(The Knife Media) The ratings for this story were higher than most stories we’ve analyzed on U.S. politics or policy since the Trump administration took office. Let’s look at The Washington Post as a case study. The Post’s article on Egypt received a 72 percent total integrity, with relatively low spin and slant scores. In other words, its article was covered in a relatively data-based way without much sensationalism or bias.
Now, take a look at the total scores on other recent Post articles related to the Trump administration:
Aug. 24 — Trump holds rally in Phoenix: 33 percent Total Integrity
Aug. 21 — Steve Bannon’s departure from the White House: 17 percent Total Integrity
Aug. 17 — Trump says there was “blame on both sides”: 35 percent Total Integrity
They’re much lower. Why might this be? Perhaps when the Trump administration acts in a way that’s widely regarded as positive — such as restricting aid to Egypt because of alleged human rights abuses — it’s reported in a neutral and balanced manner. Yet, when Trump does something widely considered negative — such as saying there was “blame on both sides” in Charlottesville — the media uses an abundance of spin, slant and illogic.
Withholding aid from Egypt because of alleged civil rights abuses is a less controversial topic than Trump’s response to Charlottesville, for example. Civil society organizations have criticized Egypt’s law on NGOs and both the Trump and Obama administrations have expressed concern about civil rights abuses under al-Sisi. For instance, Obama suspended military assistance to Egypt in 2013.
It could also play a role that this story wasn’t about domestic U.S. affairs, although there have been plenty of distorted stories about foreign policy under Trump. A more likely factor is that Trump wasn’t personally involved in this story. It was the state department that announced the Egypt decision, and Jared Kushner, not Trump, who met with al-Sisi. On the other hand, Trump was directly involved in the three stories with low ratings cited above.
This also proved the case in a comparison we did earlier this month of two North Korea stories. In one, the Post covered Trump speaking about North Korea, and the coverage got a 38 percent rating. In another, the paper covered the U.N.’s decision about sanctions, Trump wasn’t directly involved, and the story got a 72 percent.
Granted, these case studies don’t represent a wide enough sample to establish a general trend. But in these cases, is this tendency problematic? Is this fair coverage? Is it just?
“Justice” is defined as the “maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.” Why would it be important for the media to cover all events in a consistent way, no matter whether the subject matter is viewed as positive, negative or controversial?
The American Press Institute states that the purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments. Given that the quality of information is highest when it’s most consistent with reality, not only should media be as objective as possible, but it also should strive to cover all subject matters with the same rigor. If a topic is controversial, this shouldn’t give the media license to be more dramatic or biased. If it does, we risk having an increasingly distorted perception of the world around us, which can hinder progress and good decision-making.
Written by Julia Berry López
Edited by Jens Erik Gould
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