This content analysis examined the portrayal of refugees in the United States by comparing four online news outlets—two conservative outlets: Fox News and Breitbart; and two liberal outlets: CNN and The New Yorker. Fox News and CNN are the most popular outlets among conservatives and liberals, respectively, while Breitbart and The New Yorker are the most polar. The study explored whether the frames used by online U.S. news outlets differ based on the ideological leaning of the outlet, specifically in regards to stories about refugees. Media outlets can influence the public opinion by controlling what they publish and how often they publish it. They can also present information in ways that can alter the way the consumer processes it. For this content analysis, the search term "refugee crisis" was used to collect articles from each outlet's online page. Two online news articles from each of the four news outlets were randomly selected from each month of the year 2016. The frames used to report on refugees were identified and compared between all outlets. The five frames coded for were the responsibility frame, conflict frame, human-interest frame, morality frame, and the economic frame. The difference in the use of the five frames by the four news outlets was analyzed. Breitbart, the most conservative outlet of the four, used the human-interest frame significantly less than CNN and The New Yorker. Breitbart scored the lowest on the human-interest frame while The New Yorker scored the highest. CNN scored higher than Fox News and lower than The New Yorker; however, no significance was established. Comparing the score of the human-interest frame items between groups showed that Breitbart used less personal vignettes and adjectives that generate feelings of empathy-caring, sympathy or compassion than CNN and The New Yorker. On the other hand, The New Yorker used significantly more visuals that generated feelings of empathy-caring, sympathy, or compassion than Fox News and Breitbart. No significant differences between any of the outlets were found in their use of the responsibility, economic, conflict, and morality frames. However, when the mean scores of the 20 items were individually compared between outlets, significant differences were found. Breitbart and The New Yorker scored significantly lower on (morality) item-2 than both CNN and Fox News. This suggests that the coverage of the refugee crisis by highly polarized news outlets on both sides are less likely to reference morality, God, or other religious tenets when compared with more central news outlets.



College and Department

Fine Arts and Communications; Communications



Date Submitted


Document Type





frames, responsibility, morality, human-interest, conflict, economic



Included in

Communication Commons