The United States of America is exhibited throughout the world as the land of opportunity. America is famous for this idea because of the “American Dream,” meaning that if you work hard in America, you will prosper. Although many argue that this is not the case for many that move to America, immigrants, especially asylum seekers, should be allowed a chance to create their “American Dream.” In fact, many argue that one of our nation’s sacred duties is to accept immigrants and asylum seekers so they can have the same rights as all Americans to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We, citizens of America, should welcome them with open arms. However, political polarization trends in the media are contradicting this. With a fear of nationalism and security, many of our foreign friends are not even allowed the chance to enter our nation, including some of those that want to claim asylum and escape their dangerous lives abroad. Thus, I want to ask the question, “To what extent does the US media change how the US public views asylum seekers?”
To explore this question, I wanted to look at different examples throughout history that have shown the US public’s views on asylum seekers. The first example looked at was from the Iranian Revolution when the Shah was granted asylum in the US and thus sparked the Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979-1980. I then further analyzed more current historical sources. I looked at a paper that analyzed ideology as it relates to an anti-immigration reform signed in Arizona in 2010. Additionally, I used the travel ban issue to analyze how framing theory impacts how we think about immigration and asylum. Though these situations, I found that overtime, the media has increased its presence on how they cover immigration and asylum issues. During the Iranian Revolution, the popular media would follow the US government’s stances on foreign policy, such as immigration and asylum. This greatly differs from today as various news sources follow an array of political opinions. Through this variance in precedence, the media has impacted how the US public views immigrants and asylum seekers, by changing the degree to which the public accepts them. Through this essay, I will show that the US media is moving towards continued political polarization, and this changes the degree to which we, the US public, accept asylum seekers in amicable ways.
To claim political polarization changes the degree to which we, Americans, accept asylum seekers in amicable ways, it must be proven that there is substantial political polarization in the media. A Brief History of Media Bias written by Dr. Bruce Thornton, a Professor at California State University who also serves as a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, explains how the media is biased and politically polarized. As a research fellow at Stanford and as a college Professor, he should be considered an expert in this field. Thornton reasons for political polarization through the personal story of his wife. Thornton discusses that his wife had gotten a journalism degree from an institution before she started working, which was the unpopular way because most veterans of the media had just learned by climbing the corporate ladder (Thornton). The liberalizing experience of college as Thorton claims, allowed for Thornton’s wife to use her experiences and collegiate influences to avoid bias in her works (Thornton). As the liberal perspective aligns with the Democratic Party, it can be inferred that most journalists who went to university identify as Democrats and focus their stories on the Democratic perspective.
Another way we can tell political polarization is prevalent in society is through a study from the non-partisan and credible Pew Research Center. In the study, those that identified as liberal were split between CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and NYT for their news coverage, though they trusted 28 of the 36 major news agencies surveyed. On the conservative end, most found their news from Fox News, and they only trust 12 of the 36 major news agencies surveyed (Mitchell). This statistic shows that there is a common divide between conservatives and liberals in which news sources they get their information from. This presently implies that there is a split in the perspectives of the different news agencies since both sides of the isles prefer different agencies. Knowing there is political polarization in the media brings validity to the claim of this paper since the claim is built upon political polarization impacting the degree to which Americans amicably accept asylum seekers.
Old Habit of the Media
The Iranian Revolution was a traumatic event for many Americans. Because of US President Jimmy Carter, the US granted the Iranian Shah asylum. This led to 66 people being taken hostage at the US Embassy in Tehran, Iran, and the cut of diplomatic relations between the US and Iran. Despite many human rights violations in Iran, the US government still defended the Shah. Nadia Maiwandi, in her Master’s Theses Framing Iran: The Islamic Revolution…, correlates the views of the US government on this matter to the views of Time Magazine, one of America’s top magazines. She found through her research that Time showed Iran as an anti-modern and violent society that lacked any well-founded resentment towards the Shah. She further found that the magazine would use negative framing when discussing the country of Iran. Thus, Time depicted the Shah as the only capable leader of Iran (Maiwandi). By doing this, the US popular media painted the Shah elegantly while denigrating the rest of the Iranian country. This led to US public support for the Shah’s asylum. Although brief, this example shows that the popular media, in the past, would follow the government’s stance on asylum cases and therefore persuade the public to take the only side presented.
Continued Polarization in Print
This dated stance of the media has evolved through the years regarding the Iranian Revolution situation. In 2010, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed a state bill into law that expanded the power of local and state law enforcement to reduce illegal immigration. It did this by questioning people’s lawful citizenship based on “reasonable suspicion” that a person is unlawfully living in the US. As we know, immigration and asylum are two very interconnected topics. US Senator Kamala Harris, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, the Intelligence Committee, and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, a credible outlet for proper immigration practices, has repeatedly shared that asylum seekers that enter the US are not illegal immigrants, though the popular media seems to categorize them in that way (Turley). With this understanding, the Arizona law directly relates to how the Arizona government targets people that might try or presently are trying to apply for asylum.
