Monday, January 23, 2017

Inauguration Coverage - Executive Orders, Bias and Detail

Over the last eight years, a growing outcry has come up regarding then-President Obama’s use of executive orders to circumvent Congress to move his policies forward. This led to debates about the constitutionality of executive orders to conspiracy theorists claiming that Obama would not leave the White House voluntarily when the time came. While no regime preservation such as has happened in various African countries over the last few decades have occurred, I was interested in finding out what the take on things would be once President Trump began using that same tool to run the government and promote his agenda to achieve his campaign promises.

Beyond basic orders to formally nominate various cabinet members and other day-to-day functional orders, Trump has issued several executive orders. Among them was a memorandum to initiate the United States’ withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, commonly referred to as the TPP. Another was a hiring freeze for most federal agencies, with the exclusion of the military or other positions necessary for national security. A third to-date was an order preventing federal funding being paid out to organizations that support or promote abortions in other countries. Finally, an order was issued to relieve some of the costs incurred by the Affordable Cara Act.

I compared coverage of the executive orders provided by five different news organizations. Fox News, National Public Radio, USA Today, BBC and the Austin American Statesman.
NPR’s coverage seemed mostly fair, but there were a few things that could have improved. Their coverage called Trump’s order to pull out of the TPP “mostly symbolic” but failed to explain why it was symbolic or what exactly the impact of the order would be. NPR did not discuss the other two orders extensively, and both seem to be very relevant. The hiring freeze is important because it impacts the federal budget and unemployment in larger cities throughout the country. The second is important and certainly newsworthy considering the recent women’s marches which have focused on a woman’s right to choose. In short, more detail could have been provided regarding the TPP and a longer discussion is needed for both of the other orders. NPR did an excellent job on the ACA order though, explaining in detail how the order would or could impact the law.

Fox News’ coverage was superior when it came to providing quotes from knowledgeable people regarding Trump’s orders. It referred to statements by Senator John McCain, a pro-choice nonprofit and a pro-life nonprofit. Their statements were somewhat inaccurate/misleading as it said at first that the executive order regarding abortion funding banned federal funds from going to international groups that “perform” abortions, when the order actually eliminates the option for funding for those that even encourage abortion, with no real definition for what the order (basically the enforcement of a Reagan-era law) considers encouragement. The hiring freeze was barely discussed. Most of the coverage went towards the TPP withdrawal. I would have liked to see a Democrat’s viewpoint shown in the story as well. I’m certain that Senators Sanders and Warren would have been willing to provide a quote or have made statements about all of the issues Trump’s orders impact. Fox also made it a point to compare Trump’s policies with Obama’s in a manner that seemed to be slightly biased in favor of a Republican agenda.

USA Today’s reporting seemed less biased than Fox News’ coverage and more detailed than NPR’s, but the trend towards focusing on the TPP and its impact continued. Barely anything was noted regarding the abortion issue.

The BBC also focused on the TPP, which makes a great deal more sense for them. While comparing coverage, I tried to find stories that covered the issue at hand on the same level. However, the BBC focused almost exclusively on the TPP. This is most likely because, as a foreign-based press agency, they’re going to be most interested in the international impacts of Trump’s presidency as a whole.

The Statesman focused its coverage on the executive order impacting the ACA. The others had some mention, but for the most part the Statesman was the most focused on this issue. This makes sense considering their readership is mostly the “island of blue in a sea of red” that is Central Texas, and their audience is going to be more concerned about their health insurance than the other issues. The story was more about the individual consumer than about a global impact.

Over all, most of the stories could have been written better. From what I could see, USA Today’s coverage seemed to be the most thorough and fair. Fox News’ coverage appeared to be the most biased, and NPR’s coverage was the most lacking in detail. 

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