The Russia sanctions story: What happened to North Korea and Iran?
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The Russia sanctions story: What happened to North Korea and Iran?

July 23, 2017

The Raw Data

Unspun and unbiased. These are the facts.

House leaders agree on bill for Russia, Iran, North Korea sanctions

U.S. House leaders from both parties announced Saturday they had agreed on the draft of a bill that would impose sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea. The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the bill this Tuesday, according to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office.

The bill would allow the U.S. to impose additional sanctions against Russia in response to alleged Russian hacking and interference in the 2016 U.S. election, as well as the Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and ongoing military actions in eastern Ukraine, according to a statement by congressional leaders. The U.S. currently has sanctions against Russian companies and individuals as a response to the country’s activities in Crimea. On Dec. 29, 2016, the Obama administration announced the U.S. would close two Russian compounds in Maryland and New York, and expel 35 Russian diplomats within 24 hours in response to the alleged hacking.

CNN reports the proposed bill would also give Congress the ability to block presidential measures to reduce sanctions. Lawmakers would have 30 days to respond to a presidential request to change sanctions, Fox News reports.

The Senate had passed a version of the bill, which applied to only Iran and Russia, in a 98-to-2 vote in June. An official version of the new House draft has not yet been publicly released. If the House passes the new bill this week, it would need to be approved by the Senate and then signed by President Trump in order to be enacted.

Changes to the Senate bill

The new bill adds a specification that U.S. companies cannot work with Russian defense companies that are already sanctioned, according to CNN.

The draft includes language that allows any House member to call a vote on sanctions that the Senate might pass, CNN reports.

Response to the House bill

McCarthy and Rep. Ed Royce of California said in a joint statement that Russia, Iran and North Korea “have in different ways all threatened their neighbors,” and that the “bill the House will vote on next week will now exclusively focus on these nations and hold them accountable for their dangerous actions.” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer noted, “The legislation ensures that both the majority and minority are able to exercise our oversight role over the administration’s implementation of sanctions.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during an interview Sunday: “The administration is supportive of being tough on Russia, particularly in putting these sanctions in place … we were able to work with the House and Senate, and the administration is happy with the ability to do that and make those changes that were necessary, and we support where the legislation is now.”

Distortion Highlights

  • If you compare the media’s headlines to ours, you’ll see there’s something important missing.
  • The lack of information furthers the slant and the drama.
  • Read below to find out what it is.

Show Me Everything

The Numbers

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

The Distortion

Read between the lines. Learn how news outlets distort the information.

Top Spin Words

  • Aggression

    Congressional leaders have reached an agreement on sweeping sanctions legislation to punish Russia for its election meddling and aggression toward its neighbors, they said Saturday, defying the White House’s argument that President Trump needs flexibility to adjust the sanctions to fit his diplomatic initiatives with Moscow. (The New York Times)

    White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Sunday that the Trump administration supports new legislation to punish Russia for its meddling in the presidential election and its aggression toward Ukraine. (The Washington Post)

  • Mystery

    Sanctions are central to the mystery over Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer and others on June 9, 2016, where he said the topic of adoption came up. (The New York Times)

  • Spark an outcry

    It was not immediately clear whether Trump would veto the bill, an action that would spark an outcry from both parties and risk a potential override. (Fox News)

  • Bickering

    Although there is widespread support for the legislation, the bill stalled after it cleared the Senate over constitutional questions and bickering over technical details. (Fox News)

  • Persistent push

    The sanctions targeting Russia, however, have drawn the most attention due to President Donald Trump’s persistent push for warmer relations with President Vladimir Putin and ongoing investigations into Russia’s interference in the in the 2016 campaign. (Fox News)

  • Scrutiny

    And Republicans, who have long placed an aggressive stance toward Russia at the center of their foreign policy, can quiet critics who have suggested they are shielding the president from scrutiny by failing to embrace the sanctions. (The New York Times)

  • Undercut/undermine

    The unity has placed Republicans in the unusual position of undercutting their own president on a particularly awkward subject. (The New York Times)

    But just two full days into Scaramucci’s tenure in the top post, the muddled messaging continued Sunday morning, with various Trump allies offering competing opinions on Trump and his legal team’s effort to undermine special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation — including discussing the question of whether the president can pardon aides, family members and even himself. (The Washington Post)

    “North Korea, Iran and Russia have in different ways all threatened their neighbors and actively sought to undermine American interests,” McCarthy and Rep. Ed Royce of California, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a joint statement. (Fox News)

  • Fresh

    The House and Senate reached a deal Saturday to slap Russia with fresh sanctions and give Congress new veto power to block any easing of those sanctions — an agreement that could send a new bill to President Donald Trump’s desk before the end of the month. (CNN)

    Leaders of both parties in the US Congress have agreed on legislation that allows fresh sanctions to punish Russia for alleged election meddling. (The Washington Post)

There’s something missing in the media coverage of the sanctions bill. Take a look at these headlines:

  • Congress Reaches Deal on Russia Sanctions, Setting Up Tough Choice for Trump (NYT)
  • Congress reaches Russia sanctions deal (CNN)

Now, compare those to our Raw Data headline:

  • House leaders agree on bill for Russia, Iran, North Korea sanctions (The Knife)

You may have spotted it — what about the sanctions against Iran and North Korea?

