Did the media jump to conclusions about the Nunes memo? Yes.
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Did the media jump to conclusions about the Nunes memo? Yes.

February 5, 2018

The Raw Data

Unspun and unbiased. These are the facts.

House Republicans release memo indicating ‘concerns with legitimacy and legality’ in investigation of Trump campaign advisor

U.S. House Republicans released a declassified memorandum on Friday that alleges there were “concerns with legitimacy and legality” in FBI and Department of Justice efforts to obtain a 2016 surveillance warrant for a member of Trump’s presidential campaign. President Donald Trump approved the release of the memo and did not request any redactions, according to White House spokesman Raj Shah.

Read the full Raw Data here.

Distortion Highlights

  • The media coverage on the House committee memo was a little hard to follow.
  • It’s not because the story is multifaceted (it is) — it’s because the media’s spin, bias and opinion got in the way.
  • What’s more, each outlet mostly tells one part of the story.
  • Before you also jump to conclusions like the outlets do, take a look at the media’s distortion and what’s missing.

Show Me Everything

The Distortion

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

Top Spin Words

  • Watergate and the Lindbergh-baby kidnapping all wrapped into one

    It couldn’t possibly live up to its advance billing from Sean Hannity and Co. that it was Watergate and the Lindbergh-baby kidnapping all wrapped into one. (National Review)

  • Running around with their hair on fire

    Certainly, if this were a Democratic president who was the subject of an investigation that began, in part, on the basis of partisan information, Democrats would be running around with their hair on fire (and the press wouldn’t be outraged by congressional oversight to get to the bottom of the matter). (National Review)

  • Massive buildup and protracted battle

    The memo from House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), released finally on Friday after a massive buildup and protracted battle with Democrats and feds who fought its release, demonstrated widespread abuse by senior Department of Justice (DOJ) and law enforcement officials of federal spying capabilities. (Breitbart)

  • Threatens to further fracture

    The public release of the classified document, through a never-before-used committee rule, threatens to further fracture the frayed relationship between the President and his Justice Department and intelligence community, both of which opposed the release of the document, which is based on classified intelligence. (CNN)

  • Dig up dirt

    That’s the lurid oppo document produced by former British spy Christopher Steele, who worked for the research firm Fusion GPS that the Democrats paid to dig up dirt on Trump. (National Review)

  • Outraged

    The memo alarmed national security officials and outraged Democrats, who accused the Republicans of misrepresenting sensitive government information through omissions and inaccuracies. (The New York Times)

  • Highly controversial

    President Trump declassified the highly controversial Republican memo on Friday, despite a plea from the F.B.I. not to release it. (The New York Times)

    The highly controversial memo from the GOP and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes alleges that then-Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe told the committee that no surveillance warrant would have been sought for a Trump campaign aide without a disputed opposition research dossier on Trump and Russia. (CNN)

  • Deep politicization

    It also demonstrates deep politicization inside the Justice Department and FBI, at the highest levels of federal law enforcement, showing a need for serious reforms so that law enforcement can never again abuse their powers for political purposes. (Breitbart)

  • Slammed

    Democrats have slammed the memo as an inaccurate and misleading portrait intended to undermine Mueller’s probe. (CNN)

    Democrats have slammed the Republican memo as misleading and inaccurate. (CNN)

Justice is blind, but it’s also human. So when there’s data that says Lady Justice might be peeking from under her blindfold, it’s important for the American people to know about it. The coverage of the House Intelligence Committee’s memo provides critical information in this regard, but the coverage itself isn’t blind or balanced — it’s biased. What’s more, the data the coverage is based on is, as of Sunday, incomplete.

All of the articles we analyzed were highly slanted, yet the biases were different. (By “slant” we mean the outlets disproportionately favored data that points to a particular point of view.) CNN and The New York Times downplayed the importance of the memo, whose release was led by Rep. Devin Nunes. For instance, the Times wrote:

The memo alarmed national security officials and outraged Democrats, who accused the Republicans of misrepresenting sensitive government information through omissions and inaccuracies … But [the release of the memo] fell well short of making the case promised by some Republicans: that the evidence it contained would cast doubt on the origins of the Russia investigation and possibly undermine the inquiry, which has been taken over by a special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. The Page warrant is just one aspect of the broader investigation.

It’s true that the warrants are one aspect of the investigation (we’ll get to the “Republicans’ case” in a moment). However, the juxtaposition here — between “The memo alarmed national security officials and outraged Democrats” and “But [the memo] fell well short of making [the Republicans’ case]” — suggests the committee’s disclosure was of little or no significance. However, the memo alleges that the FBI and the DOJ knowingly sought a warrant on politically biased evidence; if that’s accurate, it’s significant and important to expose. (Click here for more details on the memo.)

On the other side of the bias were Breitbart and National Review. They overemphasized the notion that the information the memo revealed somehow invalidates the entire Russia investigation. Breitbart, in particular, suggested Democrats and the agencies fabricated the investigation to prevent then-candidate Trump from winning the election. Here’s an example:

Perhaps the [memo’s] most important revelation … is that this was all an effort by paid supporters of [Hillary] Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee to abuse the powers of the federal government to prevent a candidate they disliked, now President Donald Trump, from winning a presidential election … the highest levels of the Justice Department including the man currently responsible for overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation—Rod Rosenstein—are personally conflicted in this matter.

While the allegations in the Republicans’ memo are serious, they don’t necessarily invalidate Mueller’s investigation — so little about it is known, and the Page warrant is only one aspect; who knows how many more there are. More importantly, Nunes’ memo is only one part of the warrant story — we’re only looking at a third or fourth of the picture! Here’s a visual representation of what we do and don’t know about the warrants. Here’s a visual representation of what we do and don’t know about the warrants.

Given the missing information, isn’t it a little early to jump to conclusions? A scientist would wait to have all the data (or as much as possible) before considering conclusions. The media isn’t doing this. 

Much of the media coverage of the memo was hard to follow. While the story in and of itself is multifaceted, the slant and spin made it harder to figure out what the memo said and what’s going on (and our ratings reflect this). In addition to the bias and premature conclusions, the opinion in the articles we analyzed was often stated as fact. Our Raw Data brings the facts without all the added subjectivity. That difference alone signals the need for a change in the media: a move towards data-based reporting.

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

  • 49% Spun

  • 56% Spun

  • 65% Spun

  • 78% Spun

Fiction
or
Fact

CNN

“The public release of the classified document, through a never-before-used committee rule, threatens to further fracture the frayed relationship between the President and his Justice Department and intelligence community…”

The classified document was publicly released in accordance with House Rule X, clause 11(g).

Breitbart

The memo was “released finally on Friday after a massive buildup and protracted battle with Democrats and feds who fought its release … ”

The House Intelligence Committee released the memo on Friday; all Democrats on the committee voted against its release. Prior to the release, the Justice Department appealed to the White House to stop it, and the FBI criticized it.

National Review

“Part of the bureaucratic objection at the FBI to releasing the memo — and to giving the House Intelligence Committee the material it’s based on — was clearly that it contained information embarrassing to the FBI.”

The FBI criticized the memo, saying it had “grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

The Numbers

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

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