Escalations continue to rise between Trump and North Korea as the administration coordinates its response to “fire and fury” remarks. MSM readers may view this as a grave development leading closer to nuclear war, but Fox viewers may consider barely worth mentioning.
Donald Trump threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” two days ago and the fallout of those remarks is still heading news cycles. See our review of “What Happened” in the saga yesterday when he made those initial remarks and North Korea responded.
In the intervening 24 hours, North Korea has threatened to launch four missiles into international waters surrounding Guam. This is assumed to be a demonstration that they have the technological capacity to pinpoint targets 2,000 miles away.
The State Department also convened a press conference yesterday where they made the statement that “the world is in fact speaking with one voice.” This preceded the revelation that Donald Trump made the remarks without consulting Secretary of State Rex Tillerson or Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Most news organizations are featuring North Korea as their main headlining story today. All of them are devoting continued coverage to it. Let’s take a look at how the North Korea news is being presented first. Then we will look at the substance of the chief articles.
The New York Times has dedicated the most ink to North Korea. This is owed largely to having a news desk with the resources to report on multiple angles in multiple countries. They also have a slew of Op-Eds on the topic today. Aside from the Op-Eds, the Times is cramming five front page stories into the top of their web page today.
Primary: “Trump Aides Divided as North Korea Threatens War” More on this one in a minute.
“A Small Island in a Global War of Words” A look at Guam and how it became relevant amidst the warmongering.
“As Trump Unnerves Asia, China Sees an Opening in Region” A geopolitical look at how China can improve its leadership standing in the region.
“If U.S. Attacks North Korea First, Is That Self-Defense?” A legal analysis of striking first.
“When the U.S. Last Faced a Nuclear Threat in East Asia” A lookback on a tense political moment between the U.S. and China in the 1960s.
Now, part of the reason this is worth pointing out is because those who rely on the New York Times for their primary news are receiving more information on North Korea than those who go elsewhere. These five new stories are just from today. The front page was equally loaded yesterday.
Not only are readers receiving more news, but they are also receiving a wider view of the situation. Notice how there is a look at Guam, a look at China, a legal perspective, and a retrospective. This spans regions and time.
Now we can look at Fox. Fox has a tendency to embrace pugnacious rhetoric, even in news events that do not call for it. They are also supportive of Trump’s actions. So combining the flashiness of war drums with Trump personally leading the charge on this should make for prime news fodder, right?
Here is a look at their front page (2:00PM EST):
The first surprising thing to note is that Fox is barely covering it. I drew the bright red box in case you missed it. Instead we have news on Hillary Clinton with more Benghazi, a defense of Paul Manafort, a teacher sex story and a freak accident local news story.
A look at the videos on the sidebar shows clips that mostly feature their pundits hot takes on issues, which include North Korea today. But is a clip like “God gave Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-un” comparable to substantive reporting?
We will look at their news story, “N. Koreans rally for tyrant Kim as threat of war looms” in a second. But also note that there is a link to “Full coverage of the crisis over North Korea.” This link leads to a list of editorial pieces and blog posts. Fox News does not clearly delineate its Op-Eds like most news organizations, but click on any of them to see which TV pundit is sharing opinions more than new reporting.
So compared to the New York Times, the Fox visitor is presented with a very limited scope of information. Most of it is opinions. Just keep it in mind when thinking of how different people are approaching the same issue.
It is unclear why Fox is burying the North Korea news. One possibility: we saw yesterday a bipartisan response that advocated for sobriety and a tamping down of tensions. This was at odds with Trump’s escalatory rhetoric. Instead of attempting to continue defending Trump’s posture, Fox may have decided to let the story wash away for now considering the headwinds.
Now let’s look at the substance of the pieces presented. For the New York Times, we are examining the “Trump Aides Are Divided as North Korea Threatens War” piece because it is the piece that most closely addresses the main media narrative of events. Media sources are not really talking about Guam or 1960s China.
The tone and angle are determined in the lede:
BRIDGEWATER, N.J. – Senior American officials sent mixed signals on North Korea on Wednesday as President Trump’s “fire and fury” warning rattled allies and adversaries alike, a sign of his administration’s deep divisions as the outcast state once again threatened to wage nuclear war on the United States.
