Trump, Putin and the battle of the media biases
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Trump, Putin and the battle of the media biases

November 12, 2017

The Raw Data

Unspun and unbiased. These are the facts.

Trump, Putin discuss Syria, 2016 US election at APEC summit; release statement on Syria

After attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Vietnam Saturday, U.S. President Donald Trump said he had “two or three very short conversations” at the summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump said they discussed Syria and alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. After they met, the U.S. and Russia issued a joint statement on Syria.

In that joint statement, Trump and Putin “confirmed their determination” to defeat the Islamic State (IS) in Syria. They agreed that “there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria” and that a “political solution to the conflict must be forged … including constitutional reform and free and fair elections” under U.N. supervision and in accordance with the U.N. Security Council Resolution 2254 on Syria.

After leaving APEC, where he had given a speech calling for a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” Trump took questions from reporters aboard Air Force One en route from Da Nang to Hanoi. Trump said Putin told him “he absolutely did not meddle in our election,” and that Putin said, “I didn’t do that.” Trump then said, “I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.” When asked by reporters two separate times if Trump believed Putin, Trump responded, “I think that he is very, very strong in the fact that he didn’t do it,” and “I can’t stand there and argue with him. I’d rather have him get out of Syria” and “work with him on the Ukraine than standing and arguing.”

NPR later reported that Trump was asked to clarify his comments in Hanoi. “I believe that [Putin] feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election,” he told reporters. “As to whether I believe it or not, I’m with our [intelligence] agencies, especially as currently constituted with their leadership.”

A Jan. 2017 report from the U.S. Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) cites U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusions that state with “high confidence” that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections. For more on the report, click here.

Putin also spoke to the press after Trump left APEC, saying, “we are ready … to solve problems which are of concern both for the people of the United States and the people of the Russian Federation.”

According to its website, APEC is a 21-nation “regional economic forum established in 1989” that aims “to create greater prosperity for the people of the region” by promoting balanced and sustainable growth, and “by accelerating regional economic integration.”

Distortion Highlights

  • State-run news agencies can bias their coverage so it’s favorable to the government they serve.
  • You might think that an independent outlet would provide less slanted coverage by comparison.
  • Think again.

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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

  • Simmering anger

    But on his flight, which departed Da Nang in the early evening Saturday, Trump’s simmering anger over the Russia matter burst forth. (CNN)

  • Politically volatile

    The president’s comments immediately reignited the politically volatile debate over Russia’s alleged efforts to propel Trump into the White House — and distracted from the administration’s Asia messaging. (Politico)

  • Ongoing frustration

    Trump’s comments, which came after a two-day stay at this seaside resort, reflected ongoing frustration at his inability to warm ties with Moscow, which he pledged to do on the campaign trail. (CNN)

  • Overwhelming

    After chatting with Putin on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit here, Trump abandoned the diplomatic tone the White House had carefully scripted for his five-country tour, once again contradicting the overwhelming consensus among current and former U.S. officials that the Russian leader manipulated the 2016 election. (Politico)

  • Pushing to derail

    They explained that this fact has angered some in the US establishment, and that it’s the camp that lost the 2016 US election, the Democratic Party, that are pushing to derail Russian-American cooperation. (RT)

  • Fraught

    The fraught relations between the two leaders was underscored anew when Putin’s spokesman said election meddling did not come up when they spoke, even though Trump said it did. (Fox News)

  • Dashed hopes

    Despite dashed hopes of a bilateral meeting between the Russian and US presidents on the sidelines of Vietnam’s APEC summit, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump managed some rapprochement, political analysts have told RT. (RT)

  • Slammed

    Arizona Sen. John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, slammed Trump for his comments. (Fox News)

  • Stick to beat

    Democrats ‘use Putin as stick to beat Trump,’ hindering US-Russia rapprochement. (RT)

State-run news agencies are often known for being biased in favor of the government they serve. So if you’re looking for the latest news about the Trump-Putin meetings, you might think a Russian state-owned news outlet, such as RT, may not provide the most balanced coverage. (In this case, you’re correct.) Does that mean that independent outlets will typically provide less slanted reporting by comparison? Not this time.

Of the four articles we analyzed, Politico’s coverage was the most slanted, but only by one percent. Politico earned a 79 percent slant rating, followed by RT with 78 percent, and CNN ranked third with 73 percent. (In The Knife’s rating system, the more an article emphasizes only one point of view, the higher its slant rating). So you’re not necessarily getting more balanced coverage with an independent outlet — you’re just getting a different bias.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison. Bear in mind that both articles stem from the following quote regarding alleged Russian interference in the U.S. election: Trump said he believes that Putin “means it” when he said “he didn’t meddle.”

In this corner, 
according to Politico…

Trump was wrong

He “abandoned the diplomatic tone the White House had carefully scripted” for his Asia trip. More importantly, he “once again contradict[ed] the overwhelming consensus” among U.S. officials, which is that Putin “manipulated” the 2016 election.

What political analysts say

By siding with Putin, Trump is contradicting his own “America First” policy, he’s contradicting his own intelligence agencies, and he’s exposing the U.S. to similar attacks in the future.

Are there other perspectives than the above?

None other than Trump’s.

What’s the verdict?

Putin is a problem and is not to be trusted, but Trump believing him is an even bigger problem.

And in this corner,
according to RT…

Trump was right

He and Putin reportedly “managed some rapprochement” during the APEC summit, even though the Democratic Party is trying to “derail” U.S.-Russia cooperation. They’re sore losers, blaming Putin for Hillary Clinton’s loss in the election.

