In media, spin or dramatic language often does more than sensationalize the news — it promotes bias. In the coverage of California’s lawsuit against President Trump over the proposed border wall, we found Fox News used martial or war-like language in its report. This can deliver the news in a more emotionally charged way, and it can also suggest California’s lawsuits are part of a greater vendetta against Trump and the White House. Consider the following examples.
California suing Trump over border wall, escalating battle with White House
Becerra’s lawsuit, which targets planned projects in San Diego and Imperial counties, marks the latest shot in California’s legal and legislative war against Trump.
The state essentially has emerged as the heart of the Trump “resistance,” pumping out lawsuits against his immigration policies and even passing a resolution Friday in the Assembly censuring Trump for his comments on the violence stemming from white nationalist protests in Charlottesville, Va.
The spin and the potential World War II reference (“La Résistance”) dramatize the concepts of law and justice, which could make for more entertaining news. But the mechanisms also support the notion that the suits stem from a fight or tit-for-tat between the state and the presidency. Compare Fox News’ coverage to similar information from the two least distorted articles we analyzed.
California sues to block Trump’s border wall (Politico)
The cases are focused on halting the construction of wall prototypes in San Diego and the replacement of barriers there and in Calexico, California. (AP)
Becerra’s legal action is the latest in a series of lawsuits against the administration. He recently sued over Trump’s decision to halt a program that protects young immigrants from deportation. He also has battled with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over regulations. (AP)
Notice how there’s no spin in the above, even though the outlets are covering roughly the same information. By looking strictly at the data, it’s easy to see what Fox News added to it.
Fox News also writes that California has been “firmly against most Trump administration immigration policies.” While we can’t corroborate the “firmness” of the opposition, we can say the state has filed or joined suits against the travel ban, new grant conditions for “Sanctuary Jurisdictions,” and revoking DACA legislation, among others.
Considering the number of lawsuits and the statements some California officials have made publicly about the Trump administration, like Gov. Jerry Brown’s latest interview with CNN, it may be that there are other reasons for the suits (personal, political or otherwise) than the legal arguments the state has provided thus far. If that’s not true, and Fox News’ implication is false, it would misrepresent California’s governor, attorney general and lawmakers to the public. If Fox’s implication is true, and California lawmakers are “attacking” the White House rather than upholding due process, it still may not have any bearing as far as the law is concerned.
In other words, even if it we could definitively prove an ulterior motive behind the suits, it’s irrelevant because the justice system deals with rights, principles and precedents, not with personal vendettas or tit-for-tats (unless these infringe on rights). So by elevating this or other lawsuits to a “war,” instead of representing it as a matter of justice and examining the merits of the case, Fox News may misrepresent the parties involved, and the concepts of justice and law in and of themselves. At best, the spin is a distraction from the issues at hand.
Written by Tine Stausholm
Edited by Ivy Nevares and Jens Erik Gould
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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