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“Law enforcement from coast to coast is being tasked with carrying out a complex choreography: How to protect the constitutional right to free speech, while navigating volatile and potentially unsafe social unrest.” ABC News (Lean Left bias).

Across the United States in April and May, hundreds of college campuses saw pro-Palestinian protests emerge — some entirely peaceful, and others seemingly more violent — causing colleges and universities to shut down campus or, in the case of Columbia University, cancel its campus-wide commencement ceremony.

To understand how left and right media outlets covered the events differently, AllSides reviewed 18 news articles spanning the political spectrum to uncover types of media bias present in national coverage.

ABC News reported college students were protesting to call for “their colleges to divest of funds from Israeli military operations or companies benefitting from the war” in Gaza.

Sentiment on the right struck a much starker tone. Blaze Media (Right bias) said that “Hamas-endorsed radicals illegally camped outside Columbia University for more than a week, regurgitating genocidal rhetoric and demanding the institution divest from Israel.”


“Pro-Palestinian Protesters” vs. “Anti-Israel Agitators” – Outlets Describe Those Involved Differently

Outlets on the left are more likely to describe the protests with a pro-Palestinian slant. CNN (Lean Left bias) described those involved as “students protesting the monthslong assault on Gaza.” Similarly, “contagious pro-Palestinian demonstrations” is a phrase used to describe the protests by The Washington Post (Lean Left bias).

On the other hand, Fox News (Right bias) has consistently described protesters as “anti-Israel agitators” while The Post Millennial (Right bias) has coined the term “radical Gaza activists.” Blaze Media employed unsubstantiated claims that protesters are “Hamas-endorsed radicals” and “Pro-Hamas students.”

“The protesters at Columbia demonstrated that there are two factions of the protesters — there’s the pro-Hamas, and then there’s the really pro-Hamas.” – John Fetterman (D-PA). Reported in Breitbart (Right bias)

RELATED: ‘Anti-Israel Agitators’: Fox News Uses Unique Language to Describe Gaza Protesters


Police Response on Campuses: Warranted or Too Far?

Police disbanded several pro-Palestinian encampments, protests, and riots on college campuses. The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board (Lean Right bias) wrote, “Schools are doing the right thing when they call the police to reestablish order over unruly mobs. A robust free-speech policy doesn’t conflict with requiring students to follow campus policies or face consequences for actions that threaten Jewish classmates.”

“The primary objective is to prevent conditions from escalating into destructive or violent activity, experts say. But sometimes authorities can't fully control these events and they will escalate,” reported ABC News. “That can mean officers in a militarized style response, and sporting riot gear – which itself can translate to intimidating optics.”

Some on the left entertained skepticism over police response to protests and encampments.

The New York Times (Lean Left bias) reported that “While city officials praised the police for what they said was restraint in clearing the campus, protesters said some officers at the scene had been aggressive with demonstrators.” The New York Times is referring to Columbia University, where police reclaimed the Hamilton Hall academic building after protesters barricaded themselves in.

At Portland State University, protesters barricaded themselves in a library. The Washington Post asked, “Will riot police swarm that situation, too? Or will school leaders — like those at Brown University — find a way to stave off a massive escalation by agreeing to consider the protesters’ demands?”

Brown University demonstrators and administrators reached a deal where the University would vote on divesting funds from companies connected to the Israeli military. The encampment was dissolved peacefully.

At Columbia University, “posted videos appeared to show police officers pushing and dragging demonstrators outside of Hamilton Hall’s main entrance during the arrests… [and] officers threw protesters to the ground and slammed into them with metal barricades,” according to The New York Times.

“The mob that broke into Hamilton Hall was not nonviolent… They smashed windows. They prevented a janitor in the building from leaving,” said National Review (Right bias). It continued, “Despite their lawlessness, the sense of entitlement never left the protesters, who followed the lead of their Hamas role models by breaking the rules and then claiming to be victims… Only in the bizarro world of higher education does a university deserve special recognition for treating grown college students as adults who can be held responsible for their actions.”

National Review further argued that “A show of overwhelming force by the NYPD — which included hundreds of specially trained officers in riot gear — was the only way to minimize the risk of violence by showing the entitled hooligans, who were illegally occupying a university building, that grown-ups were finally back in charge.”


