A Look at Media Bias in Coverage of Governor Newsom’s Pardons

By Steven Specht No comments

For an explanation of why I have done this writeup, please see the Week 1 write up at the following link:

www.stevenspecht.com/2019/10/a-look-at-media-bias-in-coverage-of-the-cnn-lgbtq-candidate-town-hall/

This week, Media Bias Chart considered how six news sources covered pardons and commutations by California Governor, Gavin Newsom. The governor pardoned four ex-convicts who had served their time for crimes committed more than a decade ago and commuted two other life sentences. Though pardons and commutations are routine, this was newsworthy due to the fact that Governor Newsom vocally noted that his pardon of three immigrants would help reduce the likelihood of their deportation. Though the men did come to the US legally when they were children, they have not gone through the process of attaining citizenship and therefore may be subject to deportation. All the men in questions had their parole recommended by the relevant bodies in charge of recommendations.

The six news sources are Fox News Online, Politico, Associated Press, Breitbart, Red State, and Western Journal

Fox News starts off with a loaded headline. “California governor pardons three convicted immigrants… .” People who have not been convicted do not receive pardons, so the redundancy begs the question of why it is included. It is doubtful that it is a copy-editing oversight. Fox News Online is ranked fourth among online news sources and Fox News is ranked first among cable broadcasters, so one can assume they have ample budget in place for good copy-editing. Under this assumption, the word “convicted” is chosen deliberately to set the reader off on certain expectations, especially among a certain viewership that is “’tough on crime” and/or “tough on immigration.” Despite the bad headline, the remainder of the article is fact-based. The body is laced with URLs to other articles that are either not germane or continuing to incite, including in all caps, “CALIFORNIA SALON OWNER BLASTS GOV. NEWSOM OVER HOMELESS CRISIS: HE’S MORE CONCERNED WITH ‘TROLLING’ TRUMP.” Finally, buried in the last two paragraphs is the fact that one US Citizen was pardoned and two US Citizens had sentences commuted. This brings the incitement of the headline full circle. Rather than portraying this as a routine act of governance on a slow news day, Fox News is making a point of inciting its viewership and hiding information which would mitigate the incitement. These actions cause it to be pulled significantly to the right on bias and down on reliability.

https://www.foxnews.com/politics/california-gavin-newsom-three-immigrants-crime-pardons-deportation?fbclid=IwAR3VaasodA9Cy6cbUjYqov1RK9T-OBYLWop04ki5JD77d3ZxIDbDX_S4IgI

 Politico has a basic headline. “Newsom pardons 3 immigrants at risk of deportation.” By casting immigrants in a positive light in the headline, this might pull the article to the left, but as it is not deliberately misleading, it is important to read the article before further judgment. Right off the bat, the article provides full disclosure that the three immigrants were among a total of six people affected by the governor’s actions. In noting that this was continuing a similar policy by his predecessor and that this is a reaction to increased enforcement under the Trump administration, the article veers briefly into analysis rather than fact reporting.  However, it recovers quickly and continues the rest of the article with purely fact-based reporting.  The veer into analysis critical of a right-of-center president and supportive of a left-of-center governor, drags it slightly down in reliability and slightly to the left on bias, but when taking the entire article as a whole, this it is highly factual and centered.

https://www.politico.com/states/california/story/2019/10/18/newsom-pardons-3-immigrants-at-risk-of-deportation-1225677?fbclid=IwAR30JlEyUNFUzScqoU6LFALrT-19EtKpRIFxbAWsK6XFZ6ECeyOO8ghaXL4

AP reads similarly to Politico and there is little to add here that a reader has not already seen in the previous paragraph. It too makes the step into analysis of past gubernatorial actions and past presidential actions, so it should be pulled slightly down and slightly to the left. The AP is less comprehensive than Politico, in that it did not include the history of the other three men receiving commutation or pardon from the governor, but as this is not the headline issue, it should not affect the rating.

https://apnews.com/6b9c3b6e44f540798a3e745e1bcf4940?fbclid=IwAR0NMgj-UgvJgwulefq7zgS4wbIEf-pUAqINKUt5yNEdH6IcZDtXrLNi7Qo