What political analysts say

The two leaders understand that to solve issues like the Syrian conflict and North Korea, cooperation is key. But Democrats are jeopardizing this by alleging collusion, and they seemingly don’t care.

Are there other perspectives than the above?

Niet, not here.

What’s the verdict?

By cooperating with Putin, Trump is protecting American interests and the Democrats are the problem.

Depending on your political views, one of these perspectives may more agreeable to you. But there’s a downside either way, because neither provides the full picture. There may be validity to both perspectives, and there may be others beyond these two that could afford a more complete understanding of the story.

Another downside in these articles is that the bias is mostly supported by opinion, not by data. So it leaves many unanswered questions, such as: Given Trump has addressed the Russia issue many times, why are his comments so important now? Does it have something to do with the recent indictments made in the investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller? Does Trump’s opinion of Putin materially affect the U.S. investigations into alleged Russian interference and, if so, how? How specifically would Trump’s position expose the country to future attacks?

That’s the thing with bias: you walk away from an article with a strong impression, but you’re not exactly sure what it stands on. Maybe the people pushing certain perspectives in the media win, but in these bias battles, readers take the greater loss.

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

  • 27% Spun

  • 48% Spun

  • 60% Spun

  • 85% Spun

Fiction
or
Fact

Politico

“The president’s comments immediately reignited the politically volatile debate over Russia’s alleged efforts to propel Trump into the White House — and distracted from the administration’s Asia messaging.”

While on a 12-day Asia trip, Trump commented on his discussion with Putin regarding alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Some U.S. media outlets have cited recent remarks by U.S. politicians and political analysts criticizing Trump’s position on the matter.

Politico

“President Donald Trump stayed on script for more than a week as he crisscrossed through Asia — and then Russian President Vladimir Putin showed up.

Trump met with Putin at APEC on the ninth day of his 12-day Asia trip.

CNN

“But on his flight, which departed Da Nang in the early evening Saturday, Trump’s simmering anger over the Russia matter burst forth.”

Trump made comments on alleged Russian interference in the presidential election while flying from Da Nang Saturday evening.

Fact Comparison

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

Trump says he believes Putin’s “denials” or “insistence” that he didn’t meddle. (CNN, Politico)


In his Q&A with reporters aboard Air Force One, Trump stated that he believed “[Putin] means it” when saying he wasn’t behind the alleged election interference. When asked directly by a reporter whether he believed Putin’s denial was truthful, Trump did not confirm this. And in later comments, Trump said he believed U.S. intelligence agencies. This may seem like a minor difference, but Trump believing that Putin meant what he said isn’t the same as saying Trump believed the actual denial.

Trump and Putin spoke more than once in Vietnam while attending APEC. (CNN, Fox News, Politico)


Russian broadcaster RT doesn’t mention that Trump and Putin met while they were both in Vietnam. Instead, it mentions that a bilateral or formal meeting didn’t take place, which could imply that the two didn’t meet at all.

Headlines

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

Balance

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

The media’s slant:
  • Politico, CNN and Fox News (to a lesser degree) state or imply that Trump believes Putin’s denial of meddling in the U.S. presidential election. The outlets suggest it could jeopardize U.S. national security, which reflects negatively on Trump and his judgement as a leader.
  • Trump’s defense of Putin also shows he favors Russia over U.S. interests, and could suggest he’s complicit with Putin and did collude.
  • RT blamed U.S. political forces, particularly the Democratic Party, for interfering with Trump and Putin’s efforts to move forward in bilateral relations.
What the media doesn’t explore:
  • The coverage didn’t explore the possibility that Trump agrees with U.S. intelligence agencies, which he clarified in later comments.
  • The articles didn’t draw attention to the fact that the investigations into alleged Russian interference haven’t concluded, and they haven’t determined collusion with the Trump campaign. Until that happens, media outlets could equally weigh both possibilities (collusion and non-collusion), but they disproportionately imply the first is accurate.
  • The Democratic Party may have legitimate reasons for its position. But a number of factors affect relations between two countries, so attributing the state of affairs to one party may be shortsighted. U.S.-Russia relations may still move forward.

Context

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

Was there interference? Here’s what U.S. intelligence agencies have found so far.

On Jan. 6, 2017, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) published a declassified report titled “Background to ‘Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections’: The Analytic Process and Cyber Incident Attribution.” The report concludes that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an “influence campaign” in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election, and that Russia’s goals were to “undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary [Hillary] Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.” The report states that the intelligence community has “high confidence in these judgments.”

The report’s summary states the intelligence community cannot disclose the full extent of its knowledge or the precise bases for its assessments, as the release of such information could reveal sensitive sources or methods, and risk the ability to collect critical foreign intelligence in the future.

The report also describes how the FBI, CIA and NSA assessed that Putin and the Russian government aspired to help Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and “publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.” The report says the FBI and CIA have “high confidence” in this judgement, and the NSA has “moderate confidence” in the conclusion.

High confidence generally indicates that our judgments are based on high-quality information, and/or that the nature of the issue makes it possible to render a solid judgment.  A “high confidence” judgment is not a fact or a certainty, however, and such judgments still carry a risk of being wrong.  

Moderate confidence generally means that the information is credibly sourced and plausible, but not of sufficient quality or corroborated sufficiently to warrant a higher level of confidence.

Low confidence generally means that the information’s credibility and/or plausibility is questionable, or that the information is too fragmented or poorly corroborated to make solid analytic inferences, or that we have significant concerns or problems with the sources.

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