Trump and Corker: How the media amplifies dishonor and division in politics
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Trump and Corker: How the media amplifies dishonor and division in politics

October 9, 2017

The Raw Data

Unspun and unbiased. These are the facts.

Trump says he declined GOP Sen. Corker’s request for re-election endorsement; Corker responds

In a series of tweets on Sunday, U.S. President Donald Trump said Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) asked Trump to endorse him for re-election, which Trump said he declined to do. Trump’s tweets came after Corker said last week that certain members of Trump’s administration kept the country from “chaos.” Corker followed Trump’s comments on Sunday by tweeting that the White House was like a “an adult day care center.”

Beginning at 9:59 a.m. ET on Sunday, Trump said in three separate tweets, “Senator Bob Corker ‘begged’ me to endorse him for re-election in Tennessee. I said ‘NO’ and he dropped out (said he could not win without… ..my endorsement). He also wanted to be Secretary of State, I said ‘NO THANKS.’ He is also largely responsible for the horrendous Iran Deal! …Hence, I would fully expect Corker to be a negative voice and stand in the way of our great agenda. Didn’t have the guts to run!”

“It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning,” Corker tweeted about an hour later.

Later in the afternoon, Trump tweeted, “Bob Corker gave us the Iran Deal, & that’s about it. We need HealthCare, we need Tax Cuts/Reform, we need people that can get the job done!”

Last week, Corker said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly “help separate our country from chaos.”

Corker’s Chief of Staff Todd Womack refuted Trump’s claim that he had declined to endorse Corker, saying the president had asked Corker to reconsider running after the senator announced last month that he would not seek re-election. Womack added that Trump “reaffirmed that he would have endorsed him.”

Corker is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and is on the Senate Budget Committee. To read more about Corker, the Iran deal and his involvement in it, see the Fact Comparison and Context sections below.

Distortion Highlights

  • The Twitter exchange between Trump and Corker was an example of divisiveness and dishonor in politics.
  • Objective, impartial journalism could promote awareness and thoughtful discourse about this issue.
  • See how the coverage may instead compound the problem with multiple forms of bias and manipulation.

Show Me Everything

The Numbers

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

View Technical Sheet >

The Distortion

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

Top Spin Words

  • Extraordinary squabble

    Setting off an extraordinary squabble between two leaders of the same party, Trump alleged in a trio of tweets that Corker “begged” him for his endorsement, did not receive it and decided to retire because he “didn’t have the guts” to run for reelection next year. (The Washington Post)

  • Vitriolic

    An enraged President Donald Trump and a prominent Republican senator who fears the country could be edging toward “chaos” engaged in an intense and vitriolic back-and-forth bashing on social media Sunday, a remarkable airing of their party’s profound rifts. (AP)

  • Stinging

    Trump earlier had laid bare his perceived grievances against retiring Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., in a series of stinging tweets that contended Corker: —was “largely responsible for the horrendous” Iran nuclear deal, which the Democratic Obama administration negotiated and Corker considered badly flawed. (AP)

  • Ripped

    President Trump on Sunday ripped increasingly vocal critic Sen. Bob Corker, saying the Tennessee Republican gutlessly dropped his re-election bid after begging for the Trump endorsement he never received. (Fox News)

  • Public lashing

    Trump’s public lashing of Corker comes after the senator made headlines last week when he starkly suggested that the national security team provides the president with badly needed adult supervision. (The Washington Post)

  • Counterpunching

    Trump, who has little tolerance for public criticism and prides himself on counterpunching those who cross him, fired off a trio of tweets Sunday morning attacking Corker, who announced last month that he plans to retire and not seek reelection in 2018. (The Washington Post)

  • Flare-up

    The flare-up between the two leaders highlights the long-simmering differences between GOP leaders and the President, who has not shied away from attacking the leadership over their inability to move health care legislation. (CNN)

  • Slams

    Trump slams Corker, who calls White House ‘adult day care center’ (Fox News)

  • Pointed attack

    Following Corker’s pointed attack on Trump for his handling of the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, Vice President Mike Pence quietly sought to repair ties with Corker after the President attacked the Tennessee Republican on Twitter, sources said. (CNN)

The Knife has written about how disparaging someone in the media can result in irreversible damage to his or her reputation. President Donald Trump and Sen. Bob Corker’s Twitter exchange was an example of how this can play out in politics. But instead of objectively reporting what the two leaders said – which could have made the dishonor and divisiveness in the tweets more apparent – the coverage we analyzed may have amplified it by adding sensationalism.

Here’s how three forms of distortion – dramatic language (spin), biased story selection (slant) and faulty reasoning (logic) – played out in the coverage of Trump and Corker’s tweets, and how it potentially contributed to dishonor and divisiveness:

Spin: Take a look at our top spin words. See a pattern? Many of these words imply divisiveness, confrontation or even a physical fight. These words do little to inform people while potentially doing more to provoke an emotional response.

Slant: This was a front-page story on all four outlets’ websites. AP, CNN and The Washington Post displayed the story prominently at the top of the page, and Fox News listed it as a “Hot Topic.” Being a top story implies it has particular significance to the day-to-day lives of Americans. But is this worthy of being front-page news when there have recently been hurricanes, a mass shooting and violent protests in the U.S.? This is not to say there isn’t relevant information for readers to know (see our Context section for more details). However, the articles didn’t focus on such information – such as how Corker could influence tax reform or the Iran deal – and making Trump’s and Corker’s disparaging comments a top story could exaggerate their perceived importance.

