Is the UN General Assembly only about Trump?
Photo by AP Images

Is the UN General Assembly only about Trump?

September 18, 2017

The Raw Data

Unspun and unbiased. These are the facts.

UN holds general debate this week; Trump to give speech

The United Nations General Assembly will begin its general debate in New York City on Tuesday morning, opening with Secretary-General António Guterres’ annual report at 9:00 am ET. Guterres’ speech will be followed by addresses from 34 world leaders, including U.S. President Donald Trump’s first speech to the United Nations.

The general debate of the 72nd session of the General Assembly is scheduled to run from Tuesday, Sept. 19, to Monday, Sept. 25, with a break on Sunday. This year’s theme is: “Focusing on people: striving for peace and a decent life for all on a sustainable planet.”

While attending the general debate as part of the U.S. delegation, Trump is due to meet with Guterres and leaders from Afghanistan, Egypt, Japan, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Slovakia, South Korea, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Kingdom. He’s scheduled to host a dinner with Latin American leaders on Monday, focusing on the subject of Venezuela. Then on Wednesday, Trump plans to have a lunch with African leaders to discuss economic trade and relations.

Trump is planning to discuss a U.N. “reform package,” peacekeeping, North Korea, Iran, terrorism and humanitarian issues, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said on Friday.

Agenda items to be discussed during the General Assembly’s 72nd session include:

  • The promotion of sustained economic growth and sustainable development
  • Maintenance of international peace and security
  • Development of Africa
  • Promotion of human rights
  • Effective coordination of humanitarian assistance efforts

For more details, see Context.

Additional sources: Journal of the UN, UN 72nd Session, UN members, UN Meetings, State Department.

Distortion Highlights

  • Trump could play a significant role in the assembly this week, and it’s beneficial for the media to report on his activities.
  • However, the coverage we looked at focused almost exclusively on the U.S. president and included dramatic speculation about what he might do or say, as opposed to specific facts.
  • Find out what’s missing from the coverage and how the slant can affect you.

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

  • Obsession

    Trump’s obsession with the U.N. continued to oscillate between extremes after his election victory. (Politico)

    Trump’s U.N. Obsession Collides With Reality- Headline (Politico)

  • Notoriously Difficult

    Gowan, who teaches at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, also noted that the president is notoriously difficult to predict. (USA Today)

  • Savaged

    Mr Trump has savaged the UN in the past as “a club for people to . . . have a good time”, railing against what he called weakness and incompetence (Financial Times)

  • American Isolationism

    Mr Trump, who won last year’s presidential election on a ticket of American isolationism, will address the bastion of global multilateralism for the first time since his credo of “America First” began to alarm allies that he would permanently upset the liberal international order that the US did so much to help create at the UN’s 1945 foundation. (Financial Times)

  • Hallmark Theme

    HR McMaster, the national security adviser, said the president will emphasise a hallmark theme of burden-sharing in pursuit of peace and prosperity, and cite sovereignty as the “indispensable foundation of international order”. (Financial Times)

  • Condemnation

    Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto head of Burma, also will not attend amid a spate of government-backed ethnic violence in that country that has drawn international condemnation. (The Washington Post)

  • Ablaze

    Also at NATO, Trump set the social media world ablaze when he appeared to shove Montenegro Prime Minister Dusko Markovic out of the way in a team photo op. (USA Today)

  • Backfired

    Trump’s personal challenge to the U.N. system, announcing the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate change accords, has also backfired. (Politico)

We usually write our Raw Data section using information extracted from the articles we analyze. Yet this time we pulled more than half of the data from external sources. Why? Because the articles were largely opinion, with little information about the general assembly itself. When we did find data, it was mostly about one subject: Trump.

It’s beneficial for the media to inform readers of Trump’s potential impact on this year’s General Assembly, particularly in reference to his proposed U.N. reforms or issues such as Iran or North Korea. But the coverage we analyzed focused almost exclusively on Trump and contained dramatic speculation about what he might do or say, with minimal information about other issues (which is slant). When it came to information about Trump’s potential impact, the articles were lacking in specifics (more slant).

Here’s how these slant issues appear in the articles:

Is it all about Trump?

“Trump’s debut on Tuesday is perhaps the most highly anticipated moment…” (The Washington Post)

“Spotlight turns on Donald Trump for debut UN address.” (Financial Times)

Trump isn’t the only topic of interest at the General Assembly, although the above sentences may suggest otherwise. What’s mostly missing from the articles is a discussion of issues that may be covered at the meeting, such as the situations in North Korea, Myanmar or Venezuela.