Where is the Line Between Free Expression and Unlawful Assembly?

“In a nation that prides itself on free expression — but where people report feeling less safe, even in places where crime is dropping — some administrators, criticized by all sides, have sought police help when negotiations with students, in their view, failed.” Washington Post

According to CNN, “Civil liberties groups have urged universities to be measured in response to protests, underscoring demonstrators’ rights to free speech.” CNN highlighted a quote from the New York Civil Liberties Union, which read: “City and campus officials should take great care to distinguish between controversial speech, which helps students and society develop, and actual threats… Officials should not conflate criticism of Israel with antisemitism or use hate incidents as a pretext to silence political views they oppose.”

Notably, the New York Police Commissioner said Columbia University is private property and that “decisions on what to do on that property are up to the university,” according to ABC News.

On the right, National Review took a dig at left-rated media, saying that “While sympathetic media tried to make the students appear less radical by distinguishing between the encampment itself and the crowds who were gathered outside the gates of the university, this was a distinction without a difference.”

RELATED: Should Students Have Free Speech? When it Comes to Pro-Palestine Protests, The Left and Right Switch Sides

Pro-Palestinian and Pro-Israel Protesters Clash at UCLA

Biased media differed substantially in coverage of protests at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) which saw counter-protesters engage late into the night on April 30 with those in the encampment.

“In California, masked men attacked a pro-Palestinian encampment… and students criticized police for not intervening sooner. Fifteen injuries, including a hospitalization, were reported after officers quelled the violence,” reported The Washington Post. “The police responded nearly two hours later — a delay that California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) blasted as ‘unacceptable.’”

“The slow response sparked criticism and calls for investigations,” said The Los Angeles Times (Lean Left bias).

The Post Millennial cast the same story in a completely different light, saying “Those students who had erected the Gaza camp complained that police and security did not help them” defend against purported “acts of violence” from counter-protesters. “‘Law enforcement simply stood at the edge of the lawn and refused to budge as we screamed for their help,’ they said.”

Later in the night, law enforcement did show up and intervene. “The LAPD and other law enforcement agencies responded Tuesday night to the UCLA campus after the leftist university pleaded for help in dealing with the fallout of the same ideas taught inside its classrooms,” said Blaze Media.

Blaze Media continued: “...pro-Hamas students, wearing masks and equipped with makeshift shields, faced off with the group of around 30 LAPD officers who initially breached the radicals' illegal encampment… Radicals pelted officers with rocks and attempted to disorient them with fire extinguisher blasts while desperately maintaining their barricades. The officers, in turn, used multiple flash-bangs… A CHP officer effectively signaled the radicals' defeat by flinging down the Palestinian flag at the heart of the illegal encampment.”

“I just wanted to free my campus from these people… I wanted to give my other students an opportunity to be able to access the campus without segregation, without people telling us that we can't go to the library, and I just want to see a safe, beautiful campus where we can all learn, and we can all come together for positivity, for education." –Milagro Jones, a student at UCLA. Reported by Fox News.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass (D) was quoted in The Los Angeles Times: “Those involved in launching fireworks at other people, spraying chemicals and physically assaulting others will be found, arrested and prosecuted, as well as anyone involved in any form of violence or lawlessness.”

RELATED: Are Crackdowns on College Protests the Answer to Unrest?


Read AllSides to Understand the Better Picture

Outlets on the left and right portrayed pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses differently. If you only read The Washington Post, you may be more likely to think police intervention was uncalled for or executed poorly. Similarly, if you only read an outlet on the right like Fox News, you may be left wondering how the encampments began in the first place.

Outlets employ types of media bias such as omission, word choice, and slant to persuade you into agreeing with their stance. When you read AllSides, you get the full story. Visit AllSides’ Balanced News to read stories from across the political spectrum.

Andrew Weinzierl is AllSides’ Bias Research Manager & Data Journalist. He has a Lean Left bias.

This piece was reviewed by Johnathon Held, News & Bias Assistant (Lean Right bias), Joseph Ratliff, AllSides Content Designer and News Editor (Lean Left bias), Andy Gorel, News Editor & Bias Analyst (Center bias), and Clare Ashcraft, Bridging & Bias Specialist (Center bias).