Over the past week, The Knife has covered analyses ondishonor in the media and news articles that are written like opinion pieces. This analysis encompasses both elements.
In writing about President Trump going to Las Vegas, some news outlets seemed to have used it more as an opportunity to criticize or disparage him, than to report on the situation and the purpose of the trip. Criticism becomes a problem when it’s presented as objective news, especially when it’s dishonorable and attacks a person’s character, instead of focusing on the data of their actions.
CNN’s article, for example, opens with opinion, shifting the focus of the trip in its headline to Trump supposedly “test[ing]” his “emotional depth” in Las Vegas. Then the article begins:
If you want a politician to shout your grievances, Donald Trump is your man. But he’s still learning to feel your pain.
Notice there isn’t a lot of data here. And because it’s figurative, we may not ascertain precisely what the outlet meant by wanting a politician to “shout your grievances.” When combined with the following sentence, it suggests the president lacks empathy — but again, this is the outlet’s opinion.
At times, the report reads more like an informal psychological profile on the president than a news article. It also focuses mostly on negative aspects, referring to him as a “bulldozing outsider politician” with a “brusque style” and a “tendency to whip up controversy with his awkward rhetorical style.” CNN also writes that “Nothing in Trump’s career … has equipped him for what will be an emotional day Wednesday.” This is completely devoid of fact, and the outlet also doesn’t tell us how they’re measuring his ability to handle it.
The outlet also, apparently, has a pulse on his “entire” adult life. It adds:
Trump has spent the last eight months reeling from crisis to crisis, mostly of his own making, approximating the chaotic whirl that has characterized his entire adult life.
These short excerpts capture the outlet’s bias, which suggests Trump’s apparent shortcomings destined him to fail in Las Vegas. And what’s this based on? An objective standard or code of conduct that all presidents must adhere to in situations like these? No, in this case it’s mostly opinion and speculation, and very little data. (For more on how the news covered other presidents in similar circumstances, read our Context section.)
Even if CNN’s opinions of Trump were all true, what do they have to do with Las Vegas and the president’s reasons for visiting with those affected? Does putting the spotlight on these opinions, rather than the situation and the visit, honor the victims, the responders, the office of the president or Trump himself?
With pieces like these, it might seem as if we’re defending Trump, but it’s not about him — it’s about what dishonorable media represents and what it allows for in the world. With the Las Vegas tragedy fresh in our minds, how can we, as a society, inspire people to move away from violence and hate? How might media outlets make it more difficult to do this when they write dishonorably? Although it’s become socially acceptable and often goes undetected, dishonor is also a form of hate and violence.
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