Worry without specifics

“…world leaders [are] anxious about what he’ll say.” (USA Today)

“…all eyes will be on the US president’s tone.” (Financial Times)

So, leaders are worried, or at least closely watching Trump, but why? What might Trump do or say? What effects, positive or negative, could he have? The word “worry” implies possible negative outcomes. The articles leave some clues – such as the possibility of the U.S. pulling out of the Iran deal. This may be negative, but the coverage lacks specifics on exactly how.

The media plays an important role in focusing our attention and shaping our worldview. It can help broaden readers’ understanding of the world or it can narrow it. What happens, then, when the media focuses on and dramatizes one subject – Trump in this case? It potentially encourages readers to become caught up in the drama, distracting them from considering other relevant data to better understand the issues at hand. To read more about the agenda for the General Assembly, check out our Context section.

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

  • 73% Spun

  • 75% Spun

  • 86% Spun

  • 96% Spun


Financial Times

“Other leaders are giving the UN circus short shrift this year, however, including China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin…”

China’s President Xi Jinping and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin are not scheduled to attend the U.N. general assembly.


“So Trump has long fancied himself as both a scourge of the U.N. and its potential savior.”

Trump has said things that are critical and supportive of the United Nations. For example, he has called it a “club for people to…have a good time” and has said, “I see a day when there’s a conflict where the United Nations, you get together, and you solve the conflict.”

USA Today

“…some world leaders are still reeling from their last interactions with the somewhat testy Trump at global summits earlier this year.”

Trump attended previous global summits this year, such as the NATO meeting, Group of Seven and Group of 20 events.

Fact Comparison

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

As of now, the U.S. has no other way to stave off military action and keep China and Russia engaged on the issue than working through the Security Council. (Politico)

Are there really no other ways to “stave off military action?” It seems unlikely that going through the Security Council is the only option, but if it is, Politico is lacking evidence and source material to prove this is the case.

Tillerson said Thursday that Iran is “clearly in default” of expectations and responsibilities under the deal. Iran and European allies disagree with Tillerson’s description. The U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said this month that Iran is following the rules. (The Washington Post)

Politico, USA Today and the Financial Times don’t include the IAEA’s assessment that Iran is meeting its commitment to the nuclear deal. Without this information, readers only have part of the story and may as a result believe Iran is definitely in violation, when the data shows an apparent disagreement between the IAEA and Tillerson on the matter.


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

Disparages Trump by comparing him to crises that the U.N. handles – such as genocide, civil war and mass starvation.

Also, this may downplay other global situations that the U.N. is planning to address.

Doesn’t say how the U.S. could be a threat to the U.N.

How is this “threat” to the U.N. being measured? Is this based on a specific policy or in reference to Trump’s proposed reforms? The Huffington Post doesn’t say.

Slants to the positive.

Contrast AP’s headline to USA Today’s: “Trump treks to the United Nations to meet world leaders anxious about what he’ll say.” Both are biased and contain opinion, but one makes Trump’s upcoming speech look positive, while the other seems negative.


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

On September 13, 2017, the U.N. agreed on an agenda for the 72nd regular session of the General Assembly, which includes at least 174 topics of discussion ranging from the financing of U.N. missions to the prevention of an arms race in outer space. Topics of discussion will include:

Promotion of sustained economic growth and sustainable development

Attendees will discuss whether sporting events, such as the Olympics, can promote peace; global road safety improvements; various technological developments; sustainable growth, which includes disaster risk reduction, global climate protections, education initiatives, and affordable sustainable energy access; globalization by way of technological, cultural and “middle income” advancements; and poverty eradication initiatives.

Maintenance of international peace and security

The U.N. plans to discuss issues that may encourage regional conflicts, such as diamond mining and “coercive” economic measures. Member states will discuss ways mediation can settle and prevent disputes. Attendees will also review region-specific conflicts in areas such as Palestine, Afghanistan, Haiti and Central America.

Development of Africa

Member states plan to promote peace and sustainable development in areas of conflict in Africa.

Promotion of human rights

Member states will explore ways to protect the rights of children and indigenous peoples, eliminate racial intolerance and xenophobia, and will follow up on the Vienna Declaration, which details human rights protections.

Effective coordination of humanitarian assistance efforts

Member states will work on “strengthening” the coordination of humanitarian assistance.

Promotion of justice and international law

The U.N. international court system and tribunal will discuss the effects of armed conflicts on treaties, oceans and the law of the sea, and issues relating to accountability and the responsibilities of international organizations.


Member states will review the implementation of various treaties and agreements, such as the:

Discussion topics also include nuclear disarmament, illegal weapons trading and ways to prevent the development of “new types of weapons of mass destruction.”

Drug control, crime prevention and combating international terrorism in all its forms and manifestations

Member states plan to discuss international drug control, crime prevention and ways to eliminate international “terrorism.”

Additional information, including meeting briefings, can be found at the U.N. website.