News outlets use dramatic, opinionated descriptions to characterize Trump’s decision not to recertify the Iran deal. The opinions portray Trump’s decision as problematic – suggesting it could be destabilizing to the U.S.’ role in international relations, spark an arms race or undo progress towards better relations with Iran. These descriptions could bias readers into judging the decision and its effects based on the opinions of reporters, without critically evaluating data-based information about the deal and Trump’s criticism of it.
Here are some examples of dramatic descriptions (spin bolded).
Descriptions of Trump’s speech
Trump “delivered a fire-breathing indictment of the Iranian government’s activities…” (The New York Times)
“President Trump has recast the list of Middle East threats, with Iran replacing Islamic State as Enemy Number One.” (BBC correspondent)
“Trump on Friday angrily accused Iran of violating the landmark 2015 international nuclear accord, blaming the Iranians for a litany of sinister behavior and hitting their main military wing with anti-terror penalties.” (AP)
Speculation on the effects of Trump’s approach
“Trump’s tough-guy approach could yet risk undoing years of careful diplomacy and increasingMiddle East tensions.” (AFP)
“Critics said Mr. Trump risked isolating the United States diplomatically and giving up the deal’s hard-won gains, including intrusive inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities.” (The New York Times)
“World governments feared any US move to sabotage the arrangement could dash Washington’s diplomatic credibility and relaunch Iran’s alleged quest for a nuclear weapon, in turn provoking a new Middle East arms race.” (AFP)
Compare the spun sentences above to our Raw Data or Context sections, and you can see how the media sensationalizes at least as much as it informs.
Although there may indeed be negative effects to Trump’s decision not to certify the deal, reporting that focuses on drama and opinion doesn’t aid critical evaluation and an understanding of the decision and its potential effects. Neutral reporting of the facts does.
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