Biases Within Media Sources

With the sheer scope of political controversy and polarization in the United States currently, the conflict of beliefs between the left and the right, which were already severe prior to these unprecedented times, have only been exacerbated. One such manifestation of this can be seen in the events surrounding the widely publicized 2020 presidential election, in which the Democratic party’s nominee, Joe Biden, obtained a plurality of the electoral college votes, making him the preemptive president-elect. This has resulted in substantial tension between the two primary parties and the respective news outlets associated with said parties with rampant accusations of voter fraud, corruption, and foul play. However, many do not realize the presence of subtle changes in bias between different journalists, even if they are affiliated with the same news publication. An example of this is demonstrated by The New York Times, a left-leaning publication, which published two articles regarding Trump’s administration--specifically, its lawyers--after the election.


One thing to note about these two articles are the headlines, arguably one of the most important aspects of a news article. The headline gives a brief and eye-catching summary to the reader, which helps to convince them that the article is worth reading, and usually tends to appeal to specific groups or audiences. Looking at these two headlines, a clear bias is apparent in each one. The first article, “Trump Campaign Lawyers Step Up but Are Swiftly Knocked” by Zach Montague and Alan Feuer, leans slightly left on the political spectrum. The word choice is deliberate in this headline, especially the phrase “swiftly knocked down,” heavily implying that Trump’s campaign lawyers are incompetent and easily beaten. Even the subtitle under the article highlights this position, stating that “Trump’s lawyers are racing to file lawsuits” and “forcing them into mistakes and uncomfortable court appearances”. This clearly gives the impression that they are quite hasty and unprepared.


However, the second article about this subject, which was also published on the same day, portrays through its headline a more neutral consideration of the events in question and, in stark contrast with the first article, does not immediately attach such a subjective evaluation of the news item. Without depicting Trump's campaign lawyers as potentially rash or unprovoked in their actions, the article headline illustrates a more mundane event in the current politically polarized landscape rather than one caused by the incompetence of particularly vocal Trump supporters. By suggesting that backlash against an unloyal conservative was immediate and unyielding throughout the ranks of the Republican party, the title even moderately praises the party, painting it as a consolidated force to be reckoned with. Although it nonetheless gives some credulence towards a concept of the Republican party as a personality cult around Trump, the article title certainly gives conservatives due credit for their unity and solidarity.


Of course, the headlines aren’t the only things that show the differences between these two news articles, as there are plenty of distinctions between the content of the articles themselves. In regards to the first article, it opens up with a paragraph stating, “…Their lawsuits challenging the outcome have repeatedly broken down because of defective filings, sloppy paperwork, dubious claims by witnesses and lawyers who have admitted in court that they were not alleging fraud. Here are some of the more embarrassing moments.” The paragraph definitely has a condescending tone towards President Trump and his campaign, using words and phrases like “chaotic”, “claiming without convincing proof”, “sloppy”, “dubious”, and “embarrassing.” This tone and word choice is maintained throughout the rest of the article, honing in on the faults of Trump’s campaign, which ultimately solidifies the beliefs of liberals, but draws conservatives away.


On the other hand, the other article, “Tucker Carlson Dared Question a Trump Lawyer. The Backlash Was Quick.” by Jeremy W. Peters, takes a neutral stance, but has liberal undertones, demonstrating a slight bias. This is understandable as The New York Times is a left-leaning news company, as stated previously. However, it is not as strongly anti-Republican as compared to the previous article. The article itself seems to be a bit of an attack on Trump and his supporters, claiming that Sidney Powell’s complaint was a “conspiracy theory” and that Trump’s supporters were “immediate, hostile, and reflexively defensive.” On the contrary, the article also makes note that the Republicans’ concerns were not entirely unreasonable. Unlike the previous article, which only focused on the Trump campaign’s defeats and “embarrassing moments,” this article does make a slight attempt to show the strengths of the right, such as the Republican Party’s unity against a common enemy. The tone of this article is not as critical compared to its counterpart, but rather makes an attempt to hide its bias through the somewhat right-leaning title and more neutral tone, possibly making the article slightly more appealing to right-leaning viewers while also maintaining its appeal to liberal audiences.


In short, despite these two articles coming from the exact same news source, the New York Times, and even covering similar topics about the Trump administration’s claims of voter fraud, there are definitely distinctions in terms of biases between these articles, whether in the headlines, author’s tone, or even word choice. However, these biases are not necessarily a negative thing, as they are what makes each piece of work stand out, telling its own story or perspective. Diversity is key to us as human beings, so even if we may share similarities and common beliefs, our differences are what makes us unique and enjoy a life a bit more.


Montague, Zach, and Alan Feuer. “Trump Campaign Lawyers Step Up but Are Swiftly Knocked Down.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 Nov. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/11/20/us/politics/trump-election-lawsuits.html.

Peters, Jeremy W. “Tucker Carlson Dared Question a Trump Lawyer. The Backlash Was Quick.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 Nov. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/11/20/us/politics/Tucker-Carlson-trump.html.

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