Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bias in New York Times Article

            “Wife Who Fired 11 Shots is Acquitted of Murder”, a New York Times article published on its website on October 6, discusses the result of the trial of Barbara Sheehan, a woman from Queens, New York.  Although the article seems to portray a neutral opinion on the case, a second look at it more carefully leads me to recognize the article’s dramatization of Ms. Sheehan’s defensive action, and also the article’s implicit focus on Ms. Sheehan as a criminal.
First of all the title of the article says it all. If the writers of the article were trying to be more sensitive to the situation, why didn’t they call it, “Survivor of Intimate Partner Violence is Acquitted of Murder.”  Also, the article refers to the husband as the “slain husband” at one point.  Although, “slain” is often used in journalism, when one thinks of the verb to slay, it’s referring to a violent way of killing.  Why is this woman suddenly highlighted as the violent one in the situation, when it obviously is much more complicated than that?
             The article mentions disbelief of her true personality as one of the arguments in the case against her, and the word ‘compromise’ is used when discussing her final verdict.  Also, the authors of the article choose to include an idea presented by Richard A. Browan, the Queens district attorney, who, “said the case was a cautionary tale that those claiming domestic abuse should not take the law into their own hands,” which implies by its use that the authors are framing Ms. Sheehan to be at utmost fault.  With these components, the authors put most of the blame on Ms. Sheehan and fail to take into account any barriers that might have prevented Ms. Sheehan from acting otherwise.
             The article overall frames Ms. Sheehan in a negative way, leading me to believe that someone who might not look at this article critically would assume that Ms. Sheehan was "let off easy".  I also can't imagine what her kids might think if they read this article.  It is horrible to see the media- especially a prominent component of it, such as the New York Times- implicitly support the argument against a survivor.  This is just a friendly reminder to carefully read how news articles choose to describe their subject, taking time to recognize their often inaccurate and exaggerated portrayals of survivors.

Here's the link to the article:

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