To what extent do The New York Times and The Guardian use bias to influence its readers on The Trump Administration Family Separation Policy?
Nowadays, News is increasingly and ironically omitting the actual news. Since the publishers have relatively easy means of control, they dictate, and disseminate news to promote certain events. In this regard, it is essential for us to determine what is biased and what is not in the information we receive. I believe reading only one newspaper article places us in a bubble where, we only learn about what editors of one publication choose to report and get carried away with the bias involved in it . Even though it is impossible to avoid bias in media, it is still possible for us to find out which part of information is biased and which is not through analysing the information received, or by comparing it with other sources of information. This leads me to my research question – To what extent do The New York Times and The Guardian use bias to influence its readers on The Trump Administration Family Separation Policy?
Although the newspapers – The New York Times & The Guardian are well established and trustworthy, there is sometimes bias involved in these newspaper articles as well. In this essay, I will focus on the textual bias adapted by the two sources mentioned above by doing a thorough comparative analysis of both the texts. This will be achieved by referring to similar context articles, that is, articles on Trump Administration Family Separation Policy, widely referred to as ‘Zero Tolerance Policy’ published through The New York Times and The Guardian. Through this analysis I will know how I am being persuaded into believing things which are not true and be a discerning reader. In order to achieve this, we need to know what bias means. ‘Bias is the inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair’.
The articles primarily deliver information about the Trump Organisation Family partition arrangement portrayed by the Trump Administration as part of its ‘Zero Tolerance Policy’, was a part of U.S. President Donald Trump’s movement strategy. Under this zero tolerance policy, government experts isolated children from their parents, relatives, or other adults who accompanied them while crossing the U.S. – Mexico border. The policy was to prosecute all adults arrested in the U.S. – Mexico border, and sending the guardians to government prisons, and setting children and newborns under the supervision of the U.S. Division of Health and Human Services.
Table – Comparison of basic information of news articles published in The New York Times and The Guardian
News – Migrant families being separated at the U.S border[image: ]
The New York Times – Published on June 16, 2018
The Guardian – Published on June 18, 2018
The New York Times dedicated the maximum number of paragraphs – 42 (forty two), to this news story while The Guardian covered it in 21 (twenty one) paragraphs. The New York Times carried four pictures to support its story while The Guardian used only one picture. The New York Times has had the maximum word count of about 2040 words were as The Guardian only had 830 words.
The news story was contributed mainly by the staff members of each of the two newspapers Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael D.Shear for The New York Times, and Amanda Holpuch and Lauren Gambino for The Guardian. With respect to the pictures The New York Times obtained these from John Moore, Tom Brenner and Jennifer Whitney, while The Guardian only obtained one picture from Leila Macor.
The analysis I have made below shows that both the newspapers gave almost equal importance to this news story. However, The Guardian delivered most of the information in fewer paragraphs, pictures, and words when compared to The New York Times.
On the 16th of June 2018, Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael D.Shear wrote an article titled ‘How Trump came to Enforce a Practice of Separating Migrant Families’
The New York Times delivers news in the form of short paragraphs contributing to an insightful reading and not missing out on important points. In general, The introductory lines of an article play a prominent role in shaping the readers thoughts. In this specific article, The first few lines give away most important information that is ‘Trump discouraging immigrants from unlawfully entering the united states’. This allows the reader to have a comprehensive understanding of the article and creates intrigue thus motivating the reader to read further. Although there is no lead for this news article, most of the paragraphs contain answers to so-called ‘five W’s and an H’ – Who, What, When, Where, Why and How allowing the readers to experience as many perspectives as possible.
