The Critical Discourse Analysis of Political News

By James Cole,2014-09-11 21:14
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The Critical Discourse Analysis of Political News

    The Critical Discourse Analysis of Political News

    Abstract: Modern society has walked into the information age. The mass media, especially those in English, are penetrating into all parts of life. Political news reports are the focus of people’s attention and play such a significant role in both dominating the worldwide opinion and manipulating people’s ideologies. Political news reports

    may seem objective and just on page, but convey diverse ideological implications. Critical discourse analysis (CDA) aims to unveil the implicit relationship between language, power and ideology by analyzing the linguistics features. This paper firstly discussed what CDA is, and then use it to analyze five reports about the same event in the American media---The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Associated Press, The New York Posts, in 2011. At last, the author draws a conclusion that political news reports convey diverse ideological implications through different linguistic devices, such as choose of subject, the ellipsis of background information, and prominence and absence of agent or instrument.

    Key words: critical discourse analysis; political news; implications;

1. Introduction of Critical discourse analysis

     Critical discourse analysis (CDA), which aims to unveil the ideology and power relations hidden in public discourses and to expose the counteraction of public discourses on the formation of people’s ideology, since its emergence in the late 1970s, has developed rapidly in the past three decades or so and is gaining popularity and has become a hot topic. In the previous study, CDA mainly adopts Halliday’s systemic

    functional grammar as its analytical tool which focuses on the metafunctions of language.

     As an interdisciplinary discipline, Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) pays great attention to the study of relationship of language, ideology and power. Its primary pursuit is to investigate and examine social inequality and power relations by applying

    relevant theories and researching language in social context. CDA has been a heated research within the field of discourse analysis, and over the past decades, CDA has taken a growing importance in the realm of discourse analysis at home and abroad. Since the day it was initiated, CDA has experienced several periods: the sprouting period (1979), the stagnation period (1979-1985), the self-reflection period (1985-1987) and the new development period (1988 up to the present).

     It is widely approved that Critical Discourse Analysis was firstly raised as a serious branch discipline of linguistics in late 1970s. The term “critical linguistics” which was later replaced by critical discourse analysis in the writings of some scholars but still coexist with it today, first appeared in 1979, in the book Language and Control by Fowler, Hodge, Kress and Trew, a group of colleagues at the time working at the University of East Anglia, Norwich. Ten years later in 1989, Fairclough raised the concept of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) in his book Language and Power. Both of the books apply traditional stylistic theories and approaches to analyze public discourses, typically news reports, advertisement and so on. Ideologies in these discourses are a major study objective (Xin, 2005). As a major methodological resource, M.A.K. Halliday’s systemic-functional linguistics provided

    quintessence of its theory to CDA. Systemic-functional linguistics has been well known for its special attention to the study of social and ideological factors. It considers discourse as a social practice, and it aims to analyze ideological assumptions behind discourse and bring those assumptions to the surface. (Halliday, 1985). Later, CDA gets its rapid development. These scholars analyze languages in various situations such as news reporting, interviews, rules and regulations and so on. It regards the world as a social structure carrying ideology, so it tries its best to study how language can reflect the ideology when it is used.

    2. Analyses of five news reports using CDA

     This part is to carry out the practical analysis of the political news. The detailed analysis will be based on the theories. The different ideologies between various news media will be revealed with the following analysis: the choice of the subject, the ellipsis of background information, as well as instrument or agent absence.

    The materials are taken from five prestigious American media, which are about the clash between police and protesters in the Occupy Wall Street Movement. The five news media are: The New York Times, The Washington Post, Associated Press, Chicago Tribune, The New York Post.

    2.1The Choice of the Subject

    2.1.1The Distribution of Syntactic Subjects

    As is shown above, the subject of a sentence is more prominent. This section is to make a comparison between the five newspapers on their choices of syntactic subjects and descriptions of subjects to discover their implicit standpoints on the event. The following table is a display of the choice of syntactic subjects in the news reports. The analysis will be based on the number of times and frequency of occurrences. The abbreviated forms of the five media are as follows: AP: Associated Press; NYT: The New York Times; WP: The Washington Post; CT: Chicago Tribune; NYP: The New York Post.