Dr. Stephanie Fryberg of the University of Washington, in her study, shows that partisanistic views the media has about this topic. Her study, How the Media Frames the Immigration Debate: The Critical Role of Location and Politics, examined newspaper articles from conservative and liberal news outlets about this change in how the Arizona government bluntly enforces foreign policy. To support the law, there were arguments for threats to the public, economic threats, and the need to protect jobs. Although, the liberal news media did not support this law. The views dissenting included racism, the constitutionalism of the law, and immigration issues such as how the US is a nation of immigrants and the cost to ethnic groups (Fryberg).
The views of this law show many changes in how the media views foreign policy. In the Iranian Revolution example, the media followed the government’s views on the matter. However, as this study shows, the views of the media have changed from following what the government’s views are to being activist against them. Also, as the media had been amicably accepting of the Shah in 1979, in 2010, the media was not fully accepting of asylum seekers wanting to claim US asylum. This change shows that the media in this situation did not fully discuss amicably accepting asylum seekers into the US, rather supporting keeping them them out of the US for our protection, and overall changing the degree to which its viewers support asylum seekers.
Trump’s Travel “Ban”
The trend of the media not amicably supporting has continued to worsen in the coming years. In fact, in 2017, new US President Donald Trump enacted an Executive Order that called for a Travel Ban for 6 predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East. This Executive Order, which afterwards was overturned by a Federal Judge, would have prevented anyone from these 6 countries from entering the US, including asylum seekers. Apparently, the US President does not believe in amicably accepting asylum seekers that are from the Middle East. In response to this travel ban, different news hosts, including Fox News’ Sean Hannity and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, went on primetime to discuss the Travel Ban with their viewers.
These two news hosts are very different people although they are both talk shows hosts and political correspondents. Sean Hannity has hosted Hannity on Fox News for close to a decade and is of the conservative opinion on supporting the travel ban, given he works for Fox News which supports the conservative ideology. On the other side of the aisle, Rachel Maddow is the first openly lesbian anchor on left-leaning news outlet MSNBC. Given that MSNBC is left-leaning, Maddow would most likely be dissenting the President’s travel ban. The Graduate Dissertation Political Media Bias in the United States: Immigration and the Trump Administration, analyzes the framing theory between these two hosts. Framing theory, as the paper put it, is how the different news outlets frame stories and events that contribute to an agenda-driven media production.
On Hannity’s show, Hannity would talk about the Democrats in ways that his viewers could understand, such as identifying specific facts that frames them in the wrong and frames the President in the right. Hannity also defended the travel ban, putting it in a positive light by saying it is a security measure. Hannity further mentioned that the words Muslim and Islam are not in the ban, which makes it seem as if the ban is not racist, although the countries it is targeting are all predominantly Muslim (Josepher). By making it sound like there is nothing wrong with the President supporting this ban, Hannity supported it on national television during Primetime. The optics surrounding the travel ban seem to make supporters of this ban seem correct as the ban in their views is there for their own protection, even though the “correctness” these views feel contains political bias.
On Rachel Maddow’s show, she used well-renowned Harvard professor Laurence Tribe to discuss the President’s travel ban. By using an expert in the field and not just sharing opinions, Maddow can frame her arguments with more credibility. Maddow then emphasized how the President did not have the constitutional power to do this, calling the executive order an overstep of Presidential authority. She backed this up by having the ACLU Executive Director on her show to share why he thought the President overstepped his bounds (Josepher). Maddow’s show overall dissented the Trump agenda of the travel ban, not only calling it un-American but also explaining that the President’s Executive Order to create the ban was an abuse of Presidential power as stated in the US Constitution.
Josepher’s study shows increased transformation of the media regarding foreign policy. Not only is the media dissenting the government’s opinion on foreign issues, but the media is dissenting with an agenda in mind. As the government’s agenda leads to the American public less amicably accepting to asylum seekers, some media outlets are taking a stance against the government and communicating to the American public that the government does not want to take an interest in opening their arms to those who are in fear for their lives at “home.”
These previous examples and analysis have revealed that the media shows political polarization. These examples and analysis also divulged that the media has evolved in such a way that has changed the American public’s views on asylum seekers to being less amicably accepting of them. When the US government accepted the Shah into the US in 1979, the media welcomed him in, and support his viewpoints. However, as the media has evolved towards more polarization, and as the US government has changed its views on asylum seekers coming into our nation, it has made it more difficult for Americans to welcome asylum seekers into the US with open arms. With this as a prevalent issue in our current society and with our current President taking a brash and inconsiderate stance on immigration and asylum as a part of his foreign policy, many hope to see the new Democratic Party controlled House of Representatives make this issue a priority. Surely then will potential asylum seekers be able to start their own “American Dream.”