Breitbart begins with a redundant headline similar to that of Fox News. “California Governor pardons Three Immigrant Felons to Avoid Deportation.” With few exceptions, people who don’t have felonious records don’t need pardons, so the redundancy is likely deliberate. However, Breitbart doesn’t necessarily have the copy-editing prowess of an institution like Fox, so it is important to keep an open mind below the fold. The headline is repeated for SEO Value, so it the redundancy is probably to that end. The first line of the actual story conjectures that Newsom oversees the most pro-illegal immigration state in US History. While it is possible that this is the case, it’s not something that generally gets ranked in such explicit terms. However, by at least some measure, California gets outdone by Oregon when it comes to the sheer number of sanctuary cities and counties, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. The conclusion that California is the most pro-illegal immigration state is not entirely accurate and therefore it is for the purpose of inciting. After several paragraphs of factual information on the nature of the three pardoned immigrants, the article attempts to tie Governor Newsom’s pardons to similar ones by New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo from more than a year ago. In addition to being only marginally relevant to the current event at hand, it makes the inaccurate assertion that Cuomo’s pardons were of illegal immigrants. This assertion is made with a URL to an earlier Breitbart article. However, a simple Google search indicates that at least one of the people pardoned by Cuomo immigrated legally. Frank Barker is the name for those who wish to fact-check my fact-checking.  Finally, the article closes with information from the Immigration Reform Law Institute on “California’s sanctuary state policy—which shields criminal illegal aliens… .” Taking the information at face value, it is only marginally relevant, as none of the three men in question immigrated illegally. At no point does the article mention the three others who were affected by Governor Newsom’s actions. When it comes to rating, the article begins with an inciting headline, includes inciting analysis that is either subjective, or objectively false, and concludes with irrelevant sidebars that are only partially true. The inciting headline and inciting analysis bring the article significantly to the right and the fabrications/fact errors bring it down either to the realm of unfair persuasion or containing fabricated information.

https://www.breitbart.com/politics/2019/10/20/california-governor-pardons-three-immigrant-felons-avoid-deportation/?fbclid=IwAR227xYWau7J42PWx-KPdIXXeEU_XBbpISJTE7qTM1ARc1CoGltFyWXjRvI

Red State starts off with a solid headline, and that’s about the only positive thing one can say about the article. The first sentence brings up the unique qualities of California which ensures the “right to camp on a sidewalk and poop in the street.” While humorous, it is not germane to the article and we rate news, not comedy. The second paragraph has a fact error, stating that the three immigrants in question have been serving time in the California penal system. All three men have been out for years. While conceivably just bad editing, the past-perfect continuous attempt is not accurate. Then the article copies directly from the AP article referenced above. Positing the possibility that AP copied Red State, a Google Search reveals the same information from other local sources, all of whom give credit to AP. While the Media Bias Chart doesn’t explicitly consider plagiarism, it is important to note, generally. The rest of the article is opinion on the quality of Governor Newsom’s leadership, in very colorful terms that aren’t necessarily supported by the article itself. At no point does it mention the other three people with pardons or commuted sentences. Comparing apples to apples, both Breitbart and Red State have fact errors, but Breitbart attempts a news story while Red State is purely opinion with a few paragraphs of plagiarized content from the AP. Wherever Breitbart ranks on this ranking, Red State should be further down and further to the right from that.

Western Journal uses the same inciting headlines as Breitbart and Fox, but it is important to note that this is primarily an opinion and analysis piece. While the inciting headline is distasteful, it is part of an article that is open it its desire to persuade, rather than opinion masquerading as news. Additionally, the Western Journalism article appears to have no fact errors. However, the article does notably leave out the context of the three other people with pardons or commuted sentences while attacking Governor Newsom. There is no precise science in determining the difference between fair persuasion and unfair persuasion. While it lacks the gross fact errors of the Breitbart and Red State articles, it still succumbs to the error of omission. It should be in the unfair persuasion box, but higher than wherever Breitbart lands.