A look at the spin in the recent North Korea coverage
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A look at the spin in the recent North Korea coverage

May 18, 2018

The Raw Data

Unspun and unbiased. These are the facts.

North Korea says not interested in ‘one-sided’ talks with the US

North Korea’s vice foreign minister said Wednesday that the U.S. must stop requiring the North to have “unilateral nuclear abandonment” in advance of talks between North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump scheduled for next month. North Korean state news outlet KCNA published the statement from the minister, Kim Gye Gwan, on Wednesday, after the North suspended talks with South Korea early Wednesday morning local time over military exercises the South was conducting with the U.S.

Read the full Raw Data here.

Distortion Highlights

  • Relations with North Korea are complex and changing quickly — they don’t need added sensationalism.
  • Yet the media added drama through sensational language and distorted the facts with subjective interpretations of what was said.
  • It would be easier to understand the progression of events and evaluate them if media outlets stated the facts in objective terms.

Show Me Everything

The Distortion

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

Top Spin Words

  • From tyrant to moderate

    The sudden change came after months in which Mr. Kim presented himself as a statesman, changing his image from tyrant to moderate on the world stage. (The New York Times)

  • Hawkish conservative

    The hawkish conservative is a firm defender of US power and a confrontational advocate for wielding that strength abroad. (BBC)

  • Much-vaunted summit

    US President Donald Trump sounded a note of caution Wednesday about his much-vaunted summit with Kim Jong Un, saying “we’ll see” after Pyongyang threatened to cancel. (AFP)

  • Hard-line

    By issuing the latest threat, the North reverted to his earlier hard-line stance on retaining nuclear weapons and to a North Korean playbook that includes sudden shifts in tactics when negotiating with other nations. (The New York Times)

    But American officials acknowledged that the North appeared to be seeking to exploit a gap in the administration’s messages about North Korea — between the hard-line views of the national security adviser, John R.Bolton, and the more conciliatory tone of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has met twice with Mr. Kim in Pyongyang to lay the groundwork for the summit. (The New York Times)

  • Unpredictable hermit regime

    Trump’s aides were working Wednesday to determine whether overnight warnings from North Korea might scuttle the highly anticipated summit, even as some in the administration conceded the threats were an expected bump in any dealing with the unpredictable hermit regime. (CNN)

  • Diplomatic backslapping

    After weeks of warm words and diplomatic backslapping, Pyongyang abruptly threatened to pull out Tuesday, over US demands for “unilateral nuclear abandonment.” (AFP)

  • Drive a wedge

    While the daylight between Mr. Bolton and Mr. Pompeo gives the North Koreans the opportunity to drive a wedge between members of the president’s national security team, officials said that was a more manageable problem than when Mr. Trump publicly undercut Mr. Pompeo’s predecessor as secretary of state, Rex W.Tillerson, over how to deal with North Korea. (The New York Times)

  • Idiosyncratic rhetoric

    As the statements, written in the North’s idiosyncratic rhetoric, emerged from the North Korea news service on Tuesday evening, American officials scrambled to get a handle on what precisely had been said, and whether it posed a real risk to the President’s upcoming meeting. (CNN)

  • Boasting

    There were signs this boasting irritated Pyongyang, but now it has decided to speak out through someone in a position of power. (BBC)

  • Bumps in the road

    Experts have not been surprised by the sudden about face, expecting bumps in the road as tough issues to be discussed in the meeting come into sharper focus. (AFP)

  • Raise the price

    The threat to withdraw was an attempt to raise the price that Washington would have to pay to get any significant concessions on the North’s nuclear program, analysts said. ( The New York Times)

  • Angrily worded

    In an angrily worded statement, the North warned “if the US is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue.” (AFP)

  • Signs he’s softening

    But the official acknowledged that Trump’s response will be closely watched for signs he’s softening or conceding anything to Kim. (CNN)

  • Maximum pressure

    They will be aware how much Mr Trump wants this summit and how it is being spun as a success brought about by his maximum pressure strategy. (BBC)

    “If it doesn’t, we’ll continue the maximum pressure campaign that’s been ongoing[,” Sanders said.] (AFP, BBC, The New York Times)

    He noted that the United States, rather than offering concessions of its own, has vowed to keep up its maximum pressure on the North if it fails to quickly denuclearize. (The New York Times)

    US officials have repeatedly claimed credit for Washington’s “maximum pressure” policy for bringing Pyongyang to the negotiating table. (AFP)

Relations with North Korea are complex and changing quickly — they don’t need added sensationalism. About six months ago, President Donald Trump designated the country a “state sponsor of terrorism” and it fired an intercontinental ballistic missile. This was about two months after the North conducted its sixth nuclear test.