The use of morphological features (ink verbs, auxiliaries, pronouns) and compositional features (carefully selected vocabulary, variety of topics and a wide use of quotations) throughout this news article influences the way readers process the news story. The New York Times narrows down the topic by breaking it down into categories where it delivers a general information – Why Family Separation Policy?/Why Zero Tolerance Policy? – at the top of the article and later slowly focusing on opposing this policy. This has been put in (successive) paragraphs where they are stepped down every paragraph until the article focuses on opposing this Family Separation Policy. Therefore Many verbal reactions of different famous people such as ‘disgraceful’ from the evangelical supporter Franklin Graham, ‘This is not a zero tolerance policy, this is a zero humanity policy, and we can’t let it go on; Ripping children out of their parents arms to inflict harm on the child to influence the parents is unacceptable’ from Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon and ‘I was pissed, and still am; I thought that he had a shocking disregard for due process’ from Ben Johnson, the executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association etc. and a few more verbal reactions were put up in order to let the readers know what a lot of people are feeling about this policy. This not only informs the readers about other people’s feelings but also persuades them to oppose this policy as Trump administration and this policy are portrayed negatively by using many verbal reactions recursively throughout the article. This article is mostly biased since the writer doesn’t focus on the main motto of this Trump administration Family Separation Policy (Why Trump Administration Family Separation Policy? – To stop immigrants from illegally entering the country and prevent terrorists from entering the country) but rather comments on How this policy is taking place (how they are separating children from their parents / guardians who have accompanied them while crossing the border). Constantly portraying Trump negatively in all the ways possible throughout the article might make the reader conclude that his policy is negative and serve the purpose of this article – Persuading the targeted audience who are mainly U.S. & Mexico citizens since they are in the action field to oppose this policy.
Where-as The Guardian published its article on the 18th of June 2018. Amanda Holpuch and Lauren Gambino wrote titled this article ‘why are families being separated at the U.S border?’
In comparison to the New York Times, The Guardian has used a question and answer format to effectively deliver its information to the audience. The writers used syntactical features like elliptical constructions and interrogative sub-headings to serve the main purpose of this news article – Informing the readers about the Trump Administration Family Separation Policy. Interrogative sub-headings such as ‘Why are children being separated from their families?’, ‘What happens to the children?’, ‘Will the Trump administration change its policy?’ etc and a few more like these are helping the writers frame their paragraphs in such a way where they provide a detailed – to the point – information to the reader. Moreover, The complexity of sentences used in this article too was simple and concise, helping it deliver as much information as possible and making it a lot easier for the readers to skim through and understand.
The writers of The Guardian might have followed the ‘Inverted Pyramid’ structure, as the lead of this news article begins the story with an eye-catching tale rather than just stating the central facts. The lead – ‘The Trump administration’s ‘zero-tolerance’ policy has led to almost 2000 children being separated from their families’ mainly consists of who, what and possibly when this even happened, while the other paragraphs / answers to the questions refer to what, where, why and how. This in turn hooks the reader’s attention and encourages them to read further to know more about the situation.
‘In April, the US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, announced a “zero-tolerance” policy, stating “our goal is to prosecute every case that is brought to us”. Under the Trump administration’s new enforcement policy, every migrant who crosses the border illegally – even those seeking asylum in the US – is subject to criminal prosecution.’
The introduction here plays a crucial role as it sets the tone for the following story. The writers have specifically involved what the US attorney general, Jeff Sessions had said about the zero tolerance policy in the very beginning of the introduction to engage the readers instantly. The statement ‘Every migrant who illegally crosses the border is subject to criminal prosecution’ basically provides the reader with a gist of what this whole story is about. Therefore, even if the readers leave the story at any point, they would still seem to understand the main idea of this news story despite not having all the details of the story. The introductory paragraph and the lead statement go hand in hand delivering the most important information and enticing the readers into committing to the story. The rest of the paragraphs were also given equal importance as the opening paragraph. After the introduction the writers are amplifying the story, adding new information, providing a detailed explanation to the readers about the policy. This helps in making the story smooth and seamless.
Moreover, The writers here seem to use active tense in the news writing, particularly in the introduction. Sentences like ‘Jeff Sessions announced’, ‘Migrants who cross the border illegally are subject to criminal prosecution’ etc. and a few more make it a lot faster and immediate for the reader to read. Since it is the most straightforward way to present the story, it helps create a clear image in the reader’s mind of who is doing what. This makes the news article much easier to understand.
