules” on the subject? AP didn’t say.

Should allegations “topple” anyone, or should courts of law decide guilt?

Dredging is literally a dirty process. Could this wording lead to bias?

The Numbers

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

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