Bias Case Study: Media Coverage of Biden’s Executive Orders

An analysis breaking down media bias in the recent coverage of the executive orders signed by President Joe Biden.

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On Tuesday, January 19, 2021 The Juice published a brief article outlining the executive orders President-elect Joe Biden planned to sign upon officially becoming president the following day.

Over the next couple days, numerous sources, including Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, CNNHuffPost, and Democracy Now also published articles about Biden’s executive orders. 

While each of these articles covered the same topic, the coverage varied depending on the publishing source. Let’s take a closer look:

Article #1

As evident from the title, this HuffPost article focuses on the executive order signed by President Biden to strengthen anti-discrimination protections for the LGTBQ+ community. 

This article includes several examples of “slant,” one of eleven types of media bias outlined by AllSides

Slant is “a type of media bias that describes when journalists tell only part of a story.”

Here are a couple of examples:
  1. President Biden signed 17 executive orders on January 20, 2021. This article only discusses the one presidential action addressing issues of gender identity and sexual orientation.
  2. The article quotes three sources, the Human Rights Campaign, the Biden-Harris administration, and judge who once blocked the Health and Human Services Department from implementing a Trump administration definition of “sex discrimination” that excluded people who are transgender. All of these sources support President Biden’s executive action, most notably the following quote from the HRC, calling the executive order “‘the most substantive, wide-ranging executive order concerning sexual orientation and gender identity’ ever issued by a U.S. president.”

The article also includes examples of  “spin” in which the author uses provocative language to influence reader opinion.

For example:
  • The final paragraph of the HuffPost article reads as follows: “The Trump administration tried to undermine discrimination protections in smaller petty* ways as well. In 2019, the Interior Department scrubbed* the words “sexual orientation” from its guide on workplace discrimination.”
    • The author assumes the actions of the Trump administration were “petty.” This is not an objective fact.  
    • Though more subtle, to “scrub” a document  implies a cover-up or act of wrongdoing.

According to Media Bias/Fact Check, the HuffPost is a left-leaning news source, “strongly biased toward liberal causes through story selection and/or political affiliation.” 

Let’s look at an article from the other side of the political spectrum. 

Article #2

This article emphasizes former President Obama’s support for many executive orders signed by President Biden in the days after his inauguration.

This article uses “sensationalism/emotionalism,” a type of media bias in which “information is presented in a way that gives a shock or makes a deep impression.” 

Consider the following example:
  • The article describes Biden’s series of executive orders as a blitz.” Blitz is an abbreviated form of the word Blitzkrieg, literally meaning “lightning war” in German. The article suggests the signing of these executive orders is the equivalent of a “a war conducted with great speed and force.” The most well-known use of the word blitz refers to the German air raids on London during the second World War. By using this evocative language, the author sets up these executive orders as an act of war, implying that Obama and Biden are on one side, and Trump on the other. 

Media Bias/Fact Check describes Fox News as “moderately to strongly biased toward conservative causes through story selection and/or political affiliation.”

Now, let’s look at how executive actions were covered in The Daily Juice

Article #3

  • Article: “Biden Executive Orders Will Reverse Trump Policies”
  • Source: The Juice
  • Date: January 19, 2021

This short article published in the Daily Juice summarizes the executive orders President Biden plans to sign upon taking office on January 20, 2021.

Here are a couple strategies the The Juice uses to avoid potential bias. 

Use language to inform instead of persuade.

This article opens with an objective summary of the planned executive orders which will address “what [President Biden’s] calling the four crises facing the country . . . COVID-19, the economic downturn, racial injustice, and climate change.”

 This summary makes clear that President Biden believes there are four crises facing the country, but does not reveal whether the author agrees or disagrees with Biden’s analysis.

Provide context.

This article defines and provides context for executive orders, including pros and cons of the power to use these executive actions. 

“An executive order is a written directive from the president carrying powers similar to a federal law. Presidents have historically used these orders to push policies forward quickly because they do not require approval from Congress. The downside of executive orders is that they are easily overturned by any new president. That is not true for federal laws.” 

Stick to the facts.

This article describes executive orders in simple, clear, and objective terms. Here are a few examples: 

“…Biden’s orders will return the U.S. to the Paris Climate Accord and to the Iran nuclear deal.”

“Related to the pandemic, Biden [signed an order that] will require face masks on federal properties and during interstate travel. 

“On immigration, Biden will order agencies to determine how to reunite children separated from their families after crossing the US-Mexico border.”

While The Juice seeks to offer unbiased coverage of current events, articles with bias are not necessarily bad. As AllSides reminds us, “Everyone is biased. It is part of human nature to have perspectives, preferences, prejudices, leanings, and partialities. But sometimes, bias — especially media bias — can become invisible to us.” 

Taking time to break down bias in the articles we read is not only a great opportunity to practice critical thinking and diversify our media diet, but it helps us make the invisible visible again.

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US Politics (Grades 11-12)

Biden Executive Orders Will Reverse Trump Policies

President-elect Joe Biden plans to sign a flurry of executive orders soon after his inauguration tomorrow. He plans to address what he’s calling the four crises facing the country. They are COVID-19, the economic downturn, racial injustice, and climate change.

An executive order is a written directive from the president carrying powers similar to a federal law. Presidents have historically used these orders to push policies forward quickly because they do not require approval from Congress. The downside of executive orders is that they are easily overturned by any new president. That is not true for federal laws.

Among other moves overturning Trump administration policies, Biden’s orders will return the US to the Paris Climate Accord and to the Iran nuclear deal.

Related to the pandemic, Biden will require face masks on federal properties and during interstate travel. Other orders will be aimed at safely reopening schools and businesses.

On immigration, Biden will order agencies to determine how to reunite children separated from their families after crossing the US-Mexico border. Another order will end travel restrictions targeting majority-Muslim countries.

Other orders will address “equity and support communities of color,” criminal justice reform, and access to healthcare.

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