The president’s advisers calibrated his dire warning with statements that, if not directly contradictory, emphasized different points. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson stressed diplomacy and reassured Americans that they could “sleep well at night,” while Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said North Korea risked “the end of its regime and the destruction of its people” if it not “stand down.”
North Korea gave no indication it would do so…
And the piece goes on to recount the repartee between North Korea and U.S. officials yesterday.
The New York Times frames the news in terms of Trump administration discord. This builds upon the narrative that the Trump White House is chaotic. Accepting this narrative, the Times strains to retain impartiality with the statement that “advisers calibrated his dire warning with statements, that if not directly contradictory, emphasized different points.” More assured opponents of Trump would not even grant the leeway of saying “not directly contradictory” considering many advisers were surprised that Trump made those remarks.
So the New York Times, and subsequently many other news organizations, are crafting a narrative that displays an uncoordinated White House scrambling to fall in line after not being prepped for the war-like remarks. It also balances the administration talking points that we can all sleep well and, by the way, North Korea will be destroyed if they fall out of line. They do not address that many people find those two talking points to be contradictory.
The lead Fox story, “N. Koreans rally for tyrant Kim as threat of war looms” is a six paragraph post on a North Korea rally.
Tens of thousands of North Koreans gathered in Pyongyang square Wednesday to cheer on their country’s dictator, hailing Kim Jong Un’s fiery rhetoric and saluting the tinpot tyrant’s nuclear lust – even as it inches the impoverished nation toward an apocalyptic confrontation with the United States.
Fox is not attempting to provide context. They may have had difficulty defending Trump. But they can pivot and work to further develop North Korea as the enemy. The story makes passing reference to Trump’s “fire and fury” remarks.
Fox uses sensational verbiage to prod an emotional conveyance in its reporting. Look at the charged language: “Tens of thousands”…”fiery rhetoric”…”tyrant’s nuclear lust”…and “apocalyptic confrontation.” The language continues throughout the piece. The purpose is to stir the reader and characterize the bad guy in this scenario – Kim Jong Un.
Now consider how the New York Times reader is thinking about North Korea. They probably think it is pretty important considering how much attention the issue is receiving. They also have a wider breadth of understanding of the players: it’s not just Trump and North Korea – it’s Guam, South Korea, the rest of the U.S., China, Russia, Japan, etc.
More than that, the Times reader is receiving the news with a neutral tone. A tone that values sobriety in nuclear matters. There is a lot to consider and it worth considering thoroughly before making threats or painting the U.S. into a corner.
Contrast with the Fox reader, who might believe that all of the North Korea stuff literally was yesterday’s news. Today is Benghazi. So to them, North Korea is not as big of a deal as one is making it out to be. Trump said some things and people got upset but now its past.
There is also no sense of chaos in the White House. It is a straightforward matter between the U.S. and North Korea. North Korea is led by a “tyrant” with “nuclear lust.” So those are the factors to weigh.
1. Who benefits from Trump’s threat of “fire and fury”?
The administration took a day to collect itself and figure out how to respond. One would think more internal coordination before that statement would have benefitted the administration’s defense. But the real issue is that the statement only works if Kim Jong Un backs down because of the threat. Instead, he threatened to launch four missiles toward Guam.
On the other hand, Trump supporters now have more evidence that the president is a tough, swaggering leader. In this thread, the consequences do not matter. Trump got tough and that makes people feel protected.
2. Is this really newsworthy?
If you think it is, try to figure out how you can convey that to a Fox viewer who is not hearing too much about it. If you think it is not newsworthy, try figuring out how you can convey that to someone who thinks we are a step closer to nuclear war.
One way to go about this is about articulating who is at risk here. Is it millions of people or is it just the North Korea regime? And what is the benefit of brinksmanship?
3. What can we do about it?
Call Congress today. Let them know what you think. If you want them to move onto other issues, tell them. If you are frightened, tell them.
Here is a quick guide to help you make the call.