The national debate about sexual harassment has “come full circle” as it again involves President Trump — at least that’s what The New York Times writes. But there actually haven’t been new public allegations against Trump, and it seems to be the media itself that’s revisiting previous ones. So what exactly does The Times mean by “come full circle”?
We analyzed four of the most reputable U.S. news outlets covering Trump’s tweets about Senator Franken, and the White House’s response to questions on the matter. All of their coverage was between 75 and 88 percent slanted. This means that according to The Knife’s balance ratings, at least three-quarters of each article promoted a singular viewpoint, which in this case disparages Trump and implies guilt.
As noted in our analysis of Roy Moore and Hannity, we’re neither defending Trump nor invalidating the allegations. What we’re bringing awareness to is how the media is trying Trump in the court of public opinion. The articles suggest Trump has committed five faults, each one building on the next and culminating in the most damaging of all. (As a note, we’re marking the spin terms in italic, to show how they support the slant.)
Fault 1: Trump said too little about Moore
The articles suggest Trump should have been more vocal about Moore than he has been. For instance, The Washington Post wrote:
Since returning late Tuesday, Trump has not mentioned Moore in any public comments or tweets, and he has ignored questions about Moore that reporters have shouted at him.Why mention this, except to imply he should have said more?
Fault 2: He shouldn’t have commented on Franken
Trump’s tweet about Franken wasn’t honorable, but that’s not what the outlets pointed out (nor why that may be a problem). Instead, they suggested Trump is a “hypocrite” for commenting on the allegations against Franken, given the allegations he has faced in the past. Here’s an example from AP:
Trump called his own accusers “horrible, horrible liars” and threatened to sue them, while coming to the defense of friends such as political commentator Bill O’Reilly and former Fox News chief executive Roger Ailes, accused of harassment or assault … Trump did not mention that Tweeden also accused Franken of kissing her against her will — the same thing that at least eight women have publicly accused Trump of doing.In case the implication wasn’t clear, the outlets also cited critics who called Trump a “hypocrite,” while providing no alternate perspectives. So based on this slant, Trump’s damned if he comments on Franken and damned if he doesn’t comment on Moore.
Fault 3: He passed the ball, again
Regarding the past allegations against Trump and his supposed “hypocrisy” about them, the outlets suggested he just passes the ball to his staff, who then makes excuses for him. On this, The New York Times wrote:
But as Mr. Trump has shown repeatedly during his 10-month presidency, he is rarelydeterred by conventional political wisdom even as he leaves it to his staff to fend off the cries of hypocrisy.Now, he’s not only a “hypocrite,” but a coward who won’t defend himself. Notice how much this implies guilt, because if he were innocent, would he need defending?
Fault 4: He’s unfit to be president
The outlets suggested Trump isn’t fit to be president, because of the allegations against him. For instance, the Times wrote, “But the nation’s leader is a compromisedfigure when it comes to [the sexual misconduct allegations] discussion.” It also included quotes like this, without providing alternate perspectives:
“A president should be a step above in leading for the entire country,” Ms. Fagen said. “When somebody is behaving in such a (sic) immoral way, a president should call them out. Trump’s a unique case here. He’s got his own issues with respect to this. He denies them all but he’s got them.”Ideally, presidents should be “a step above.” The problem here is that by suggesting Trump is unfit to lead, the media is trying him in the court of public opinion instead of allowing for due process — that is, trying him in a court of law, if necessary.
Fault 5: Trump is guilty by loose association
The biggest and potentially most damaging suggestion the outlets make is that Trump could be or should be implicated too (or again) in this round of allegations, and that he should be “toppled.” The outlets suggest this in different ways. One is by juxtaposing the former allegations against Trump in a story about current allegations against other people, including two ex-presidents (one of whom did admit to sexual misconduct… get it?). The allegations aren’t related, but the juxtaposition makes it seem as if they are.
AP does this more overtly by asking, “Now, as one prominent figure after another takes a dive, the question remains: Why not Trump?” The outlet further wrote:
The candidate who openly bragged about grabbing women’s private parts — but denied he really did so — was elected president months before the cascading sexual harassment allegations that have been toppling the careers of powerful men in Hollywood, business, the media and politics. He won even though more than a dozen women accused him of sexual misconduct, and roughly half of all voters said they were bothered by his treatment of women, according to exit polls.In addition to juxtaposing two things that relate only on the basis of subject matter, AP and the other outlets suggest the president should be “toppled” without due process. That’s not entirely logical, and it’s not just. And it’s really the point of this analysis: Did Trump and the other men accused commit the alleged violations? We can’t answer that, and neither should you — that’s the reason our justice system exists.
As a society, we’ve allowed and participated in the media becoming the court of public opinion — and now social media, too. There’s a reason the presumption of innocence is vital in a democracy (for more on this, read our Hannity analysis), and this is the first right that the accused lose in a trial by media situation. By bringing awareness to this type of bias, we, as a society, can help raise the standards of journalism to match the principles of one of humanity’s most noble creations: the justice system.
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