Unnecessary spin in the Catalonia coverage
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Unnecessary spin in the Catalonia coverage

October 29, 2017

The Raw Data

Unspun and unbiased. These are the facts.

Spain dissolves Catalan parliament; former regional president gives TV address

Following Spain’s dissolution of the Catalan regional parliament Saturday morning, former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont gave a televised address, saying “we will continue working to build a free country” and “we must do so resisting repression and threats, without ever abandoning, at any time, civic and peaceful conduct.” On Sunday, about 300,000 people attended a rally advocating Spanish unity in Barcelona, Catalonia’s capital.

On Friday, Catalonia’s parliament held a vote to declare the region an independent republic. According to The Wall Street Journal, more than 50 lawmakers who oppose secession walked out of the vote, and the remaining lawmakers voted 70-10 in favor of making Catalonia independent.

On Saturday morning, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy invoked Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution and dissolved the Catalan parliament, removing and replacing about 150 officials. Rajoy scheduled new regional elections for Dec. 21 and assigned Soraya Sáenz de Santamaria, Spain’s deputy prime minister, to govern the region temporarily. Rajoy also took control of the regional police force and demoted Police Chief Josep Lluís Trapero. Additionally, Rajoy closed informal Catalan embassies in countries including Denmark and Morocco.

Events leading up to Saturday’s declaration

The Catalan government had held a referendum on independence on Oct. 1, which was considered unconstitutional by the Spanish government. There was a 45 percent voter turnout, with 92 percent of voters supporting independence.

Puigdemont signed a declaration of independence on Oct. 10, saying, “I take it upon myself to say … that the people have determined that Catalonia should become an independent state in the form of a republic … I myself propose that the Parliament suspends the effects of the declaration of independence so that in the coming weeks we may begin a dialogue.”

On Oct. 11, Spain issued an ultimatum to the region, asking Catalonia’s regional government to clarify whether it had officially declared independence and to withdraw it, if affirmative. On Oct. 17, the Catalan government said it would not comply with the request. On Oct. 18, Rajoy announced Spain would invoke Article 155.

For more information on Catalonia’s autonomy, click here.


Distortion Highlights

  • Spain’s response to Catalonia’s declaration of independence is significant — nothing like this has happened since the region gained full autonomy in 1978.
  • Some of the articles we analyzed reported the events in a data-based way, while others did not.
  • Read why the added spin is unnecessary. 

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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

  • Crisis

    Spain may be taking control of the autonomous region of Catalonia and fired its separatist government — plunging the country and Europe into crisis — but locals are undaunted about what lies ahead. (NBC News)

    On Friday, Mr. Rajoy announced that new Catalan elections would be held on Dec. 21, the earliest possible date, in an apparent bid to show frustrated Catalans that Madrid wanted to avoid prolonging a constitutional crisis. (The New York Times)

    The movement for independence has caused a constitutional crisis that is the worst since the end of the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco in the 1970s, and has deeply divided opinions in the region. (NBC News)

  • Showdown

    Madrid’s hard-line stance was announced shortly after regional lawmakers illegally declared an independent republic, setting up a showdown that escalated the biggest political crisis the country has faced in decades. (The New York Times)

  • Most feared

    The president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Junker, painted a picture of what politicians and bureaucrats most feared would spring up throughout the 28-member EU. (NBC News)

  • Turmoil

    However, as pro-independence Catalans celebrated, those who back staying inside Spain – often described as a “silent majority” – hoped the turmoil might also have spurred opposition to the independence project. (The Guardian)

    Catalonia has long been one of Spain’s most prosperous regions, but the turmoil of the last months has taken a toll. (The Guardian)

  • Splintering

    This specter of a splintering Spain hung over the crowd in Barcelona on Saturday. (NBC News)

  • Repeatedly flouted

    Attention now turns to the reaction of Catalan separatists, who have repeatedly flouted the Rajoy government and have called for civil disobedience in the face of direct rule. (The Wall Street Journal)

