Either Rex Tillerson will be replaced as secretary of state or he won’t. At this point, anonymous administration officials reportedly said he will and Trump is saying he won’t. As of now, he still holds the position. So why the drama?
The media coverage sensationalizes the possibility that he’ll leave using unflattering opinions about Tillerson’s performance and his relationship with Trump. These opinions can easily sway us towards believing it’s more likely Tillerson will be fired. The problem is the media suggests this will be the outcome through vague, subjective language rather than with factual evidence.
For instance, two outlets say there’s “growing tension” between Trump and Tillerson. What does that mean exactly? On what facts is it based? The two may indeed disagree on policy towards Iran, North Korea and Arab allies, as The New York Times suggests, but this matter can be reported without editorializing. Outlets could instead cite differing statements on these topics by Trump and Tillerson, for example, and let readers judge the relationship for themselves.
Below are a few more examples of where spin (noted in red) depicts Tillerson failing at his job and his relationship with the president. Notice there aren’t many facts.
Tillerson’s performance at the State Department
Tillerson has had a “turbulent reign at the State Department” and he’s run “into serious troubles .” ( The New York Times )
Tillerson has received “a litany of complaints from diplomats, foreign ministers and others in Washington that his State Department was deeply dysfunctional .” ( CNN )
Tillerson has “been seen as a lame duck .” (The New York Times)
And, “lawmakers have expressed alarm about [Tillerson’s] cuts to the State Department, staff there decry the agency’s dysfunction …” (CNN)
Tillerson’s relationship with Trump
There are “reports of growing tension between President Trump” and Tillerson. ( Fox News )
“Mr. Trump and Mr. Tillerson have been at odds over a host of major issues…” (The New York Times)
“Tensions between the top US diplomat and Trump have played out in unprecedented public fashion .” (CNN)
Tillerson could indeed leave the State Department early — after all, at least 15 Trump administration officials have resigned or been fired since January. It’s not necessarily a problem for media to report this as a possibility. But there’s also a chance Tillerson will stay, considering Trump tweeted on Friday that the media reports were false.
It would have been more responsible for the media to report on the supposed plan to have Tillerson removed without including opinions that could bias readers against Tillerson. Regardless of whether he stays in his position or not, reporting dishonorable opinions as facts could damage his reputation and create negative judgements towards him.
Written by Julia Berry López
Edited by Julia Berry López, Jens Erik Gould and Rosa Laura Junco
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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