Media, tell us how you really feel about the upcoming State of the Union address
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Media, tell us how you really feel about the upcoming State of the Union address

January 29, 2018

The Raw Data

Unspun and unbiased. These are the facts.

Trump to give his first State of the Union address on Tuesday

U.S. President Donald Trump is scheduled to give his first State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, Jan. 30. In a briefing to reporters on Friday, an administration official said Trump’s address would be bipartisan, optimistic and “forward-looking.” The official said the speech would cover the topics of jobs and the economy, infrastructure, immigration, trade and national security.

Read the full Raw Data and more information on the history of State of the Union addresses here.

Distortion Highlights

  • One of the easiest ways to spot bias is to look at reporting about events that haven’t happened yet.
  • The coverage of the upcoming State of the Union address was a prime example.
  • Read why it’s a problem for outlets to bias the news and mix it with opinion.

Show Me Everything

The Distortion

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

Top Spin Words

  • Juncture of opportunity and peril

    President Trump will deliver his first State of the Union address Tuesday at a juncture of opportunity and peril for his presidency, and his anxious allies hope he will show he has the ability to do something he has not done before: bring the country together. (The Washington Post)

  • No-holds-barred attacks

    President Trump has spent his first year in office breaking every rule of presidential communication, conducting policymaking and diplomacy by Twitter and eschewing the careful, subdued tones of most presidents in favor of no-holds-barred attacks on his adversaries and allies alike. (The New York Times)

  • Chaotic

    After a chaotic start to his presidency, that address was notable for how conventional it was; it was more optimistic in tone than Trump’s inaugural address, with the kind of bipartisan grace notes that have come to be expected in such speeches. (The Atlantic)

  • Common-sense agenda

    Officials hope that it will allow Trump to communicate unfiltered to Americans about why his policies are part of a common-sense agenda. (Fox News)

  • Divisive

    Trump’s first State of the Union: Can a divisive president flip the script? (The Washington Post)

    Yet it will be an incongruous picture the American public sees Tuesday night: a divisive chief executive, who has discarded countless norms, performing one of the most traditional of presidential rituals — an hour or so during which, uninterrupted and unfiltered, he can claim ownership for his accomplishments and set an agenda for the year ahead. (The Washington Post)

  • Surprising

    A surprising omission on the list of major themes was health care: If Trump plans to call on Republicans to make another attempt at repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, it is not expected to be a central part of the speech. (The Atlantic)

  • Presidential rants

    Cabinet meetings have veered into presidential rants. (The New York Times)

  • Aggressive

    The Trump administration’s aggressive deregulation agenda may have boosted the business environment in the short term, but its long-term cost is uncertain. (The Atlantic)

  • American carnage

    Senior White House officials said the president would spend a significant amount of time in the speech reminding viewers how much his administration has accomplished since he first promised to challenge the establishment and confront what he called “this American carnage.” (The New York Times)

    In tone, they say, it will not be like the fiery populist inaugural address, in which Trump offered a dark picture of “American carnage.” (The New York Times)

When journalists pitch a story to editors with a specific angle, they often decide what the story and its conclusions will be before they actually do the reporting. Then they go looking for the “facts” that match that angle. Imagine where we’d be if scientists thought this way!

This explains, in part, why most media coverage is slanted. Bias can be seen even more directly when outlets cover an event that hasn’t happened yet. In this sense, the coverage of the upcoming State of the Union is a prime example.

In fact, to spot the slant in the articles we analyzed, you don’t have to read beyond the headline — just compare these two (the spin or sensational language, which often supports slant, is noted in red here):

In optimistic State of the Union, Trump will toutsafe, strong and proud America’ (Fox News)

Trump’s first State of the Union: Can a divisive president flip the script? (The Washington Post)

It’s not hard to tell which outlet is biased in favor of or against the president, is it?

In case the slant wasn’t clear, sometimes the outlets inserted sheer opinion, without attributing it as such. Here’s an example from The Atlantic:

As readers of his Twitter feed are well aware, President Trump firmly believes his first year in office has unleashed an economic boom fueled by the deregulation of business and the promise of tax cuts that Republicans in Congress delivered on last month. On Tuesday night, Trump plans to use his State of the Union address to make sure he gets the credit for it … How much credit Trump actually deserves is debatable.

The opinion here, in blue, supports the outlet’s angle, which is that the president will use the speech to take credit he doesn’t deserve. The New York Times’ and the Post’s slant were similar in that both were negative towards the president.

The Post, in particular, went to great lengths to portray Trump negatively. For instance, it juxtaposed the upcoming speech with those of former Presidents Nixon and Clinton, who were both impeached. Readers can quickly draw parallels between Watergate and what the Post said is the “unseen presence looming” of Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. The same goes for the Monica Lewinsky “scandal that was engulfing [Clinton’s] presidency,” as the outlet put it, and the recent rumors of Trump’s supposed affair with adult film star Stormy Daniels. Put two and two together, and the implication is clear: Trump may follow in their footsteps.

Slant and opinion wouldn’t be a problem if they were owned as such, or simply reserved for op-eds and analyses (like this one). Separating subjective opinion from objective facts would, at the very least, allow for more discernment and dialogue, compared to opinion posing as fact in news reporting. In this case, you think you’re getting the facts on what the White House previewed about the speech, when in reality you’re getting how the outlets feel about it.

To compound the problem, bias is often blind to itself. Take a look at what Fox News wrote about it:

But in the face of what the administration has decried as biased media coverage, officials said that the president will talk about his accomplishments for the year. They said it may well surprise some people to hear how much has been accomplished.

Did Fox News acknowledge its own coverage was highly slanted? It doesn’t appear so. Of the four articles we looked at, Fox News’ was the most biased — 85 percent slanted, to be exact.

Depending on your own biases, you might think one outlet is better than another. At least with these articles, it’s more likely that what’s going on is the outlet’s bias matches your own, hence the appearance of superiority. But either way, bias is limiting because it promotes one viewpoint at the expense of others. In doing this, slant hides or minimizes aspects of reality that conflict with the perspective being pushed. As unsuspecting readers, we’re left blind and less resourceful.

Data-based reporting, on the other hand, lets you weigh the facts equally and stay open to further information. Which would you rather have?

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

  • 70% Spun

  • 72% Spun

  • 73% Spun

  • 76% Spun

Fiction
or
Fact

FOX News

“The [State of the Union] speech comes at the end of a tumultuous first year for Trump …”

The speech comes at the end of Trump’s first year in office.

The Washington Post

“President Trump will deliver his first State of the Union address Tuesday at a juncture of opportunity and peril for his presidency …”

On Tuesday night, Trump is scheduled to deliver his first State of the Union address.

The Atlantic

“But a week after a government shutdown and with the next election looming, the appetite for bipartisanship is waning.”

The government shut down for three days starting on Jan. 20. Midterm elections for congress are scheduled for November.

The New York Times

“But if his first year has proved anything, it is that there are no guarantees when Mr. Trump faces a television camera. Cabinet meetings have veered into presidential rants.”

Some of Trump’s comments to the press during cabinet meetings have seemed unscripted.

The Numbers

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

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