The Knife has written about how disparaging someone in the media can result in irreversible damage to his or her reputation. President Donald Trump and Sen. Bob Corker’s Twitter exchange was an example of how this can play out in politics. But instead of objectively reporting what the two leaders said – which could have made the dishonor and divisiveness in the tweets more apparent – the coverage we analyzed may have amplified it by adding sensationalism.
Here’s how three forms of distortion – dramatic language (spin), biased story selection (slant) and faulty reasoning (logic) – played out in the coverage of Trump and Corker’s tweets, and how it potentially contributed to dishonor and divisiveness:
Spin: Take a look at our top spin words. See a pattern? Many of these words imply divisiveness, confrontation or even a physical fight. These words do little to inform people while potentially doing more to provoke an emotional response.
Slant: This was a front-page story on all four outlets’ websites. AP, CNN and The Washington Postdisplayed the story prominently at the top of the page, and Fox News listed it as a “Hot Topic.” Being a top story implies it has particular significance to the day-to-day lives of Americans. But is this worthy of being front-page news when there have recently been hurricanes, a mass shooting and violent protests in the U.S.? This is not to say there isn’t relevant information for readers to know (see our Context section for more details). However, the articles didn’t focus on such information – such as how Corker could influence tax reform or the Iran deal – and making Trump’s and Corker’s disparaging comments a top story could exaggerate their perceived importance.
Logic: CNN and AP, respectively, said the Twitter exchange “highlights” or was a “remarkable airing of” division within the Republican party. But what makes the tweets an example of division? Is any argument between party members evidence of division within the party? Not necessarily. Further explanation is required to back this claim. For example, a way to measure division would be needed along with an explanation of how the tweets meet this standard. Moreover, we would need criteria for determining when an entire party is divided versus when there is only disagreement among some of its members.
The line of thinking presented by CNN and AP may also reinforce a public narrative and perception of divisiveness within the Republican party. This doesn’t mean there isn’t division, but an error in critical thought would be if this perception relies mostly on “common sense” or “intuition,” which aren’t necessarily based on evidence or reasoning.
Sensationalizing politicians’ disparaging remarks about each other is probably more likely to provoke an emotional response from people than encourage thoughtful public discourse. How might this amplify dishonor and divisiveness? When people are emotional, they may be more likely to reflexively engage in disparaging others than respecting, or at least respectfully disagreeing with, others’ views. In contrast, objective, impartial journalism could promote awareness and critical thinking about divisiveness and dishonor in politics, and society at large.
Written by Julia Berry López and Shane Mottishaw
Edited by Shane Mottishaw and Jens Erik GouldVisit the original story with ratings on Knife Media’s website
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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