The Most Distorted News Articles of 2017

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There was plenty of distorted news coverage last year. Our analysis team published many low ratings as a result. Which stories ranked the lowest of all over the course of the year? Here are three of the lowest, along with descriptions of how they were distorted.

How did we determine this? We give numerical values to news articles that show how objective or biased they are — it’s a measure of how much they uphold or deviate from data-based, balanced and well-reasoned journalism. To determine this, we evaluate the spin, slant and logic of the writing, as well as the accuracy of the facts.

In these articles, much of the writing was comprised of a news outlets’ own opinion stated as fact, with little data about the actual news event. This type of coverage tends to promote bias more than it informs readers about the facts. Also, many of the most distorted articles of last year involved Trump or his administration. Granted, he’s the president and he sends plenty of distorted tweets of his own, but we might also wonder whether the media distorts Trump stories more than other topics.

1. Politico: Agitated Trump lashes out at McConnell, Ryan, Obama, Clapper, media (Aug. 24, 2017)

What’s the news? President Donald Trump tweeted that getting approval for the debt ceiling bill was “now a mess” because of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House of Representative Speaker Paul Ryan and the Democrats.

What was the distortion? Almost every sentence of Politico’s article contains opinion or sensational language. Forty-two of the 47 lines have spin, some of which is Trump’s own language but most of which is the reporter’s. For instance, the headline calls Trump “agitated.” That’s subjective.

What’s the problem? Trump uses dramatic language, but Politico compounds the problem by including more of the same.

2. The Daily Caller: Secretary DeVos Slams ‘Shameful’ Obama-Era Campus Sexual Assault Policy (Sep. 9, 2017)

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What was the news? U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced plans to issue new guidelines for addressing sexual misconduct on college campuses. Read our full analysis here.

What was the distortion? The Daily Caller presents a single viewpoint, that the old system “failed,” as DeVos said herself, and the outlet adds drama. Thirteen of the 15 sentences contain spin words.

What’s the problem? The outlet doesn’t provide evidence to show how the old policy is “failing.” Readers can accept the claims as true or not, but there’s little here to critically evaluate. Also, the article doesn’t look at any potential merits of the old system. Effective public policy likely comes from evaluating what doesn’t work and what does.

3. The New York Times: In Mocking Franken Over Claims of Sexual Misconduct, Trump Joins a Debate He Started (Nov. 20, 2017)

What’s the news? U.S. President Donald Trump commented via Twitter on the sexual misconduct allegations against Democratic Senator Al Franken.

What was the distortion? In the headline and lead sentence, the Times says Trump “inadvertently” started the “national conversation about sexual harassment” because of the allegations against him last year. Then, of the remaining 61 sentences, 60 support the argument that Trump is himself guilty of sexual harassment, that he is a hypocrite and unfit to be president.

What’s the problem? Most of the information in the Times article supports this bias and the paper presents these judgments as if they were fact. This isn’t objective news; it’s opinion. This may have a place as an op-ed piece, but not in the news section.


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Author: Rosa Laura Junco

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