The Language of Immigration Reporting: Normalizing vs. Watchdogging in a Nativist Age
Influential media outlets have extensively quoted dehumanizing language and anti-immigrant sourcesDownload the report
About the report
Major U.S. newspapers used dehumanizing labels to refer to immigrants at a steadily increasing rate, according to a study by Define American and the MIT Center for Civic Media. This disturbing trend coincides with a vast increase in coverage of immigration-related issues. The study, “The Language of Immigration Reporting: Normalizing vs. Watchdogging in a Nativist Age,” also found an increase in quotes from extremist anti-immigrant groups in trusted news outlets such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and USA Today.
- Dehumanizing terms in the four papers studied increased from 2014 to 2018.
- The Washington Post consistently used denigrating terms like “illegal immigrant” the most.
- The Washington Post and The New York Times had a higher percentage of stories with denigrating terms than a broad collection of U.S. national sources.
- The Los Angeles Times and USA Today had a lower percentage of stories with denigrating terms than the same national control group, and at times, a lower percentage than a group of center/left publications.
- Over 90% of the time, the Center for Immigration Studies was referenced as a neutral information source for expert opinion or data without contextualizing the group’s extremist ties or its relationship with the Trump administration.
- Perhaps surprisingly, dehumanizing language in stories does not initially appear to increase its virality on Facebook.
Contact the team
Sarah E. Lowe
Director, Research + Impact
General and Partnership Inquiries
Director, Journalism Partnerships