Bias on Both Sides This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

May 13, 2013
By , New York, NY
The choice of words used by the media can be crucial in creating a specific message to subtly (or not so subtly) project to viewers. Even though different news sources report on the same topics, they each put their own spin on the issue by wording their articles differently based upon that medium’s bias. Although it is usually not very evident, the media uses words with very specific meanings to shape our viewpoints without ever letting us see the other side of the argument. To show how word choice shapes the message conveyed by different news sources, I looked at two very different newspapers that talk about the same topic but from very different viewpoints.

The issue that both newspapers are covering is the fallout resulting from an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report stating that there is substantial evidence to believe Iran is developing nuclear weapons. If this statement were proven to be true, it would be a violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as well as a significant blow to Iran’s international relations. Currently, many powerful United Nations member states such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and France are considering levying stronger sanctions against Iran. Russia and China, two other powerful nations possessing nuclear weapons and the capabilities to deliver them, are currently not in support of the sanctions. In recent years, the Iranian government has denied the allegations and affirmed their stance that they are the victims of American lies and Western imperialism.

The first newspaper reporting about this story is the New York Times. The Times is the third most read newspaper in America, following the Wall Street Journal and USA Today. The Times is one of the most respected and established newspapers in all of journalism. They hold the record for more Pulitzer Prizes than any other newspaper. The Times in located in, of course, New York City and therefore supports American interests. It is popularly accepted that the New York Times has a slight liberal bias.

The second newspaper is the Tehran Times, Iran’s leading English language newspaper. This newspaper has a pro-government bias and supports Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Times was founded in 1979, the same year as the Iranian Revolution and the exile of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and was created to be the voice of the revolutionaries. Ever since the revolution, Iran’s relations with the United States have become strained and Iran no longer recognizes Israel as a sovereign state, but rather an illegitimate “apartheid.”

The New York Times’ headline says “Iran Escalates Anti-U.S. Rhetoric Over Nuclear Report.” On the other hand, the Tehran Times’ headline was “IAEA report unbalanced, politically motivated: Iran envoy”. It is easy to see that the New York Times’ headline seems a little sensationalist. It uses the verb “escalate” which Oxford defines as to “increase rapidly” or to “make or become more intense or serious.” This word has a connotation associated with wars and is now used primarily in this context. We hear about the escalation of troops in Afghanistan or the escalation of violent protests in Greece but the word doesn’t really seem appropriate when talking about rhetoric. It’s not like Iran is militarizing rhetoric. Some synonyms for this word include “hot air”, “rant” or “balderdash.” The Tehran Times’ headline pales in comparison. It does not seem really all that sensational but it does have a statement attributed to an Iranian ambassador, which is solely an opinion. It looks like this one tries to make the IAEA out to be an aggressor and play the victim by saying that they were politically motivated to create an “unbalanced” report that would hurt Iran.

Moving into the actual articles, there is much more opinionated content. The New York Times refers to the report as being “incriminating” and they took the liberty of translating the Farsi statements of the Iranian government and then paraphrased it saying, “They denounced its chief author as a Washington stooge and vowed that their country would not be bullied into abandoning its nuclear program.” I’m pretty certain that the Iranian officials didn’t actually call the chief author a “Washington stooge.” Even though there’s really no certainty when with dealing different languages, that is a very specific, improbable and fairly unprofessional term to use. The New York Times also calls the Iranian statements a “verbal assault” led by President Ahmadinejad. They also suggested that the Iranians were “worried” by the prospect that they might face sanctions. The Tehran Times article also include some ad hominem attacks as well. It describes the IAEA as not being reliable and being “discredited” by United States involvement. The Tehran Times article contains far more quotes than the American article, but many of these quotes are from unreliable sources. One of the people quoted several times is Ahmadinejad himself, who is also the man who denies the Holocaust and frequently makes outrageous and unsupported claims. If a news article is going to take somebody’s word, it should be someone who is trustworthy. Another source quoted is an Iranian ambassador, who may not be reliable since he is affiliated with the Iranian government and therefore is biased in their favor.

The most interesting thing about the Tehran Times article is not the information in the article but instead the information that isn’t in the article. While this article may seem to be more objective on the surface, the article’s vagueness and brevity shows its heavy bias. The article does not contain all that much information about the actual claims, but instead continually dismisses the statements as being “old claims” and that the United States’ claims are “unfounded” and refers to evidence attached to the report as being an “unusual 13-page annex.”

From the example of using two very different newspapers to examine the same issue, only one thing is clear. People cannot rely on only one source for news. What is very interesting is that these two articles show their biases in opposite ways. The New York Times article’s word choice is its most glaring instance of bias while the Tehran Times’ lack of substance and real information on the matter in question is what reveals its bias. Each news source tailors the story to appease consumers and give them what they want. A newspaper is not necessarily always honest, but people will take their word for the truth simply because we expect the news to be fair and objective, even if that is never the case.

Post a Comment

Be the first to comment on this article!

Site Feedback