Media's Influence on Public Opinion

Media's Coverage of Immigration

By Meghan Nilan

Global migration is one of the most polarizing issues in the world today, and our nation’s media plays a significant role in shaping the public’s opinion of the issue. Not all reporting is alike. Some news outlets portray migrants and immigration issues through a negative lens, some through an objective lens, and some through a human rights lens. Different media coverage can affect public sentiment on this topic.

Jeff Gammage is an immigration reporter at ​The Philadelphia Inquirer​. "When you’re reporting on immigration, you want to tell the truth,” he said. “There are facts here and there are laws, and much of this is documented. It is not an argument over opinion, as opposed to the law. For instance, I have people write to me and say, 'These are illegal aliens, and you need to call them that,' and I push back against that because crossing the border without papers is a civil violation, not a criminal one."

Representations of immigrants in the news are sometimes marked by negative words and labels. Immigrants have been portrayed as criminals, rapists, and terrorists. Some of this rhetoric can be linked to U.S. President Donald Trump, who wants to build a border wall to keep undocumented immigrants out, labeling them ​“bad people.”

A study conducted by Omokhoya M. Abalu of Iowa State University's Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication found, “Articles focusing on immigration did well on reporting facts from the political campaigns, and some analyses/editorials focused on personalized narratives and humanitarian frames of immigration.” Not much emphasis was placed, however, on telling in depth stories about immigrants based on more diverse samples, sources, and general facts. “The dominant image of immigration and related topics shaped through the media may, in turn, influence how people might perceive immigrants and immigration because of the messages received from the media’s political coverage and news framing styles,” Abalu said.

The Washington Post’s recent research this summer came to find that most of the U.S. media is often showing immigrants how our President Donald Trump sees them: as males in detention centers and in Border Patrol custody. Emily Farris and Heather Mohamed, from the ​Washington Post​, did research and explored whether or not different news stories show photos that depict U.S. immigrants negatively. “​We compiled 338 images from 181 immigration news stories that these three publications ran between 2000 and 2010 — a period of intense, as-yet-unresolved immigration debate.” Their analysis did conclude that through the news articles, images reinforce the narrative of a “Latino threat,” which is showing immigrants as criminals.

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