Trump, Bannon and the media: Will someone take the high road?
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Trump, Bannon and the media: Will someone take the high road?

January 4, 2018

The Raw Data

Unspun and unbiased. These are the facts.

Trump responds to Bannon’s comments in new book on Trump administration

U.S. President Donald Trump issued a statement Wednesday saying former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon “has nothing to do with me or my presidency,” and that “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.” Trump made the comments after The Guardian published excerpts from the book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” by journalist Michael Wolff. In the book, Bannon is quoted as saying he thought a meeting between Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and a Russian lawyer during the campaign, which lawyers did not attend, was “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”

Read the full Raw Data here.

Distortion Highlights

  • The media reported a disparaging public exchange between the president and his former strategist.
  • Four of the most prominent news outlets in the country didn’t point out some of the potential problems with the exchange or its potential effects on the American public.
  • They did add slant and spin, however. See how that can shield dishonorable speech, and what we can do about it.

Show Me Everything

The Distortion

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

Top Spin Words

  • Caustic

    In a written statement brimming with anger and resentment, Mr. Trump fired back at Mr. Bannon, who had made caustic comments about the president and his family to the author of a new book about the Trump White House. (The New York Times)

  • Blistering takedown

    Trump issued a blistering, four-paragraph takedown of Steve Bannon on Wednesday, hours after it was reported that Bannon had called Donald Trump Jr. “treasonous” for meeting with Russian operatives during the campaign. (Fox News)

  • Excoriating

    President Trump essentially excommunicated his onetime chief strategist, Stephen K.Bannon, from his political circle on Wednesday, excoriating him as a self-promoting exaggerator who had “very little to do with our historic victory” and has now “lost his mind.” (The New York Times)

  • Needled

    Trump in his statement also needled Bannon over his failed gamble in the Alabama Senate race … (CNN)

  • Jabbed

    But he jabbed at Mr. Bannon on Twitter on Wednesday when he reposted a message noting that Alabama now had a Democratic senator. (The New York Times)

  • Slamming

    The White House released the strongly worded 266-word statement from the President slamming Bannon. (CNN)

    In the book, Bannon slams the president’s son, Donald Jr., Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort and calls their infamous meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.” (Fox News)

  • Berated

    Mr. Trump berated Mr. Bannon for the loss of a Senate seat in Alabama and said the former adviser did not represent his base but was “only in it for himself.” (The New York Times)

  • Unleashed

    President Trump unleashed on his former chief strategist and campaign manager Wednesday, issuing a long and unusual statement questioning Stephen K. Bannon’s mental stability, honesty and political influence. (The Washington Post)

President Trump and Steve Bannon disparaged each other in recent remarks, and this poses a challenge to journalists who want to be objective. On one hand, it’s important to inform the public of statements the president and other public figures make. On the other, depending on how the media handles the information, news outlets can inadvertently promote dishonor and prejudice.

The four media outlets we analyzed on this subject did not bring awareness to the disparaging nature of the comments, nor their effects. They also included distortions that make spotting the latter more difficult. Here are two examples.

Slant: Favoring one perspective above others

The four articles were mostly slanted, in that 73 percent or more of the information in each supported only one point of view. Often, this happens at the expense of data that would provide a more complete, balanced picture.

In Fox News’ case, the slant supported the notion that Bannon has “lost his mind” and betrayed Trump, and that the president was right to disparage him publicly. The outlet included mostly unflattering opinions and tweets about Bannon, and emphasized Trump’s reported reaction by adding its own opinion about how he might have felt about it.

For instance, Fox opened its article by describing Trump’s statement as a “blistering takedown,” implying a victory of sorts for the president. It also described Bannon as “the self-professed mastermind behind President Trump’s election,” adding that “It’s probably safe to say” that Bannon “won’t be back in 2020.” Fox didn’t back these statements with data or statements Bannon has made in the past.

CNN and The New York Times, which were the most slanted, and The Washington Post differed slightly. Like Fox, they also suggested this is the end for Bannon and his relationship with Trump. Yet their angle wasn’t that Trump was right or wrong in disparaging Bannon, but that the whole exchange is a big, dramatic deal. You can tell by the outlet’s use of spin.

Spin: Sensational, subjective or vague language that often supports slant

Eighty-one percent of the Times’ coverage was spun. The paper wrote that Trump “essentially excommunicated,” “excoriated,” “fired back at” and “berated” Bannon with a statement that was “brimming with anger and resentment.” All these descriptions are the newspaper’s subjective interpretation of Trump and his mindset, yet they’re written as fact.

The other three articles used similar language to describe the events. (For more examples, take a look at our Top Spin Words.) Describing dishonorable remarks with sensational language adds fuel to the fire because it’s easy to get caught up in the drama.

Instead, outlets could just report what the two men said with no added flair, and readers could assess it at face value. If the media refrained from injecting its own sensationalism and dishonor, it might become more apparent that the president and his former strategist are indeed disparaging each other publicly, and readers may be more likely to ponder what that means for society.

One of the most problematic effects of speaking dishonorably about someone is it changes the way we think about him or her in an irrevocable way, creating a type of prejudice based on hearsay. In this way, it’s a form of violence.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in 1963, “The reason I can’t follow the old eye-for-an-eye philosophy is that it ends up leaving everybody blind.” King advocated for peaceful means to overcome prejudice, hate and violence, and there’s wisdom in his approach, since fighting violence with violence tends to obscure the initial attack instead of exposing it.

Exposing wrongdoing and bringing awareness to its effects stands a greater chance at solving issues like dishonor, hate and violence. Responding to it with the same or similar means, as Trump, Bannon and the media did, simply helps perpetuate an age-old problem. To change it, someone must take the high road. Trump and Bannon could follow due process if there’s been wrongdoing; the media could bring awareness to the effects of dishonor and report the news objectively. Who goes first?

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

  • 65% Spun

  • 77% Spun

  • 77% Spun

  • 81% Spun

Fiction
or
Fact

FOX News

“It’s probably safe to say the self-professed mastermind behind President Trump’s election won’t be back in 2020.”

Bannon joined Trump’s campaign as chief executive in August 2016. Trump released a statement Wednesday in response to Bannon’s comments about him in a forthcoming book.

The New York Times

“In a written statement brimming with anger and resentment, Mr. Trump fired back at Mr. Bannon…”

Trump released a statement with disparaging comments about Bannon.

CNN

“[Bannon] and Trump bonded over their shared instinct for bare-knuckle politics and similar outlook on the core issues of Trump’s campaign, such as trade and immigration.”

Trump and Bannon have both written disparaging comments about people in government. Bannon and Trump agree on certain issues, such as aspects of trade and immigration.

The Numbers

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

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