Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Debt Deal

I chose to compare articles about the recent debt deal signed by Obama. This seemed to be the perfect topic to use in order to search for biases in media coverage, since the debate over the debt ceiling was so politically contentious. For each source, I focused on the initial article to report the signing of the deal by Obama. I browsed other articles on the topic as well, since it was such a highly talked about issue there were many, and I wanted to get a good idea of what each source had to say about it. Finding related articles was very easy to do since I was using the internet as my medium. All I needed to do was type in “debt deal” in the search bar, or look on the side to see the recommended related articles.

The article in The New York Times was titled “Debt Bill is Signed, Ending a Fractious Battle” [1]. The article was not too lengthy but it did go into a few details about the debate. As the title suggests, the article focused primarily on the struggle between the Democrats and Republicans in the forming of this bill, rather than the actual content of the bill. There were a few jabs at republican, mostly painting them in a stubborn light, that could indicate a liberal bias. At one point, the article says that Republicans have gotten the upper hand in the debate because of “their unwillingness to sacrifice ground even when their stance threatens both the government’s ability to operate and pay its debts, and their own prospects for retaining their jobs”. They even end the article saying how republicans are willing to “bring the entire temple down”. The Times makes sure to point out that the Republicans are willing to put the nation’s economy at risk just to get their own way. Overall, the article was largely political, focusing on the fight between two sides rather than what the bill contained and what will happen now that it is signed. To its credit, The New York Times had a link to a chart on the side that outlined what the bill being passed into law meant, giving us a more in depth understanding than the initial article [2].

The article in USA Today was titled “Debt law signed, attention turned to jobs” [3]. This article was shorter and less detailed The New York Times’ one. It did not seem to have much of a slant in either direction, rather it stated facts in short snippets without going into too much political analysis. When they did mention the political parties, the article pointed out that both have a political agenda, instead of focusing on the agenda of one: “No matter how much of either party’s agenda gets passed before the 2012 elections, they each hope the debate improves their chances of re-election". Rather than focusing on the bill, or the politics of it, USA Today discussed what the agenda of the government will be now: jobs. It then discussed particular things – such as unemployment benefit extension and free trade agreements with certain countries – being worked on by Obama in pursuit of this “creating jobs” goal. Overall the article seemed to be mostly objective.

The article in BBC, “US avoids default as Obama signs debt bill into law” [4],was less lengthy than The New York Times’ article, but more detailed than the USA Today article. This articledidn't seem biased towards any political view at all. It focused slightly more on the economics of the bill, providing charts illustrating the level of US debt as and the debt ceiling. It did devote a few paragraphs to the politics of the debate, but the BBC did not seem to lean towards either side saying things like “The compromise package deeply angered both right-wing Republicans and left-wing Democrats”. While USA Today and The New York Times quoted mostly congress and senate members, BBC quoted economists. The article seemed overall quite unbiased, even its tone seemed indifferent towards the issue.

I then turned to Fox News, curious to see if I would discover an obvious conservative bias in the article “Debt-Limit Deal is Done, US averts Default” [5]. To my surprise, the article was not as slanted as I expected. It simply gave a quick run through of most aspects of the deal. It mentioned what the deal entailed (an increase of the debt limit by $2.4 trillion and $917 billion of specific cuts) as well as mentioning that the debate was quite polarized calling it a “months-long game of political chicken”. However, the article seemed to evade mentioning the stubbornness of the Republicans during the debate, instead making it seem as if each party was equally stubborn. There were other articles on the site as well that showed more of a slant. One in particular hinted that Obama’s attempt to create jobs was an empty promise, saying “President Obama emerged from the partisan rubble vowing – as he has many times since taking office – to devote his energy to jobs” [6]. It takes a few more jabs like that, being sure to drive in the thought that Obama will fail at creating jobs. Overall, at first glance the article did not seem too biased, but it did not painted a better picture of Republicans than other articles did.

For my last article, I decided to turn to a source that I’ve never used before: The Economist. In this article, “America has avoided default, but political dysfunction is threatening its chances of recovery” [7] was by far the most lengthy and detailed of the five. I quite enjoyed this article, because it pointed out the faults of both parties in the disagreement with statements like “The willingness of one party to sue the threat of default, if not on government bonds then on other federal obligations such as pensions and pay-cheques, marked a dangerous escalation in the partisan rancor that has come to bedevil policymaking". However, the article did not say much about the actual content of the bill, rather it focused on the poltics, just as The New York Time.

In the end, most articles focused on the politics on the bill, with the exception of USA Today and BBC. The New York Times seemed to have a slight liberal slant, pointing out only Republican faults while Fox had ignored them. The other articles were quite objective, and The Economist pointed out the faults of both parties. Overall I am pleased to have actively searched for bias in these articles. I had never before thought that The New York Times had much of a biased until I actively looked for one. I feel as if my media literacy has grown as an outcome of this assignment.









  1. NY Times is said to have many biases. However, i find it contradictory that they can have a reputation for being anti-Semitic and liberal at the same time. Why is it that most people look to the NY Times as a credible news source when out of the five papers you read it seemed to be the most biased? On the other hand I also feel by Fox News purposely evading the stubbornness on side of the republicans is in and of itself biased. Is the only way to get a objective story these days to read five different news sources?!

  2. Once the debt bill was signed by Obama, why would i care about the poltics behind it. The articles that came out before the debt bill was signed should absolutly have the politics behind it and state both the democrats and republicans opinion. Now that whats done is done, the bill was signed its important for an rticle to go into detail about the affects of this signed bill, like BBC