Same tweets, different slants: Trump and the Russia investigation
Photo by mark reinstein / Shutterstock.com

Same tweets, different slants: Trump and the Russia investigation

May 9, 2018

The Knife Media

Same tweets, different slants: Trump and the Russia investigation

The Raw Data

Unspun and unbiased. These are the facts.

Trump tweets about Mueller investigation

On Monday, President Donald Trump tweeted criticisms of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the U.S. election,, possible Trump campaign cooperation with Russia, possible obstruction of justice and “related matters.” The president said there were “unrevealed Conflicts of Interest” in Mueller’s team of investigators, and said the continued investigation could “wrongfully” impact November’s midterm elections.

Read the full Raw Data here.

Distortion Highlights

  • The news was the same across the board — Trump tweeted on the Russia investigation.
  • Yet news outlets portrayed the tweets differently, creating different slants.
  • Guess which lead sentences correspond to which outlets, and then examine how the spin and slant create different impressions.

Show Me Everything

The Distortion

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

Top Spin Words

  • Turned up the heat

    President Trump turned up the heat on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team early Monday — decrying his investigators as “angry Democrats,” claiming they are investigating a “phony crime” and warning the court system will prevent “injustice.” (Fox News)

  • Trained his rancor

    President Trump trained his rancor on federal investigators on Monday and appeared to warn that negative material would emerge about the prosecutors leading the inquiry into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. (The New York Times)

  • Lashed out anew

    President Trump lashed out anew Monday at the special counsel’s investigation into Russian election interference, saying that if it continues much longer it could “wrongly” affect this year’s congressional elections. (The Washington Post)

  • Frequently lobbed attacks

    Trump also has frequently lobbed attacks against judges after rulings that challenge his policies on immigration and other issues. (The Washington Post)

  • Veiled threat

    The veiled threat to the special counsel leading the inquiry and the suggestion of bias comes at a time when Mr. Trump’s legal team seems to be struggling to present a consistent message to the American public. (The New York Times)

  • Railed

    Mr. Trump has previously railed about 13 “hardened” Democrats on the special counsel team. (The New York Times)

  • Blasts

    Trump blasts ‘Angry Democrats’ on Mueller team, warns court will stop ‘injustice’ (Fox News)

  • Quipped

    He also quipped that, “Hillary Clinton treatment is what I’m looking for” — a reference to Clinton being questioned without being under oath shortly before the conclusion of the probe into her personal email use as secretary of state. (Fox News)

  • Heartened

    While complaining about the “Russian Witch Hunt,” Trump also suggested he was heartened by “a Court System in place that actually protects people from injustice.” (The Washington Post)

  • Looming threat

    Mr. Trump regularly attacks the ongoing investigation, as he did on Monday, and has considered firing Mr. Mueller — a looming threat that has divided the Republican Party. (The New York Times)

The news was the same, but the slant differed. When President Donald Trump tweeted about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation on Monday, The Knife examined how four outlets covered it: two outlets considered more favorable to Trump (Fox News and Breitbart) and two generally critical of him (The New York Times and The Washington Post).

Perhaps it’s not surprising that they had contrasting biases. But if they were all reporting about the same tweets, how did they accomplish this? It was a combination of spin words, and the additional information each outlet decided to include or exclude.

Here are the lead sentences from each of the four articles (emphasis added). Can you guess which ones correspond to which outlets? (See below for the answers)

A. “President Trump trained his rancor on federal investigators on Monday and appeared to warn that negative material would emerge about the prosecutors leading the inquiry into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.”

B. “President Donald Trump continued questioning the ongoing Russia investigation of his campaign by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.”

C. “President Trump turned up the heat on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team early Monday — decrying his investigators as ‘angry Democrats,’ claiming they are investigating a ‘phony crime’ and warning the court system will prevent ‘injustice.’”

D. “President Trump lashed out anew Monday at the special counsel’s investigation into Russian election interference, saying that if it continues much longer it could ‘wrongly’ affect this year’s congressional elections.”

Trump is angry

The Times and the Post (A and D, respectively) both portray Trump as aggressive and angry by saying he “trained his rancor” or “lashed out” at investigators. When people read the tweets themselves (available in full in the Raw Data), some may indeed think he’s angry, but that’s not the only possible interpretation. In actuality, the outlets are giving their opinion about Trump’s intent and emotions, yet presenting it as fact. In this context, the spin could make Trump seem particularly hotheaded, irrational or defensive — likely delegitimizing the criticisms he makes in his tweets.

These impressions may be solidified by other facts and opinions in the articles. For instance, the Times says, “The president has said that the investigation is led by Democrats, even though Mr. Mueller is a longtime Republican.” The phrase “even though” and the order or information deemphasize Trump’s comment and imply it’s illegitimate (though what the Times says is technically true).

Yet one could slant similar information in the opposite way by saying, “even though Mueller is a longtime Republican, at least 13 of the 17 lawyers on the team are registered or self-proclaimed Democrats.” (In either case, these assertions may assume that the political affiliation of team members is relevant to how they’re picked, how the investigation is conducted and what the outcome of a case will be. This isn’t necessarily so.)

Trump is getting tough

In contrast to the outlets above, Fox News and Breitbart (B and C above, respectively) portray Trump as tough or strong by sending these tweets. Fox’s lead, for instance, says he “turned up the heat” on the investigation. Similarly, Breitbart said he “continued questioning” the investigation, which sounds as if the president’s tweets are raising legitimate concerns. Reading that before the tweets puts them in a different light and could imply Trump’s criticisms have merit — at least more so than it would to frame them as “lashing out.”

In terms of additional information, Fox and Breitbart differ in their approaches. The former provides supporting evidence for Trump’s criticisms (such as financial contributions made by members of Mueller’s team to Democratic campaigns) and little information that would counter the claims Trump made (such as when the Times says, “there is no indication” the investigation is “being deliberately drawn out to manipulate votes.”) This slants the article in favor of Trump.

Breitbart, on the other hand, includes little information at all aside from Trump’s quotes. Because there isn’t much else in the article, it may subtly adopt the slant of Trump’s tweets themselves — which are of course critical of the investigation.

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

  • 70% Spun

  • 74% Spun

  • 77% Spun

  • 86% Spun

Fiction
or
Fact

Trump tweeted, among other things, “The 13 Angry Democrats in charge of the Russian Witch Hunt are starting to find out that there is a Court System in place that actually protects people from injustice…and just wait ‘till the Courts get to see your unrevealed Conflicts of Interest!” News outlets interpreted and opined on the tweet in different ways. Here’s a sampling:

The Washington Post

“Trump also suggested he was heartened by ‘a Court System in place that actually protects people from injustice.’”

Trump tweeted the Democrats on the investigation “are starting to find out that there is a Court System in place that actually protects people from injustice.” A judge recently told prosecutors on a case of Trump’s former campaign manager, “You really care about what information Mr. Manafort can give you to lead you to Mr. Trump and an impeachment, or whatever.”

Breitbart

Trump “appeared pleased by recent judicial attempts to challenge Mueller’s motivations in the court investigations.”

Trump tweeted the Democrats on the investigation “are starting to find out that there is a Court System in place that actually protects people from injustice.”

The Numbers

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

View Technical Sheet >
4 Free articles Left

Support the real news. Get the Knife

Story read in the last 30 days

-July 21st 2018, Same tweets, different slants: Trump and the Russia investigation Read the story>