Since then, much has happened: North and South Korean leaders met and agreed on paper to denuclearize the peninsula and officially end the Korean War. Kim Jong Un and Trump agreed to meet next month. Then, earlier this week, the North canceled a meeting with the South and said it was not interested in a “one-sided” meeting with the U.S.

In the coverage of North Korea’s latest statement, the media added drama through sensational language and distorted the facts with subjective interpretations of what was said. The outlets The Knife analyzed — AFP, BBC, CNN and The New York Times — earned spin ratings between 45 and 69 percent, as well as slant ratings of between 61 and 81 percent. (See more on the Technical Sheet.)

Here are highlights from the spin:

  • “The North reverted to his earlier hard-line stance on retaining nuclear weapons and to a North Korean playbook that includes sudden shifts in tactics when negotiating with other nations.” (The New York Times)
  • “The tough statements from Pyongyang ended the diplomatic warming…” (CNN)
  • “The North Korean warning follows a weeks-long charm offensive…” (AFP)
  • The North’s statement “is also a warning shot to the Trump administration.” (BBC)
  • “The president has shifted between a hard-line and more conciliatory tone in his statements about the North…” (The New York Times)
  • “After weeks of warm words and diplomatic backslapping, Pyongyang abruptly threatened to pull out Tuesday” (AFP)
  • “North Korea released an angry statement” (BBC)
  • “Trump sounded a note of caution Wednesday about his much-vaunted summit with Kim Jong Un” (AFP)

See the Top Spin Words section in the column to right for more examples.

Much of the spin paints North Korea as “reverting” to its “hardline” behavior, and implies the Kim-Trump talks won’t happen. It focuses on the possibility that the talks will be canceled and that U.S. interests are in jeopardy. This perspective is furthered when outlets omit or downplay the portion of the North Korean statement that said if the U.S. is “sincere” in working with North Korea it would “receive a deserved response.”

The data does indeed suggest a change in approach by North Korea and it’s possible that the Trump-Kim meeting may not happen. It’s also important for outlets to provide historical context showing that North Korea has canceled or ended negotiations early in the past, so that readers can consider that this could happen again.

Yet the spin also suggests it’s a foregone conclusion that relations won’t improve, when this is still unknown. Even with the North’s statements this week, relations may still be in a better state than they were several months ago. And the meeting may still happen, given the North didn’t definitely cancel. On the other hand, it’s not a guarantee that the Trump-Kim meeting would definitely lead to denuclearization if it does happen. As Trump himself said, “we’ll have to see.”

Phrases like “warning shot,” “backslapping” and “note of caution” are vague. It would be easier to understand the progression of events and evaluate them if media outlets stated the facts in objective terms. The dramatic spin places meanings on the facts without acknowledging that these meanings are actually the outlets’ own opinions.

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

  • 45% Spun

  • 54% Spun

  • 69% Spun

  • 69% Spun

Fiction
or
Fact

BBC News

“The Trump administration is hopeful its summit with North Korea will go ahead, despite threats of cancellation.”

The House House spokeswoman said the administration is “hopeful” that summit with North Korea will continue.

AFP

“President Donald Trump sounded a note of caution Wednesday about his much-vaunted summit with Kim Jong Un, saying ‘we’ll see’ after Pyongyang threatened to cancel.”

Trump said “we’ll see” after North Korea said it may “reconsider” the planned meeting between Trump and Kim if the U.S. says the North must “unilaterally” give up its nuclear program.

CNN

“The tough statements from Pyongyang ended the diplomatic warming that had been leading up to the June 12 encounter between” Trump and Kim.

Trump and Kim agreed to meet on June 12 for talks, the U.S. announced on May 10. On May 16, a North Korean official said the country would “reconsider” the talks if the U.S. tried to “force” the North’s “unilateral nuclear abandonment.”

The Numbers

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

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