    From the table, it can be seen that the distribution of syntactic subjects are different. There exist different frequencies on the choices of syntactic subjects. The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Time, The New York Post make protesters more prominent than the police. Accordingly, readers will be informed more of protesters. Since this is a clash, it is easier to give readers the impression that protesters have done too much. On the contrary, Chicago Tribune seems to care about police less than the protesters. However, the implicit attitudes can not be judged only from the number and frequency of the choices of syntactic subjects without further analysis.

    2.1.2 The Detailed Description of Police and Protesters

     From two tables above, it can be seen in the reports the writers choose different subjects to stick out different sides. At the same time, they expressed their different ideologies by their expressions. However, the implicit attitudes can not be judged only from the number and frequency of the choices of syntactic subjects Associated Press chooses more police as the subjects of the sentences to make the police more prominent. For example:

    (1) Police clashes mar Occupy Wall Street protests.

    (2) Tear gas in Oakland, Calif., pepper spray that hit an 84-year-old Seattle woman in the face and hundreds of arrests of demonstrators and journalists at Occupy protests across the U.S. this week But The New York Times shows a different attitude in that it reports some negative points to the protesters. For example:

    (3) Mob snarls transit, traffic and clashes with cops

    (4) Occupy Wall Street protesters, at times numbering in the thousands, selfishly made life miserable yesterday for the working stiffs whose jobs they claim to be protecting

    - blocking buildings, clashing with police and causing a traffic nightmare at the height of the evening rush hour. From the examples it can be seen although Associated Press chooses more police as the subjects of the sentences and The New York Post uses more protesters as subjects, they stick out the negative point. So when reading, the readers will be affected by the implicit standpoint expressed by the writer. So which side the reporters stand by depends on whether the reporting is positive or negative. 2.2 The Ellipsis of Background Information

    In this part, the background information on how the clash happen will be given; then the number of background mentioned in the media will be counted and diagramed; the analysis will be followed on journalists manipulate the ground information to affect the cognition of readers.

    2.2.1 Occupy Wall Street

    Occupy Wall Street is a protest movement that began September 17, 2011 in Zuccotti Park, located in New York City's Wall Street financial district. The protests are against social and economic inequality, greed, corruption and the undue influence of corporations on governmentparticularly from the financial services sector. To effect change OWS uses "direct action" instead of petitioning authorities. Their slogan, We are the 99%, addresses the growing income inequality and wealth distribution in the U.S. between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population. OWS was initiated by the Canadian activist group Adbusters and has led to occupy protests and movements around the world.

    2.2.2 Economy

    Protesters were dissatisfied with the current economic situation since unemployment rate was above 9 percent and economic growth slowed. Actually, three years after the severe financial crisis, the U.S. economy now is stuck again. Institutions including the International Monetary Fund, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and giant investment banks like Goldman Sachs kept cutting their forecasts of world economic growth for 2011 and 2012, warning that Europe and the United States were facing rising recession risks. Economist Nouriel Roubini, the so-called "Dr. Doom," even said the United States

    was entering into a recession again based on hard and soft data. The housing market is still struggling for a recovery three years after the bubble burst, and foreclosures increased. People are losing their houses even after they have paid a large amount of mortgage. The job market lacks momentum as long-term unemployment becomes a "national crisis" that the federal

    government is unable to fix, according to Bernanke. It is getting difficult for young people to find jobs. At the same time, there is an influx of bad news from Europe as regards the debt crisis. Greece is on the brink of a debt default, while Spain and Italy are struggling with financing difficulties. Liquidity tensions in European banks posed great risks to U.S. banks. People feared that a similar crisis like the one in 2008 may be already on its way.

    2.3 Prominence and Absence of Agent or Instrument

    In the Process of energy transmission;complete descriptions can inform readers

    of the agent or instrument while incomplete ones may conceal the information. This part will analyze this linguistic phenomenon in news media. The complete expressions of energy transmission on both sides will be numbered. Then the absence of agent or instrument in the transmission process will be counted. At last, the analysis of the hidden ideologies in the media will be conducted.

    2.3.1 Prominence of Agent or Instrument

    The introduction of the whole process can make the agent clear. The syntactic subject is more salient, so is the agent. News media will consider carefully how to present the relevant information on agent and instrument. The following table lists the use of complete expressions in the clash.