Logic: CNN and AP, respectively, said the Twitter exchange “highlights” or was a “remarkable airing of” division within the Republican party. But what makes the tweets an example of division? Is any argument between party members evidence of division within the party? Not necessarily. Further explanation is required to back this claim. For example, a way to measure division would be needed along with an explanation of how the tweets meet this standard. Moreover, we would need criteria for determining when an entire party is divided versus when there is only disagreement among some of its members.

The line of thinking presented by CNN and AP may also reinforce a public narrative and perception of divisiveness within the Republican party. This doesn’t mean there isn’t division, but an error in critical thought would be if this perception relies mostly on “common sense” or “intuition,” which aren’t necessarily based on evidence or reasoning.

Sensationalizing politicians’ disparaging remarks about each other is probably more likely to provoke an emotional response from people than encourage thoughtful public discourse. How might this amplify dishonor and divisiveness? When people are emotional, they may be more likely to reflexively engage in disparaging others than respecting, or at least respectfully disagreeing with, others’ views. In contrast, objective, impartial journalism could promote awareness and critical thinking about divisiveness and dishonor in politics, and society at large.

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

  • 56% Spun

  • 69% Spun

  • 79% Spun

  • 81% Spun

Fiction
or
Fact

Associated Press

“An enraged President Donald Trump and a prominent Republican senator who fears the country could be edging toward ‘chaos’ engaged in an intense and vitriolic back-and-forth bashing on social media Sunday, a remarkable airing of their party’s profound rifts.”

Corker previously said that Tillerson, Mattis and Kelly “help separate our country from chaos.” On Sunday, Trump criticized Corker on Twitter and Corker responded.

The Washington Post

“Trump, who has little tolerance for public criticism and prides himself on counterpunching those who cross him, fired off a trio of tweets Sunday morning attacking Corker…”

Trump posted a series of three tweets about Corker on Sunday morning.

Fact Comparison

  • Facts in only 1 source
  • Facts in 2 sources
  • Facts in 3 sources
  • Facts in all sources

Trump tweeted that Corker was “largely responsible for the horrendous” Iran nuclear deal.


None of the four articles clarify Corker’s role or the extent of his responsibility in the Iran deal. Without this, readers might have an exaggerated sense of his role in the deal’s formation, given that Trump said he was “largely responsible.” Here are the facts so readers can decide for themselves.

The Iran deal itself doesn’t mention Corker, as its framework was initially agreed upon by the foreign ministers of the U.S., Russia, Iran, China, U.K., France and Germany. As ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Corker discussed the deal with their fellow senators on the committee, which voted 19-0 in favor of it, according to Politico. After the committee approved the deal, it went to the full senate for a vote. The Senate rejected a measure to disapprove of the agreement, which allowed the Obama administration to proceed with the deal. (For more information on the Iran deal, see the Context section.)

Headlines

An article’s headline can direct how the news is understood. Compare and contrast how different outlets present the story through their headlines.

Adds sensationalism to already disparaging tweets.

Readers can judge the tweets for themselves without AP adding its opinion. Also, this headline may do more to provoke an emotional response from people than inform them.

Potentially amplifies dishonor through the selection of quotes.

Daily Mail chose some of the more sensational and disparaging parts of the tweets to include in its headline, which may give them more weight than if they were quoted in the body of the article.

Balance

Get the full picture! Don’t buy into cherry-picked information.

The media’s slant:
  • Trump showed his “intolerance” for criticism when he “attacked” or “ripped into” Corker.
  • The Republican party is divided (AP and CNN)
  • The “fighting” between Trump and Corker will complicate Republican efforts to implement the White House’s agenda, and make it harder for the party to pass pending measures such as the proposed tax plan.
What the media doesn’t explore:
  • Objectively reporting what the two leaders said, without adding opinion, could promote awareness and critical thinking about divisiveness and dishonor in politics, and society at large.
  • Arguments or disagreements between members of a party don’t necessarily mean the entire party is divided.
  • Corker, and his relationship with Trump, are not the only factors that can influence what legislation gets passed.
  • Information about how Corker, and his relationship with Trump, could influence legislation such as tax reform or the Iran deal is either missing or downplayed by the outlets.

Context

Access information and historical data that provides a more comprehensive understanding of the story.

What is the Iran deal?

The Iran deal, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is a 2015 agreement between Iran, the EU and six world powers, including the U.S., that set limits to Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lessened sanctions. The deal requires the president to recertify the agreement every 90 days, and the next deadline is Oct. 15.

Who is Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)?

To give you a better understanding of the 65-year-old senator’s experience, current roles and potential level of influence in government affairs, we’ve compiled a list of his political credentials:

Political History:

1994: Lost the Republican primary for the Tennessee Senate seat to Bill Frist.

1995: Served as the commissioner of Tennessee’s Finance and Administration Department under Gov. Don Sundquist.

2001: Elected Mayor of Chattanooga, Tennessee; he served a four-year term.

2006: Elected Senator of Tennessee.

2012: Won re-election to the Senate.

Committee Membership:

Senate Foreign Relations Committee

  • Function: Develop U.S. foreign policy by debating and negotiating treaties and legislation. The committee also has jurisdiction over all diplomatic nominations.
  • Corker’s role: Chairman.

Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee

  • Function: Manage legislation for areas relating to banking, insurance, financial markets, securities, housing, urban development and mass transit, international trade and finance and economic policy.
  • Corker’s role: Committee member.

Senate Special Committee on Aging

  • Function: Study issues, conduct oversight of programs, and investigate reports of fraud and waste relating to the country’s aging population.
  • Corker’s role: Committee member.