If you mention DACA or the issue of illegal immigration to a group of Americans, you’ll likely get some strong and oppositional responses. It’s a polarizing topic, but that doesn’t mean that news coverage needs to be, too. Rather, having more neutral and balanced reporting will give us a more complete view of the issues at play and could help us understand other people’s perspectives.
This week’s coverage of the DOJ decision to appeal the DACA ruling was relatively more balanced and neutral than some of the other coverage on immigration issues we’ve analyzed (such as the Trump administration’s DACA repeal in September).
The coverage doesn’t have a lot of sweeping generalizations, sensational language or opinions stated as fact. Yet there are still some distortions, including slant, or bias. Looking at the sources the outlets quote — or don’t — we can see that some favor the position of the Trump administration, some oppose the administration, and some offer a relatively balanced portrayal of the appeal.
Let’s start with the most balanced:
CNN – A more balanced articleCNN received the best score for balance of the four articles, a 22 percent total slant rating. (It rated at 78 percent balanced; you can see the breakdown on the technical sheet.) The slant rating in part measures how many viewpoints are presented, and CNN’s score reflects that.
For instance, the article quotes both Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ reasons for appealing the ruling, and portions of Judge Alsup’s original ruling that favors keeping DACA in place. By including both of these perspectives, CNN gives a more complete picture of the main news.
That’s in contrast to…
Fox News – Only one side of the storyFox News includes quotes from the Trump administration, both from Sessions and the president himself, but not from any other voices. For instance, the outlet quotes the president tweeting (after the court ruled against his administration) that the court system is “broken” and “unfair.”
By not including any perspectives that either support DACA or give reasons for the court’s ruling, Fox News may promote a bias in favor of the administration’s decision and against the DACA ruling. The outlet’s slant rating was 39 percent — more slanted than CNN’s article.
Politico – One-sided expert opinionsPolitico earned the highest slant rating of the four outlets at 43 percent. More than the other outlets, Politico favors a single viewpoint. (In this case, that the administration’s decision to appeal the ruling is harmful and politically motivated.)
It does cite Sessions and the judge, but then brings in an expert opinion that’s not directly related to the main news. The opinion is also sensational and disparaging; Mark Rosenbaum of pro-bono law firm Public Counsel is quoted saying the administration is “using” the “young” DACA recipients “as bargaining chips.” This perspective may provide value and insight, yet it is subjective in nature. Politico doesn’t provide other expert opinions or alternate theories of what’s going on, which might have helped readers evaluate the issue.
Even when reporters aren’t directly sensationalizing the news, we can look at the sources they include or exclude. What views are explored? And which ones are downplayed? Understanding this can help readers build awareness of media bias.
Jens Erik Gould
Jens is a political, business and entertainment writer and editor who has reported from a dozen countries for media outlets including The New York Times, National Public Radio and Bloomberg News