After the initial reports of Mueller’s indictments broke, news outlets had a lot to say about their potential effects on Washington. The four sources we examined departed from the data of the story (the indictments themselves), each presenting a very different outlook using opinion, implication and spin (bolded). Here’s a snapshot of each bias.
The Washington Post: A sure win
The Post gives a one-sided account of Mueller’s indictments, suggesting they’re an open-and-shut case that’s likely to lead to convictions. That’s entirely possible, but it’s also possible they won’t — in any case, a court of law will decide that. The outlet adds:
The one-two punch delivered Monday by … Mueller … is designed to send a powerfulmessage to everyone else caught up in the probe: the prosecutors aren’t bluffing.As head of the investigation, Mueller is likely just doing his job. Did he also intend to send a “powerful message” with it? This, of course, is the outlet’s opinion.
National Review: A sure fail
Contrary to the Post’s article, the National Review’s suggests the indictments are flawed and will fail, that Mueller was overreaching when he issued them, and that all of this demonstrates Trump is merely the “victim of a witch hunt.” The outlet presents a few compelling perspectives about the indictments, until you compare them against the indictments themselves (click here for more on this). As for the rest of the article? It’s mostly opinion stated as fact.
The Paul Manafort indictment is much ado about nothing … except as a vehicle to squeeze Manafort, which is special counsel Robert Mueller’s objective … but it appears that Mueller’s office has turned one offense into two, an abusive prosecutorial tactic that flouts congressional intent … From President Trump’s perspective, the indictment is a boon from which he can claim that the special counsel has no actionable collusion case.CNN: Good for Mueller’s investigation, bad for Congress’ probes
A headline like “Capitol Hill is reeling after Mueller indictments” may give the impression that there’s a problem in Washington, which is CNN’s angle on the story. The outlet suggests that, while good for Mueller, the indictments could jeopardize or render useless the congressional investigations into the same matter, for example:
But on Capitol Hill, the fallout was just beginning to be felt with Republican and Democratic members grappling to understand what impact the recent news would have on their own congressional investigations and the week ahead as the Republicans seek to unveil their tax plan this week.It’s not uncommon for investigative bodies to work concurrently on the same case — this happens frequently in law enforcement. So why suggest it’s a problem here? CNN didn’t provide clarification. On the contrary, the outlet mentioned Democrats “applaud[ed]” the indictments and it quoted three lawmakers with similar responses — including the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman, who said “It doesn’t change anything with our investigation.”
Politico: Trouble for Congress, and maybe for Mueller
Similar to CNN, Politico wrote in its headline that Mueller “blindside[d]” Congress’ Russia investigators, adding that the indictments “could throw a wrench into Congress’ parallel Russia probes.” The outlet also emphasized the notion that Trump could interfere in the investigation by ousting Mueller, for instance:
No matter the impact of Monday’s stunningescalation of the Mueller probe, senior Democrats were determined to keep up the pressure on Republicans to shield the special counsel from threats to his investigation as it draws closer to the White House.Politico introduced this notion early on in the article, which taints the way we view related information, and towards the end it cited the White House’s comment on the matter, possibly trivializing the administration’s response by writing that it “waved away the issue.”
It’s kind of remarkable that these four articles essentially stem from the same story, isn’t it? That’s the power of bias and opinion.
Opinion isn’t inherently bad or useless, but it’s limiting when news outlets don’t own it and don’t differentiate it from the actual data of a story, because readers can walk away thinking they’re one and the same.
Written by Sean Sweeney, Julia Berry López and Ivy Nevares
Edited by Ivy Nevares, Rosa Laura Junco and Jens Erik Gould
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Jens Erik Gould
Jens is a political, business and entertainment writer and editor who has reported from a dozen countries for media outlets including The New York Times, National Public Radio and Bloomberg News