  • Wider aim

    Beyond the sweeping assumption of powers, Madrid took wider aim at the project of Catalan statehood pursued by the regional government. (The Guardian)

  • Relief

    That smooth security transition, so far, in the regional police corps will be a relief in Madrid, where some had been concerned about how the leadership of the Mossos, a prized Catalan institution, would respond to Madrid’s temporary takeover after they had shown a willingness to resist orders from Spanish authorities. (The Wall Street Journal)

The news of Spain asserting direct control of Catalonia after it declared independence is significant — it’s the first time the country has invoked Article 155 of the constitution since the region gained full autonomy in September 1978. The media outlets we analyzed for this story did convey that these events are remarkable, but some did it in a data-based way, while others used more spin and opinion. Here’s one comparison:

Madrid reacted to the Catalan parliament’s unilateral declaration of independence on Friday by firing the regional government and dismissing the head of the local police force. (The Guardian)

Spain may be taking control of the autonomous region of Catalonia and fired its separatist government — plunging the country and Europe into crisis — but locals are undaunted about what lies ahead. (NBC News)

The Guardian’s rendition sticks to the facts, allowing us to quickly understand what happened and why. On the other hand, NBC’s version says these events effectively “plung[ed]” the entire continent into a “crisis” — did they? These terms are subjective, and the outlet doesn’t provide a definition for them that we can objectively evaluate. If you had to defend the idea that Europe is in “crisis” because of these events, you may be at a loss.

Here’s another similar example of a spun sentence:

Madrid’s hard-line stance was announced shortly after regional lawmakers illegally declared an independent republic, setting up a showdown that escalated the biggest political crisis the country has faced in decades. (The New York Times)

The distortion in NBC and the Times may create an impression about what’s happening in Catalonia, but it doesn’t offer measurable data that helps to better understand the story.

Spin terms (like those in red) and opinion distort data because they insert a personal or subjective interpretation of events. In this case, the impressions these mechanisms create may not be that far off — this may be Spain’s most challenging political situation in the last few decades — but the outlets can say that with data. A shift to reporting that favors data, rather than opinion and other forms of distortion, can provide readers with the substance they need to better understand a story and its possible implications.

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

  • 23% Spun

  • 34% Spun

  • 39% Spun

  • 51% Spun


NBC News

“Like Catalonia … some of [Spain’s northern Basque Country] residents hanker for complete independence from Madrid.”

In Spain’s Basque region there are some people who desire independence.

The Wall Street Journal

“Mr. Puigdemont’s televised speech was carefully calibrated and he didn’t refer explicitly to the new independent republic that separatists say was created Friday afternoon—a nod to the legal challenges that could he (sic) face in coming weeks.”

Puigdemont didn’t refer to the independent republic in his speech Saturday.

Fact Comparison

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

Rajoy replaced Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont as the decision maker in the northeastern region. (NBC News)

While Rajoy is responsible for Spain’s decisions as prime minister, the above statement could be misleading and imply Rajoy will be responsible for the day-to-day running of Catalonia. That is not the case, as Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría has been appointed to the temporary role.

Among other orders, [the Madrid government] dismantled informal embassies set up by Catalonia in countries from Denmark to Morocco. (The Guardian)

NBC News, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times omit the fact that Madrid’s actions have consequences internationally, not just internally in Spain. Leaving this out could affect people’s view of the conflict and of the measures Spain has taken thus far.


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

The media’s slant:
  • Catalonia’s independence declaration and Spain’s decision to assert direct control over the region’s government has led to an escalating political crisis in the country. The Oct. 1 independence referendum saw numerous violent encounters between police and civilians. With tensions riding high, the same could happen next week, as ousted Catalonian officials respond to the royal decree.
What the media doesn’t explore:
  • Catalonia and Spain may find ways to negotiate their differences and resolve the situation, without necessarily resorting to violence or violent enforcement.