Understanding a little more about recent coverage of Korean-U.S. relations through adjective use

Yesterday, U.S. President Trump pulled out of a "highly-anticipated" summit meeting with North Korea's Kim-Jung Un. Given the freshness of this story, it'll take some time collect enough articles to do an anlaysis of this specific incident. But, in the meantime, some interesting results from my analysis of Korean-U.S. relations in American news below.

(Data cleaned and analyzed using R tidytext, quanteda, and OpenNLP. Graphs produced by ggplot2 or MediaCloud.)

Count of articles using the words "Trump" and "North Korea" in top American news media (digital + traditional). Results gathered using MediaCloud archive.

Count of articles using the words "Trump" and "North Korea" in top American news media (digital + traditional). Results gathered using MediaCloud archive.

As we can see above, the majority of the coverage appeared to be between May 7 (when North Korea claimed to have demolished a nuclear test site) and May 21. Using those two weeks as my window, I pulled all articles referencing "Trump" and "North Korea" from four news outlets: CNN (n =96), Fox (n = 114), the New York Times (n = 89) and the Washington Post (208), a total of 507 news stories.

I tagged all the words in the news stories for their part of speech using OpenNLP. I then pulled out all the adjectives, removed duplicates, and screened them for accuracy (OpenNLP has an above 90% accuracy, but the human eye is critical to ensuring quality results). I finally looked at the use of these adjectives in relation to specific actors/parties (mainly North Korea, South Korea, and the United States). Given the effect of political personalization, I consider both the country name and the name of the leader (e.g., "North Korea" OR "Moon Jae-In" OR "President Moon" OR "Moon Jae In") as keywords. I retained the adjective if it appeared within three words of the NK, SK, or US keywords.

Raw counts are presented below (keep in mind the corpus is not perfectly balanced... also, sorry I was too lazy to reorder the charts XD Just so tired and wanted to practice some code):

Most commonly used adjectives related to Trump/U.S.


Most commonly used adjectives related to Kim Jung-Un and North Korea


Most commonly used adjectives related to President Moon and South Korea

New UW Study on Russian Twitter Trolls in U.S. Media

This past week, my research team published a study on news media's use of tweets written by Russia's Internet Research Agency (a copy of the study can be found here).

We also wrote a parallel article with Columbia Journalism Review.

Importantly, we show that Russian tweets conveying stereotypical partisan beliefs were picked up by a variety of mainstream and partisan news outlets. We are particularly critical of news stories that use "strings of tweet" to represent the vox populi (voice of the people). Unlike the more traditional "man on the street" interviews, tweets used in news stories (particularly online ones) are difficult to verify.

However, as shown by the (admittedly shallow) penetration of IRA tweets, it is still important for journalists to verify these Twitter users to the best of their ability. Journalists can do so by corresponding outside of the tweet-o-sphere (e.g., email), trying to look up the user's name on a search engine, or by looking at that user's past social media history.

Digital, partisan news outlets were particularly susceptible to embedded these IRA tweets. Liberal and conservative organizations both used tweets to convey cheap talk (discourse that supports their position or criticizes their opponents'). If the goal of Russian disinformation in the United States was to increase doubt in the news media system and increase polarization in the civil sphere, the amplification of these messages through partisan outlets represent some measure of success.


Why does this matter? Aside from natural concerns about deceptive foreign practices to our public sphere, the appearance of these messages across a broad range of news organizations  (bost partisan and traditional, liberal and conservative) shows how little tweets were checked. It highlights a greater problem: our willingness to promote partisan messages to prove a political point, even if they have little to no journalistic value and are not verified. 

Foreign Diplomacy and Policy

Frankly, I do not know why people are so surprised by Trump's recent "shithole" remark

For those who are unfamiliar, President Trump recently expressed frustration that immigrants were more likey to come from "shithole" countries like Haiti and "Africa" (presumably, countries within the continent Africa), rather than countries like "Norway." Washington Post broke the story.

However, this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. President Trump's generally negative perception of countries in the Global South (as it was meant to represent), and of diplomacy in general, is well documented (here, here, and here). His "foreign policy" is guided by his campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again," focusing only on policies which should benefit the United States. Coupling his hatred of immigrants and those from developing world (i.e., "shithole" countries), it is no wonder that he prefers immigrants from the "Democratic North."

But one word, or indeed one statement, does not a foreign policy make. It is only the discursive part of a much larger, and more important change in U.S. foreign policy. In 2017, we have seen a drastic decline in foreign aid-- a result of Trump's "America first" campaign. His upheavals of U.S. foreign policy appear unplanned and surprising, even to the Defense or State Department. 

This "America first" campaign does not necessarily mean an isolationist strategy, but rather a campaign dominated by U.S. preeminence, rather than U.S. sympathy. This is manifest destiny in its ugly, modern form. Devoid of ethics, human decency, and true American values. President Trump saying "shithead countries" is not just an example, but a consequence of his overall foreign policy strategy, which has far more tangible effects than a statement said in an intra-state meeting. Charity, to Trump, is for "suckers," and thus, minor things like "human rights" are soundly disregarded.

For example, consider the Trump Administration's recent push for easing export rules regarding U.S. guns sold overseas (broken by Reuters, reported by many others). This is meant to make U.S. weaponry more competitive against those developed by other countries. The U.S. is already a leading provider of weapons exports, 80% of which go to developing countries

The underlying rationale for these eased regulations is a classic Republican goal: to increase jobs in the United States (nevermind that full unemployment is still not 0% unemployment). This includes sales to "shithole" countries like Nigeria, to fight Boko Haram, countries of interest like Saudi Arabia, and allies like Taiwan. In fact, arms sales appear to be the primary strategy of President Trump's foreign policy. After all, no one wants to go up against the person (or country) who sells them their weapons.

But it is important to keep in mind the greater cost of these short-sighted policies. In focusing on arms sales and depending on increasing conflict to boost the U.S. economy, President Trump's foreign policy also paves the way for alternative state leaders to usurp the United States' status as the global hegemon. In particular, China has found Trump's foreign policy to be an open door of opportunity. Such consequences can impact the United States longer than Trump's term in office. 

In other words: Trump's "shithead" comment is not surprising, and is indeed consistent, with his arms-heavy, hard-power heavy brute-force foreign policy strategy. Regardless of whether the United States comes out first or not, it doesn't matter so long as we think the U.S. should.