The Middle East Conflict in The Guardian and The New York Times

Seminar Paper 2002 28 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics


1. Introduction

Mark Twain once said, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed”[1]. Indeed, it’s true that most newspapers tend to be biased and to represent a certain ideology. Nearly imperceptible, the newsmaker leaves marks or hints of his attitude and ideology in his work and thus very often looses the independence and objectivity that news reporting ought to have. Evidence can be found for example in the choice of vocabulary, the sentence structure or the narrative structure of an article. This analysis wants to examine and compare two leading newspapers, the Guardian and the New York Times, with regard to bias in the way they are treating the Middle-East conflict. It is also very interesting to compare a European view of the events in Israel with an American one. For a long time, the violence in the Middle East and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians have been a common topic in the news and therefore it is important to know how far the reader can rely on an objective point of view when events are reported. Not a day goes by without a headline dealing with peacemaking efforts or a new attack of a suicide bomber or another advance of the Israeli army on Palestinian ground. My own interest in the field and its manifold presence in the media, especially in newspapers, made the Middle East conflict my choice for the topic of a research paper on the language of news reporting. I want to verify the hypotheses that the Guardian takes a rather anti-Israeli position, about which even its own reporters state that it is “so anti-Israeli it (is) embarrassing”[2], whereas the New York Times will probably be in favour of Ariel Sharon and Israel.

After a short overview about the two newspapers, the topic will be introduced briefly. This will be followed by a linguistic analysis of a selection of articles, which will focus on features with regard to the linguistic approach of critical linguistics and social semiotics like Roger Fowler (Fowler 1991). In the centre of attention will be the correlation of news language and its linguistic features within a social and ideological context. Finally, a conclusion will sum up and examine critically the results of the research done concerning the hypotheses of bias. Now I will start off with some facts about the used newspapers.

2. The Guardian and The New York Times : An Overview

As a reference for articles necessary for this research on language in the news I used two world – leading quality newspapers, The Guardian and The New York Times. These two are dailies and therefore are able to offer more detailed and current information than weeklies. In addition, by using an American and an English newspaper, the research covers international opinions on the topic. The Guardian, who was founded in 1821, belongs to the Scott Trust , who owns about fifty local papers in the Manchester area and in South England, as well as commercial television and local radio[3]. As one of the largest quality papers in Britain it has an average circulation of 403,306 copies and about 1,102,00 readers per day[4], who mainly are “left wing, middle class, Labour supporters”[5].

Table 1. Facts about the Guardian and the New York Times.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

The New York Times has also a liberal left oriented, “affluent, well educated and professional” readership of about three million readers per day[6] with a circulation of 1,1194,491 from Monday to Friday, 1,088,117 on Saturdays and 1,735,050 on Sundays[7]. It belongs to the New York Times Group which includes newspapers, cable television, radio and television broadcasting. The newspaper itself, which started in 1851, is owned by Arthur Sulzberger Jr.[8].

3. The Middle East Conflict : A Chronological Record

For decades, the conflict in the Middle East has been representing a continual problem: The Palestinians are fighting for their own territories and for an independent state, but Israel also claims land for settlement and in general refuses a Palestinian state under the present circumstances. This leads to never ending military conflicts between the two involved parties and their leaders, Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat, accompanied by suicide attacks of militants. The examination period of the topic ranges from April 2002 to June 2002. This is a short timeline of some key events during this period of time:

Middle East timeline April to June 2002

2nd April: Israeli troops attack Bethlehem during a five – day long assault on Palestinian targets.[9]

10th April: Hundreds of Palestinians surrender in refugee camp after thirteen days of intense battle.

14th April: Ariel Sharon offers the Palestinians trapped in Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity the choice of surrendering and being tried in an Israeli military court.

2nd May: Yasser Arafat emerges from his five – month confinement to his Ramallah headquarters after having handed over six wanted prisoners to the Anglo – American custody.

10th May: The Bethlehem siege ends after a new deal by EU negotiators to exile the fighters in several countries.

12th May: Ariel Sharon loses a Likud vote to his rival Binyamin Netanyahu. The prime ministers’ party forever rejects a Palestinian state in land currently occupied by Israel.

6th June: Yasser Arafat’s Rammallah headquarters are destroyed in a six – hour wrecking mission by Israeli tanks.

9th June: Yasser Arafat sacks almost half his cabinet, responding to international pressure to reform the Palestinian Authority.

25th June: Israeli troops storm the Palestinian Authority headquarters in Hebron.

30th June: Colin Powell renounces Yasser Arafat.

Of course this is a very simplified and reduced time line as I stated only those events I considered the most important ones, but it provides a good general overview about the situation in the Middle East in the examination period. In the following paragraph, I will explain how I approached the research and what references and theories I used for analysing the language of news reporting.

4. Procedure and Approach of Analysis

In this research I will analyse structures embedded in a news text and their significance within an ideological and social context, referring to critical linguistics and social semiotics. These theories emphasise, that the syntactical structure of a text carries ideological meaning and I want to prove that this also applies to articles of quality papers like The Guardian and The New York Times. As a reference I will use the terminology of Roger Fowler (Fowler 1991), because his division of syntactical elements seems most reasonable to me. First of all, I will provide a short overview about the selected material, followed by a linguistic analysis of a selection of articles. All articles are examined concerning transitivity and semantic roles, starting with an analysis of the headlines, followed by one of the leads and finally of the remaining texts. Then the lexical structure of the articles will be analysed with regard to connotations, images and naming devices used within the text. Concerning discourse structure, the analysis will include speech acts and quotes. Now I will introduce the used materials and give reasons for my selection.

5. Material

All analysed articles are taken out of the online version of The Guardian[10] and The New York Times [11] , because this way of information is easy available and cheaper than the original print version of the two newspapers. The articles are mainly from Monday editions so that they introduce new occurrences but also sum up and cover a lot of weekend events. Therefore they provide especially good material for research and analysis. Though the examination period ranges from April to June 2002, the analysed article originate only in May. This circumstance is pure chance, because I didn’t pay attention to the dates of the articles but selected those which seemed most useful for my research, taking in each case a contribution of The Guardian and one of The New York Times covering the same event to compare them. Additionally, if aspects of a selected article had not appeared to be very helpful, these passages were also not considered in the analysis, that will start now.


[1] http://honestreporting.com/a/bias.asp visited on 20.07.02

[2] http://honestreporting.com/Critiques/2002/44_guardian.asp visited on 20.07.02

[3] Cf. Bob Franklin, Packaging Politics. Political communication in Britain’s media democracy (London: Arnold1994) 35.

[4] Cf. http://www.learn.co.uk/glearning/primary/lessons/ks2/hd4/resource.asp visited on 09.07.02

[5] Danuta Reah, The Language of Newspapers (London: Routledge 1998) 35.

[6] http://www.nytimes.com/adinfo/bnc_audience.html visited on 29.05.02

[7] http://www.newyorkpress.net/NYPcirc.html visited on 18.07.02

[8] http://www.nytimes.com/membercenter/help/aboutmain.html visited on 29.05.02

[9] Cf. http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,2763,684692,00.html visited on 09.07.02

[10] www.guardian.co.uk

[11] www.nytimes.com


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
509 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
University of Regensburg – Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik
Middle East Conflict Guardian York Times Hauptseminar Language News Reporting



Title: The Middle East Conflict in The Guardian and The New York Times