A Republican lawmaker resigns: Reporting the facts vs. drawing biased conclusions | The Knife Media

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AP Images

 

(The Knife Media) The New York Times and The Hill suggest Tiberi is going to resign because he’s “frustrated” with the Republican Party’s inability to pass major legislation and the “gridlock” in Washington, and that there’s a pattern of congressmen resigning out of frustration. However, Tiberi said he was resigning for personal reasons. So suggesting that his choice was due to “frustration,” when that isn’t what he said, promotes a biased understanding of his decision, and negatively portrays the party.

 

In contrast, AP and Business Insider have more neutral reporting. They present the possibility that Tiberi is leaving because of criticism of the party, but do not suggest this is the only reason. They also present the facts before any speculation about why he left. These differences are reflected in our ratings: AP and Business Insider received 84 and 83 percent total integrity, respectively, while The New York Times and The Hill earned only 30 and 56 percent.

 

How do the Times and the Hill support their biased interpretations? First, they directly state that he’s resigning because of “frustration.” It’s possible that this is indeed part of Tiberi’s decision, but it’s not the reason he gave so we don’t know for sure. Second, the outlets leave out other information that might counter this conclusion. Here’s how:

 

Directly stating it’s about “frustration”

 

It’s a generalization to say the resignations are due to “growing frustration,” as The New York Times and The Hill do, and this isn’t supported with direct evidence. The New York Times does not quote any specific criticism from lawmakers about the GOP, and The Hill only quotes two Congressmen criticizing either the party or the White House, which isn’t sufficient evidence to demonstrate there is “growing frustration” overall.

 

Additionally, both outlets refer to the “frustration” in their headlines and lead sentences, which could color all the information that comes after – including Tiberi’s stated reasons for quitting or any information that could support other interpretations.

 

In contrast, while AP mentions other lawmakers who have resigned, it doesn’t make a generalization that there is “growing frustration.” Business Insider doesn’t do either.

 

Missing information

 

Three outlets mention other Republicans who have recently announced they would resign early, often using dramatic descriptions that may exaggerate these developments. (For example, The New York Times says “a series of long-tenured Republicans” plan to resign.) Without adding any context, it could seem as if there’s an abnormal number of lawmakers leaving Congress.

 

Yet, none of the outlets present data that might help readers evaluate the resignations. For instance, they don’t compare the number of representatives who have announced resignations this year to the number of resignations during other congressional sessions. Consider that in 2012, six members of the House resigned compared to six resignations this year (not counting Tiberi’s announcement or statements that members won’t seek reelection). Also, of the resignations this year, several people were appointed to positions in Trump’s administration, such as Mike Pompeo, Ryan Zinke, Mick Mulvaney and Tom Price (before resigning from that position this month). You can see the Context section for more statistics about House resignations.

 

Additionally, only some of the outlets include other potential motives for Tiberi’s resignation, such as financial reasons or a recent death in his family. (See Fact Comparison.) The Hill is the only outlet to mention that a representative makes $174,000 per year, while the position Tiberi will occupy had a salary of close to $700,000 in 2015. Still, it includes this after concluding there’s “growing frustration” in Washington, which could downplay the possibility that his motive was anything other than discontent with his party.

 

Written by Leah Mottishaw and Julia Berry López

 

Edited by Julia Berry López and Jens Erik Gould

 

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