How the NYT and Post covered Bannon’s resignation
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How the NYT and Post covered Bannon’s resignation

January 10, 2018

The Raw Data

Unspun and unbiased. These are the facts.

Steve Bannon resigns from Breitbart

On Tuesday, former White House advisor Stephen K. Bannon resigned as executive chairman of Breitbart News Network. A Breitbart statement said, “Bannon and Breitbart will work together on a smooth and orderly transition.” Bannon’s resignation came a few days after the release of Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury,” which attributes disparaging remarks about members of U.S. President Donald Trump’s family to Bannon.

Read the full Raw Data here.

Distortion Highlights

  • Is Steve Bannon’s resignation from Breitbart a humiliation? Some people may believe so, but it’s an opinion.
  • Yet, some of the media coverage stated opinion as fact and used dramatic descriptions that suggest Bannon has fallen from grace.
  • The news articles deviate from objective and fact-based reporting, and enter the realm of editorials.

Show Me Everything

The Distortion

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

Top Spin Words

  • Boldest foray

    His most recent and boldest foray — supporting twice-defrocked former judge Roy Moore in the Alabama senate race — turned out to be a disaster. (The Washington Post)

  • Full-throated

    His full-throated, unfailing support of Roy S. Moore in Alabama even after allegations surfaced that the former judge preyed on women as young as 14, ended in an embarrassing setback: Democrats took the Senate seat for the first time in a generation. (The New York Times)

  • Laudatory

    Up until very recently, the site has showered Bannon with laudatory coverage, treating him as if he were a leading newsmaker and political philosopher. (The Washington Post)

  • Bruising

    But his tenure there was beset by a series of bruising internal fights and rivalries that would cost Bannon his White House job just seven months after he started it. (The Washington Post)

  • Blistering

    Last week, Trump issued a blistering, four-paragraph takedown of Bannon, after the former adviser was quoted in a new anti-Trump book speaking ill of members of the president’s family. (Fox News)

  • Bad breakup

    Now they are in the throes of a bad breakup after Steve Bannon made critical statements about President Trump. (The New York Times)

  • Audacious

    Once outside the administration and free to pursue his political enemies, Mr. Bannon set out on an audacious mission to challenge Republican incumbents he deemed insufficiently loyal to Mr. Trump’s agenda. (The New York Times)

  • Emboldening

    No one has been more closely identified with the Breitbart website or had more to do with emboldening its defiant editorial spirit than Mr. Bannon did after its namesake, Andrew Breitbart, died of a heart attack in 2012. (The New York Times)

  • Rapturous

    Among the writers he championed was Milo Yiannopoulos, who elicited both a rapturous response from Breitbart’s readers but heavy criticism elsewhere for columns about lesbians, blacks and Muslims. (The Washington Post)

  • Insurgent voice

    Bannon maintained his visibility by rejoining Breitbart in August and directing it to serve his political ends as the insurgent voice of the “anti-establishment” wing of the Republican Party, a faction that many critics saw as a socially intolerant and racist fringe of white nationalism. (The Washington Post)

  • Dramatic

    Stephen Bannon has stepped down as executive chairman of the pro-Trump, populist website Breitbart News, less than a week after a dramatic falling out with President Trump. (Fox News)

  • Ignominious

    Mr. Bannon’s departure from the website is the latest ignominious turn in a career that was once one of the most promising and improbable in modern American politics. (The New York Times)

  • Humbling

    Bannon’s departure was a humbling denouement for a figure who had reached the uppermost levels of power only a year ago. (The Washington Post)

Publicly resigning from an executive position may well be a failure, but that doesn’t mean it’s shameful. Failures aren’t necessarily humiliating, and the media doesn’t need to suggest they are. Yet this is how The Washington Post and The New York Times portrayed Steve Bannon’s resignation from Breitbart.

The outlets create this view with opinion, and by contrasting dramatic descriptions of Bannon’s prior successes with dramatic descriptions of his departure. The contrast could portray the career change as a fall from grace and disparage Bannon as a person.

Let’s look at both ways the Times and the Post use opinion to create this narrative.

Directly calling it a humiliation

(Spin marked in red)

“Bannon’s departure from the website is the latest ignominious turn in a career that was once one of the most promising and improbable in modern American politics.” (The New York Times)

“Bannon’s departure was a humbling denouement for a figure who had reached the uppermost levels of power only a year ago.” (The Washington Post)

By calling Bannon’s departure “ignominious,” which means shameful or disgraceful, and “humbling,” the outlets present reporters’ opinions as if they were facts. But, leaving his job isn’t automatically a shameful event—that would assume he feels guilt or committed some sort of wrongdoing, and Bannon hasn’t indicated this.

Contrasting success and departure

As you can see with the examples above, the Post and the Times contrast Bannon’s departure with his previously “promising” career and “power.” The articles continue that theme throughout. Consider these excerpts in the Post:

Breitbart helped Bannon become a “would-be kingmaker,” and “up until very recently, the site has showered Bannon with laudatory coverage …”

Then, “Bannon hastened his own demise …”

And now, his departure from Breitbart “leaves him with no evident platform to promote his views and no financial basis for his preferred candidates.”

Bannon is painted as once larger-than-life, but now seemingly left with nothing. The opinion-based language could exaggerate the extremes. Basically, the more important and powerful he seemed before, the lower it seems he has fallen.

It’s true that Bannon’s career has gone through changes in the past year and a half, and given the timeline of events (Trump criticized Bannon a few days before he resigned), one might think his departure from Breitbart isn’t dignified. Yet, the media would be more responsible to provide the data of what happened, without the opinion, and let readers interpret it themselves.

Instead, the Times and the Post use opinion and sensationalism painting the career change as a humiliation, and a dramatic fall from power. Could this style of reporting encourage us to revel in his so-called “demise”? If so, what might it suggest about our society that we celebrate other people’s failures?

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

  • 35% Spun

  • 58% Spun

  • 62% Spun

  • 72% Spun

Fiction
or
Fact

The New York Times

“Mr. Bannon’s departure from the website is the latest ignominious turn in a career that was once one of the most promising and improbable in modern American politics.”

Bannon stepped down as executive chairman of Breitbart on Tuesday. Previously, he worked as chief White House strategist and chief executive of Trump’s presidential campaign.

The Washington Post

“Bannon’s departure was a humbling denouement for a figure who had reached the uppermost levels of power only a year ago.”

Bannon worked for eight months as President Trump’s chief White House strategist. In August of last year he rejoined Breitbart as executive chairman, and on Jan. 9 he stepped down.

FOX News

“The president was so enraged by the [Michael Wolff] book that his lawyers demanded that the publisher halt the book’s publication, a request that was rejected.”

The day before its release, Trump’s attorneys sent a letter to the publisher and author of the book, saying “Mr. Trump hereby demands that you immediately cease and desist from any further publication, release or dissemination of the book.”

The Numbers

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

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