    In the clash, police and protesters use different types of instruments. The

    following examples are fighting processes of them together with the instruments: (32) Police fired pepper spray to disperse some who refused orders to get out of the streets (Associated Press)

    (33) Police used batons to push protesters onto the sidewalk as they marched through the area to try to prevent financial workers getting to their desks. (Chicago Tribune) (34)At one point, the protesters engulfed police vehicles, forcing them to halt, and broke police lines, only to be pushed back by metal barricades and swinging batons. (35) He is believed to have suffered a fractured skull after being hit with a baton to the head. (The Washington Post)

    (36) The at-times violent masses flicked lit cigarettes and batteries at cops, splashed five in the face with vinegar, and injured two others with a broken bottle and another projectile. (The New York Post)

    (37) ...who used helmets and riot gear as they broke up encampments in New York and other cities. (Associated Press) The instruments used by the police and protesters are diagramed in the figure

    From the figure, it can be found that Associated Press and Chicago Tribune mentioned the instruments used by the police. On the contrary, New York Time and The New York Post do not use any sentence to indicate the instruments directly used by police. On protesters’ side, Associated Press lists three kinds of instruments the

    protesters used while The Washington Post did not use a complete sentence to indicate. In brief, Associated Press presents more complete process and instruments used by police and Associated Press provides more on protesters. It can be judged that the former does much to protect protesters’ interest and reveal that police forces protesters

    to fight back and they have various instruments while the latter. tried to conceal the

    police’s action and reveal that protesters provokes the clash and do more damage. The

    two media hold the opposite standpoints and speak for the police and the protesters respectively.

    2.3.2Absence of Agent or Instrument

    Besides the complete sentences on instruments, sentences with omission of agent or instrument also appear. In this way, readers may be mystified to know who

    did the action with what kind of instrument. In the process of energy transmission, the omission of agent or instrument will raise the difficulty for readers to know the entire process. Some absences can be easily inferred. However, others may be difficult to judge or readers may take it for granted and not care about the agent. The following table lists descriptions of instrument absences on both sides

    From the table, it can be seen that all the newspapers report that some protesters are arrested. However, protesters will not be taken into custody obediently. Some information is missing. So some passive sentences are used. In an active sentence, agent is always the figure, and patient is the ground. However, in passive sentence the situation reversed. Ground in active sentence becomes figure in passive sentence. This reflects the importance of the agent is decreasing. On the contrary, the patient is moving forward, getting more and more important. The next figure depicts some of the energy transmission processes. In the figure, the sentences use the passive voice, which highlight the patients. For example: 7 officers were injured. In the sentence, the patient 7 officers is put on the position of subject attracting readers’ attention. The

    patient is used as the syntactic subject, but both the agent and instrument are not available. This means that no energy is emitted, but without a dynamic force, this action cannot happen. Thus who did the action with what kind of instrument is totally mystifying. In the above diagram, the subject is indicated by an extra-bold circle.

    In the five news media, the distribution of instrument absences on both sides is quite different. On the whole, most media try to conceal the police’s action. Table is

the detailed number and frequency of instrument absences.

    Based on the above, it can be judged that some media try to protect police’s interest in that they omit the necessary information during the energy transmission process. Gist readers may not infer the agent since there is no mention or any implication. On the protesters’ side, as the instruments used by protesters have been

    referred to many times, readers can naturally infer what they have used to hurt the police. Only The Washington Post manages to conceal some of the protesters’


    3. Conclusion

     Firstly, there are differences between these five pieces of news. The New York Times, Chicago Tribune and The New York Post are on the police side. They do not attribute any responsibility to the police. Many metaphorical words are used to support the authority’s power. There is no mention of instruments used by the police. On the contrary, Associated Press and The Washington Post stand on the protesters’

    side. They care about the injuries of protesters, and they don’t display the instruments

    used by protesters, but list all the instruments police used to beat the protesters. On the whole, media discourse is never neutral and the ideology is often hidden or implicit, which readers may take for granted. Therefore, readers should read between the lines to find out the concealed ideology instead of accepting the news discourse undoubtedly. Secondly, the study of CDA from the perspective of figure-ground theory is practical and efficient. In the political news, the reporters choose different subjects, different words and expressions in reporting the same event; omit the background information and use the different sentence structures to hide their different ideologies. With the critical analysis of political news, readers can explore the hidden ideology effectively.


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