Several news outlets have used divisive language in their reporting of last night’s shooting in Portland, Oregon. One publication titles Trump Supporters “infidels” and another source refers to them as “far-right” but in the same article never uses “far-left,” “BLM,” or “Antifa.”
In an online search this morning, (approximately 11 hours after the fatal shooting), a total of 9 news stories came up addressing the incident. The majority of those articles were from local publications (in various states).
A deeper search reveals that there were indeed some additional stories published by other news outlets, but here are the stories written by national publications that were at the top of the feed. We have graded each one based on how slanted the coverage was, and outlined some of those details:
F+ – The Guardian: Fatal shooting in Portland as Trump supporters clash with Black Lives Matter protesters. The Guardian did a horrible job of keeping the information objective.
They acknowledged that “it wasn’t clear if the shooting was linked to fights that broke out as a caravan of about 600 vehicles was confronted by protesters in the city’s downtown.”
However, they assigned blame for the incident to the President by saying, “the chaotic scene came two days after Trump invoked Portland as a liberal city overrun with violence in a speech at the Republican National Convention as part of his ‘law and order’ re-election campaign theme. The caravan marked the third Saturday in a row that Trump supporters have rallied in the city.” There was no mention of the preceding three months of violence that has beseiged the city, perpetrated by far-left, militant groups including Antifa and BLM.
F – BBC: Portland clashes: Fatal shooting as rival groups protest. The BBC was even worse than The Guardian.
The BBC also acknowledged that the “Police have not given an identity or specified whether the shooting was directly linked to the clashes which broke out in a downtown area.”
However, they consistently refer to the opposing groups as “Trump supporters and BLM protesters,” drawing direct division by suggesting that BLM was only protesting (despite the gun shooting and fatality of a conservative protester.)
They also attributed the incident to the Republican Convention speech by the President, despite the three months of liberal protests and violence, in addition to the preceding two weekends (without incident) of conservative protests. “The violence followed last week’s Republican convention which formally anointed Mr Trump as the party’s presidential candidate. Accepting the nomination in a speech on the White House lawn, he sought to characterise Portland as another Democratic-run city prey to ‘rioting, looting, arson, and violence’.” Words like “anointed” are intentionally negative, weaving a quiet narrative that compares Trump to a monarchical regime.
In an additional slam, the BBC mentions “violence between far-right groups, such as Proud Boys and Patriot Prayer, and left-wing counter-demonstrators known as antifa, or anti-fascist movement.” This is very slanted rhetoric characterizing the conservative protestors as radical and characterizing the liberal protestors as ‘left-wing’ rather than the parallel ‘far-left’, and calling Antifa a ‘movement’ implying that they are not organized and not radicalize or violent.
A – CNN: 1 person is dead after a shooting during protests in downtown Portland. CNN, typically left-leaning, did the best job of the articles read. We were not able give them an A+, but were impressed with the atypically-objective qualities of the article.
Hollie Silverman and Alta Spells of CNN wrote the “protesters converged on the city for the 94th night in a row.” BBC and The Guardian did not reference the ongoing, long-term protesting that has plagued Portland for the last three months. They also did not reference the GOP convention and resisted the urge to insinuate that the convention lead to the shooting, such as other publications did.
They also referenced the rival groups as “Pro-Trump supporters and the protesters,” a more objective reference. Although “pro-trump supporters” is a little like saying pro-vegetable vegans, a redundancy necessary only for bringing attention a possible Trump connection.
C+ – Axios: Portland fatal shooting amid clashes between Trump supporters and counterprotesters. Axios was average in their coverage.
The article reads “a man wearing a hat featuring a symbol of far-right group Patriot Prayer was fatally shot during clashes between supporters of President Trump and anti-racism protesters in Portland, Oregon, on Saturday night.” Positioning the two groups as Trump supporters and anti-racism protesters is inappropriate. It shows an imbalance between the two groups and paints a rosy picture of the liberal protesters.
Axios also blamed the President: “The clashes come after the president said in his Republican National Convention speech Thursday that if his Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden were elected, ‘They will make every city look like Democrat-run Portland, Oregon.’”
C – Oregonian: Clashes escalate in downtown Portland after Trump rally in Clackamas. The Oregonian is the one local publication we reviewed, as the largest Oregon coverage of the incident. We gave them a generous average grade, in part because they provided (as would be expected) the most detailed story in the newsfeed.
Like their colleagues, they referenced the groups as “Trump supporters and counter-protesters.” They clarified appropriately, “Police have not said whether the killing was related to the demonstrations.”
In their description of the scene, they said, “next to the body [of the deceased victim] was camouflage gear with infidel and thin blue line patches.” ‘Infidel’ is a highly volatile choice of descriptors and the meaning of the word implies that the victim was militaristic and of a government-overthrow mindset which is generally not the case for the current conservative voter. Very irresponsible language which brings into question whether or not the Oregonian should be held responsible for any further escalation of the incident.
The Oregonian as well wrote “the opposing demonstrations came days after various speakers decried Portland’s nightly protests during the Republican National Convention, an event that was capped off with a 74-minute speech when Trump accepted the party’s presidential nomination and cast the city as lawless. Trump also traded sharp criticism with Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler Friday on Twitter.” An unveiled effort to blame the President for the violence. At no point was any of the rhetoric from the left (which has included calls for more violence, murder, and government overthrow) mentioned in conjunction with the violence.
They labeled the groups “pro-Trump demonstrators and counter-protesters,” implying a passive posture of the liberal protestors which over the last three months has simply not been the case.
And just in case they didn’t divide liberals from conservatives enough, they continued the good-guy-bad-guy narrative by pointing out to their mask-advocating audience that people weren’t social distancing. They write, “people held Make America Great Again hats to their hearts as the anthem played. Almost no one wore masks.”
And finally, they write, “a photo from the scene published by Getty Images showed the person wearing a hat with a Patriot Prayer logo. The far-right group has been at the center of multiple Portland demonstrations that often culminate in violent clashes.” It would have been more appropriate to acknowledge that both liberal and conservative groups have clashed, rather than blaming the violent clashes only on the conservative participants, and additionally, insinuating they are a radical group by calling them “far-right.” The article uses the term far-right three times in the article. The words “far-left,” “BLM,” “Antifa,” and “Biden” are not mentioned at all.