The U.S. Mission to the United Nations participated in negotiations that reduced the organization’s general operating budget by $285 million for the next two fiscal years. That’s fairly straightforward, and you might think media outlets would report on it in a straightforward way. But they didn’t — except for The Associated Press, whose reporting was mostly balanced and data-based.
The other three outlets we looked at gave little information on the practical consequences of the measure, so it was hard to tell what it actually means (for more on this, click here). Here’s how the other three outlets delivered the information.
Fox News: A victory for Team TrumpFox News starts its report on a positive note, describing the budget cut as “historic” and citing U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley saying it’s “a big step in the right direction.” Why the measure is “historic” or specifically why it’s a “big” step in the “right direction” are two questions the outlet didn’t answer in its coverage. But the move sounds good, doesn’t it?
Fox also mentions the U.N.’s peacekeeping budget was reduced by $600 million this year “under pressure” from President Donald Trump, and that he “threatened” to limit financial aid to countries that supported a draft resolution calling on the U.S. to reverse its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In both instances, Fox might suggest Trump’s in the driver’s seat when it comes to U.N. negotiations. That may be the case, but the outlet implied the point, instead of substantiating it with data, and it didn’t give a thorough understanding of how these multilateral decisions are reached.
Newsweek: Sweet revengeNewsweek juxtaposed two facts from the outset: the budget cut and the draft resolution on Jerusalem. In its lead, the outlet wrote the announcement “comes days after more than 120 nations criticized” the U.S. for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Putting both ideas together, which is a slant technique, can suggest the U.S. resented the vote and used the budget cut as payback. This perspective is given a lot of emphasis, given that Trump has been talking about reducing the U.S.’ contribution for months, and in a September speech before the U.N. General Assembly.
Not convinced by that juxtaposition? Here’s another one: Newsweek wrote that Haley “specifically blamed” the U.N. for its “budgetary excesses without making a specific reference to last week’s vote on … Trump’s controversial Jerusalem decision.” Apparently Haley should have made that reference?
The outlet also included a factual inaccuracy that misrepresented the budget cut as stemming from the U.S.’ contribution, which supports the notion that the country is acting unilaterally and possibly to the detriment of U.N. activities (the reduction relates to the U.N.’s overall budget, not the U.S.’ contribution). Again, these implications weren’t backed by data.
The New York Times: International bullying?The New York Times was the most slanted, most spun article of the four we analyzed. Similar to Newsweek, this outlet suggested the Trump administration is using U.N. negotiations for its own benefit, without regard for its international commitments. The Times wrote, “It was certainly not the first time Ms. Haley had hinted at using America’s financial leverage to get its way at the United Nations.”
The outlet went on to write that Trump “dared” the U.N. General Assembly to vote against the U.S. regarding Jerusalem, that Haley “warned” she’d change the way the U.S. did business with the international organization, and that the U.S. “wields the biggest monetary cudgel.” When you put it all together, we’re left with the impression that the budget cut isn’t a good move, but the impression isn’t based on measurable data.
As readers, it’s useful to base our understanding of issues and measures like this one on data, rather than on implication and dramatic language. Based on this coverage, some readers may conclude the budget cut is either good or bad, but that may be based on an outlet’s slant, rather than on an evaluation of the data. Changes to the U.N. budget will likely carry positive and negative effects — any oversimplification of the perceived “goodness” or “badness” of such a decision is superficial.
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