The bill would impose sanctions on all three countries, yet the sources we looked at barely reference Iran and North Korea. And, while they mention the three reasons behind the Russian sanctions — its annexation of Crimea, its military actions in the Ukraine and its alleged interference in the election — they devote most coverage to the latter.

Focusing on alleged Russian interference makes the story more sensational, given the current media attention on this subject. It may also increase the drama. According to the articles, both the president and Congress support further sanctions against Iran and North Korea; the only point of discord is Russia. They also both reportedly oppose Russia’s actions in Ukraine, which leaves their disagreement on the alleged interference and possibly Crimea. Still, the articles emphasize the U.S. election issue over the points that Trump and lawmakers do agree on.

In talking about that topic, the coverage uses spin, slant and logic in a particular way. Take a look at this sentence from The New York Times:

  • “Now, Mr. Trump could soon face a decision he hoped to avoid: veto the bill — a move that would fuel accusations that he is doing the bidding of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia — or sign legislation imposing sanctions his administration has opposed.”

Spin: “Doing the bidding of” doesn’t just stretch reality — it flips it. It transforms the leaders of two world powers into a puppet (Trump) and his puppet master (Putin). There are other spin words in the sentence, too. Can you find them?

Faulty reasoning: Something’s missing here. Say Trump vetoed the bill. How would that action “fuel” accusations? It’s plausible that accusations may follow, but will a veto necessarily lead to them? In logical structure, it doesn’t exactly follow.

Slant: There are two implications here. One, by portraying Trump as bending to Putin’s will (through the spin), the Times suggests the president of the United States is or may be acting against the interest of his people. Second, the four articles include information about alleged Russian interference in last year’s election, and the claims that the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials. If readers accept Trump as Putin’s puppet, it may follow that collusion is more likely, and this may be why Trump would want to veto the bill. Are there other reasons Trump might veto the bill? There are — lots of them. But this is the only possibility presented, so you may miss others — even that Trump could accept the sanctions and sign the bill.

The scenario the Times describes could happen. But compare it to the here and now: the bill hasn’t even passed Congress yet. If we’re going to speculate, it would be more balanced to consider many possible outcomes, not just one.

Fiction
or
Fact

The New York Times

“Congressional leaders have reached an agreement on sweeping sanctions legislation to punish Russia for its election meddling and aggression toward its neighbors, they said Saturday, defying the White House’s argument that President Trump needs flexibility to adjust the sanctions to fit his diplomatic initiatives with Moscow.”

U.S. House leaders reached an agreement on the draft of a bill that would impose sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea. The bill would allow the U.S. to impose additional sanctions against Russia in response to its annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014, the ongoing military actions in eastern Ukraine and the alleged Russian hacking and interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

The New York Times

“The new legislation would sharply limit the president’s ability to suspend or terminate the sanctions — a remarkable handcuffing by a Republican-led Congress six months into Mr. Trump’s tenure.”

The bill would give Congress the ability to prevent the president from easing the sanctions on Russia that are already in place.

The New York Times

“For months, lawmakers have agreed on the need to punish Russia, separating the issue from others [in the U.S.], such as immigration and health care, that have been mired in partisan wheel-spinning.”

In June, the Senate passed a Russian sanctions bill. Earlier in May, the House passed a health care bill; the Senate didn’t vote on it. As far as immigration, in June the House passed two bills to increase prison sentences for people who re-enter the country illegally.

Fact Comparison

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

Congressional leaders have reached an agreement on sanctions legislation to punish Russia for its election meddling … (The New York Times)

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Sunday that the Trump administration supports new legislation to penalize Russia for its meddling in the 2016 presidential election … (The Washington Post)

Congressional Republicans and Democrats announced Saturday that they had agreed to a package of sanctions meant to penalize Russia for its actions during last year’s presidential campaign … (Fox News)


Neither the Times nor the Post mention that “Russian election meddling” is an allegation. Similarly, Fox News refers to “Russia’s interference” without using the word “alleged.” Although U.S. intelligence agencies have said they have “high confidence” that Putin “ordered an influence campaign” aimed at the U.S. election in 2016, they have not presented evidence publicly and Russia denies the accusations.

Congressional leaders have reached an agreement on legislation to impose new sanctions on Russia for its alleged election meddling. (The New York Times, The Washington Post, Fox News)


CNN doesn’t include any reasons for the proposed new sanctions on Russia. A June 12, 2017 version of the House bill says the sanctions are in response to the “crisis in eastern Ukraine, cyber intrusions and attacks, and human rights violators in the Russian Federation.”

Headlines

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

Compare the above headline to this sentence: White House officials speak about the proposed Russia sanctions bill. One communicates what happened in a factual way, while the other provides an opinion that might suggest the administration is incompetent.

How “sweeping” is “sweeping”? This dramatic description could exaggerate the impact the bill might have. Mentioning in the headline that Trump opposed a provision suggests this is one of the most newsworthy elements of the story. Is it?

Implies Trump now has no choice in the matter.

If Trump’s hands are tied, this would suggest that he has no choice but to approve the bill if it passes Congress. But Trump could still veto it, even though a it may ultimately be overridden by Congress.