The headline is the first thing that a person reads in the news article. The task of headline and lead in any prototypical news story is to give the most central, essential and relevant information of the story. Although there is no lead in The New York Times, the headline ‘How Trump Came to Enforce a Practice of Separating Migrant Families’ conveys as much information as the lead, providing the reader a gist of what trump was doing, expressing the very core of the important information ‘Separation of Migrant Families’. Due to this articles summary like nature and its position as the initial elements in the news article, the headline orients the story in a specific direction, basically providing a super-summary of the news article and making it much easier for the reader to understand just while they look at the headline. The writers of The New York Times also seem to use longer sentences that play on the topicality of the issue to attract the readers.
Although the writer uses a relatively short headline making it easier for the readers to quickly skim through, it still is long enough for them to be able to understand the facts of this news article. Moreover, since this topic is of a temporal context, it helps in arousing the readers interest and makes them want to read the entire article. However, the headline of this news article is equated with the text, when it should rather be viewed as one possible explanation. This sort of tends to reflect the writer’s perspective making the headline biased.
In addition the headline of the news article and context, history, and instances of previous events are included to convey the background information relating to the main news story.
‘Under a 1997 consent decree known as the Flores settlement, unaccompanied children could be held in immigration detention for only a short period of time; in 2016, a federal judge ruled that the settlement applied to families as well, effectively requiring that they be released within 20 days. Many were released — some with GPS ankle bracelets to track their movements — and asked to return for a court date sometime in the future.’
‘It was Mr. Bush, who had firsthand experience with the border as governor of Texas and ran for president as a “compassionate conservative,” who initiated the “zero tolerance” approach for illegal immigration on which Mr. Trump’s policy is modelled.’
‘Mr. Obama’s administration employed the program at the height of the migration crisis as well, although it generally did not treat first-time border crossers as priorities for prosecution, and it detained families together in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody — administrative, rather than criminal, detention.’
The following instances like these which are alluding to many famous persons upon the acts (policies) they have carried out in the recent years, are portraying Trump’s policy to be the worst and most cruel among all of them. President Donald Trump’s policy was to separate children from their families or anyone who accompanied them when crossing the U.S – Mexico border and detain them under the act of criminal detention. This has happened for almost about 2 months where the parents / Guardians were held in federal jail while their children were placed in the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). George Bush and Barack Obama (the 43rd and 44th President of United states respectively) on the other hand, have also followed a similar type ‘Zero Tolerance Policy’. But they detained the families TOGETHER under the Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody administrative. Bush has also released the families within 20 days of time with a few GPS ankle bracelets to track their movements. The writer has specifically made a comparison between President Trump’s policy and Obama’s policy & Bush’s policy to effectively show how Trump has taken ‘Zero Tolerance Policy’ to the next level where he was separating children from their families to influence the parents to not illegally cross the border again. This doesn’t only inform the readers about how Barack Obama and George Bush have dealt with this sort of situation but also helps in persuading the readers to go against President Trump and oppose his policy of separating the children from their families.
The headline – ‘why are families being separated at the US border?’ and the lead – ‘The Trump administrations Zero – Tolerance policy has led to almost 2000 children being separated from their families’ of the Guardian however, summarise the most important and relevant information of the story. Although the headline here is shorter of the two (headline and lead statement) not conveying as much information as the lead, it acts as an abstract of the abstract in the form of a question to hook the reader’s attention in their first glance at the article. The information in the headline ‘families being separated at the U.S. border’ is contained in the lead statement as well to reinforce main idea of this article – Informing the readers about ‘Trump Administration Family Separation Policy’. In addition to this, the lead statement also includes other central pieces of information besides the absolute most important information. The number of children – ‘2000 children being separated from their families’ is included in the lead to strengthen the idea and maintain the readers attention until the end of the article. Hence, the lead in this article focuses the story in a particular direction. It forms the lens through which the remainder of the story is viewed, while the headline summarises and focuses the story indirectly even more.
