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ImmigrationImmigration: Evaluate Bias

Evaluate Bias

Immigration is a highly politicized issue, so it's important to be mindful of bias as you select sources. But bias isn't necessarily a bad thing. A resource can be biased but still contain useful and credible information. The problem lies in those resources that that are not upfront about their political or social agenda, are disrespectful of their opposition, and that make arguments and statements without backing them up with facts or research.

This page will help you evaluate for bias in your sources and be thoughtful about those you finally choose to use in your assignment.

Questions to Think About

Looking at our sample article, "How Trump's Assault on Immigrants Will Damage the Economy," let's do some analysis of its bias.

Whose perspective does this source represent?

  • From the word "assault" in the title, we can already tell its from someone who does not approve of Trump and his policies. Presumably, this is a perspective from the political left rather than the right.
  • If we search for the author, Herman Schwartz, and the publication, The Nation, we can find a little bit about him--he is a law professor so he has some expertise in the law. But it is not clear whether his expertise is in immigration law. From his profile on American University's website, we can find that he specializes in civil rights.

Short bio of Herman Schwartz on The Nation website

Who are the other stakeholders in this issue? How are they represented in the source?

  • Other stakeholders mentioned: President Trump; workers who live in the Rust Belt; undocumented immigrants; various economic sectors like agriculture, health care, construction, and technology; universities and students; opponents of immigration; refugees; Dreamers (those protected under DACA).
    • Schwartz rebuts an argument by immigration opponents: Opponents of immigration claim that immigrants take jobs from Americans and drive down wages. There is some truth to this, but not much. American citizens simply don't want many of the jobs now held by immigrants...This also holds true for our construction-worker shortage. These jobs pay an average of $27 an hour, but American workers don't' want them--they are hard, unpleasant, and not steady.
    • He also uses strong language against Trump, which means we'll want to focus more on the evidence he uses than on the sentences that are more clearly opinion, and definitely look for additional, less biased sources.
  • We will want to go find at least one source that represents the "opponents of immigration" to see if he represents their argument accurately.
  • We could also track down sources from different industries that heavily rely on undocumented immigrants, like agriculture.

What do others have to say about the source?

  • The site Media Bias/Fact Check rates The Nation as having a moderate to strong left bias (which we could have guessed based on the language in the article). It also rates it as having high factual reporting.
  • From Wikipedia we can find that "The Nation is the oldest continuously published weekly magazine in the United States, covering progressive political and cultural news, opinion, and analysis."
  • In conclusion, we know this source has a left political bias but with good factual reporting. The facts it presents can be helpful in forming our own argument, but we'll want to look for less biased sources as well to make sure we have the whole picture.

What is the evidence being used to support the argument?

  • Schwartz cites a lot of numbers, but it's not always clear where those numbers come from. In the online version of the article (rather than the PDF from the database), some of the stats are hyperlinked to sources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the USDA, The New York Times, and the Brookings Institute--which could all be considered credible sources.
  • Schwartz quotes some people for anecdotal evidence of the importance of immigrants to the agriculture industry and their local economies.
    • For example: "'If you only have legal labor, certain parts of this industry and this region [California's Central Valley] would not exist,' says fruit farmer Harold McClarty. Many local businesses in these areas--restaurants, clothing stores, insurance agencies--would close. As one Washington, DC, restaurant owner put it, "Honestly, without immigrants, the restaurant industry wouldn't exist."
    • Anecdotal evidence can help tell the story, but the more aggregated statistics can carry more weight in an argument.

In conclusion?

This source has a clearly left political bias with its strong language (i.e. "Trump's economic promises verge on the delusional), but its evidence is well sourced. The article's usefulness probably lies more in leading us to other, less biased sources, and giving us the gist of the liberal argument against President Trump's immigration policies. We wouldn't want to rely heavily on this exact source to support our own argument, since the author doesn't seem to be trying hard to keep his own biases out of it. We can find other sources that present the liberal argument in a less emotionally charged way.


Tip! If in doubt about whether a source is too biased, you don't need to use it just because you found it. Find one that is more even-handed instead.


Tip! Always look for different perspectives on an issue to get a more complete picture of the issue. That being said, the weight of evidence sometimes strengthens one "side" over another, and thus having balanced coverage of an issue might not mean giving equal time/space to each different argument. Giving equal time to two arguments can be misleading if one argument actually has a stronger case.



It's important to look for a variety of viewpoints and draw your own conclusions! 

Evaluating Bias in Media

Everyone has biases and no publication can be entirely neutral, though some are more biased than others. These resources can help you detect and evaluate for bias in different news media sources.

Want more help with evaluating sources?

Check out these other pages in our Research Guides, or ask a librarian!

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