As stated earlier, The Guardian followed an Inverted-Pyramid style where most important information of the news story is delivered in the beginning. Hence, the lead in this article focuses the story in a particular direction by formulating the most important points of the story. This functions as a kind of summary of the news story.
The function of any news article’s language is to inform and entertain people to present them with a particular ideology and interpretation of events. The lexical and semantic choices of news used in The New York Times and The Guardian have certain characteristics of their own.
The writers of The New York Times article use long and complex sentences which act as an expressive means to hook the readers’ attention and make them understand better about the issue being described. In addition to the complicated sentences and expressions in line with the formal nature of this news article, the writers also use vague and exaggerated expressions in a few particular paragraphs that portray Trump to be a negative character.
‘Inside the Trump administration, current and former officials say, there is considerable unease about the policy, which is regarded by some charged with carrying it out as unfeasible in practice and questionable morally. Kirstjen Nielsen, the current homeland security secretary, has clashed privately with Mr. Trump over the practice, sometimes inviting furious lectures from the president that have pushed her to the brink of resignation.’
Here, the writers tend to use ‘inviting furious lectures’, an hyperbolic expression, while informing about the argument that Mr. Trump and Ms. Kristjen Nielsen have when discussing about the family separation policy. President Trump was portrayed as a bad person when Kristjen was on the verge of resigning her job.
The Guardian however, uses a relatively formal and impersonal language throughout the article. Unlike The New York Times, An objective tone is achieved here through the use of impersonal language. In addition to the complex sentences and exaggerated expressions used in The New York Times, the news stories are delivered in the past tense which in general have a reflective nature, thus giving a greater strength to their claims and content except for the headlines, which is in the present tense, that is, as an effective way to show immediacy. Throughout this article, the writers use more of an active voice than a passive voice, making the article a faster-paced narrative and as persuasive as possible, engaging the readers in it.
There is also an effective use of the pictures to back up its claims which have been stated in the article. For instance,
‘But advocates inside the administration, most prominently Stephen Miller, Mr. Trump’s senior policy adviser, never gave up on the idea. Last month, facing a sharp uptick in illegal border crossings, Mr. Trump ordered a new effort to criminally prosecute anyone who crossed the border unlawfully — with few exceptions for parents traveling with their minor children.’
The above paragraph has later been backed up by this picture where, Stephen Miller, an immigrant hard-liner who is president Trump’s senior policy advisor has expressed no misgivings about the new policy. Since the entire article states the writers opinion and many others verbal reactions that[image: ] are mostly against Trump and his policy, the readers might get carried away with the article and might assume anyone who is in support of this policy of separating children from their families are negative/bad characters. Therefore, it is not only Trump, but also his advisors like Stephen Miller, and others who support Trump are portrayed negatively to the readers.
The writers of the Guardian on the other hand, use inverted declarative sentence structure in the article. For instance,
‘In the shelters, children are offered toys and books. But Colleen Kraft, the president, American Academy of Pediatrics, who toured a shelter in a border town in Texas, described children in distress.’.
The writers over here instead of stating ‘Coleen Kraft, the president of American Academy of Paediatrics described the children in distress when she toured a shelter in a border town in Texas’, says that ‘Colleen Kraft, the president, American Academy of Pediatrics, who toured a shelter in a border town in Texas, described children in distress.’. Here the inverted sentences are simply a reverse of the word order without losing its meaning. As it can be seen, the words in these sentences are not disordered randomly but instead the subject is switched with another sentence part. This in turn stalls the readers attention as it would be more difficult for the reader to understand the word order and make them think about the message conveyed.
Overall, the language used by the writers in The New York Times article may be said to be a political discourse which has its own style and vocabulary while The Guardian may be said to be a neutral news article as there is no involvement of the (writers perspective) / (writers comments) anywhere in it.