Below is an example of a research paper I did whilst getting my degree in Communication. It is a “textual analysis” of a newspaper story. It demonstrates that there is more to a news story than we see with our naked eye, and there can be some real serious analysis of what is being said behind the text. Basically this exercise teaches us to be more thoughtful, critical and analytical in the way we receive information. It’s a great skill to have in any industry, especially when dealing with communication, which is applicable in so many scenarios.
This is written academic style, so the works cited are listed at the end.
The ‘Democracy’ Preached by the Vancouver Sun: Slay Saddam
This essay will argue that the article, “Prosecution demands death for Saddam and henchmen” in the June 20, 2006 issue of the Vancouver Sun is biased towards believing that Saddam Hussein should receive the death penalty. This will be shown using mostly discourse analysis and I will use Deacon et. al. (1999) as a guide to this method of textual analysis.
This story is placed on page A9 in the international section. It is next to a story about three American soldiers who have been charged by the U.S. Army itself in relation to the deaths of three Iraqi U.S. prisoners. The international section starts on page A7, where the reader is shown stories about combat in and/or threats currently coming from other nations. On page A8, we see stories about struggles for democracy, fair treatment, and freedom around the world. Finally we come to A9, where issues of ‘democracy’ are being solved. We see a progression of stories that eventually lead us to believe that democracy and justice are being fought for, and will prevail, in every country. This is the story’s position in the paper and its thematic structure (Deacon et. al., 1999); the grand finale of the struggle to put Saddam Hussein – a signifier of the truly undemocratic – to death.
The composition (Deacon et. al., 1999) of the story almost immediately gives away the paper’s stance on the issue. The reader is first drawn to a picture of Hussein with a bar covering the area of his neck, making his head look as though it is floating. Whether or not this was intentional is unknown, but it does portray him as being ‘good as dead.’ The functions of the words “demands” and “ousted” (Juhi, 2006) in the headlines are significant to the story’s “discourse schemata” (Deacon et. al. 1999) but will be examined later. The lead paragraph quotes the prosecution as saying that Saddam “showed ‘no mercy’ in the killings of women and children” (2006). Next to this story, we have a headline that reads, “Three American soldiers charged in deaths of Iraqi prisoners” (Associated Press, 2006). It seems this page is about trails over murders and punishment ‘rightly due’ for actions. In the case of Saddam, the “harshest penalty” is “demanded,” which is death (Juhi, 2006). However, intertextual relations (Deacon et. al. 1999) coming from the story adjacent seem to say that ‘yes, U.S. soldiers are also guilty of harming Iraqi citizens without sufficient evidence against them, but the Americans are making sure those guilty of violating professional code of conduct will be punished. That is why Saddam Hussein will also receive punishment, for he did more to innocent victims than the Americans can claim to have done.’
“Sequencing structure” and “source quantity and quality” (Deacon et. al., 1999) are difficult to examine deeply here because we are barely given any interviewed sources, except one “U.S. official close to the court” that “spoke on condition on anonymity” (Juhi, 2006). The article does not mention, however, what “close” (2006) means; was he geographically near the building where the trial was taking place, or was he involved in the administration of courthouse itself as an institution? It also does not say what “U.S. official” (2006) means. Is this a soldier? A bureaucrat?
The second source we are given is lawyer presenting his case in court. We are also given two words from Saddam Hussein, and this sets us up for a discussion of “framing” (Deacon et. al., 1999) as well. The longest quotation from the lawyer suggests that the word “demand” (Juhi, 2006) in the headline is exaggerated. In fact, he “asks” (emphasis added) for the “harshest penalty” (Al-Moussawi qtd. in Juhi, 2006). As far as we know, his ‘asking’ could have been a ‘plea’ rather than a “demand” (Juhi, 2006). Using ‘plea’ would have made the prosecution seem more vulnerable, or that they were trying hard to convince the court of their suggestion. But a ‘demand’ is more authoritative, and implies that the punishment is truly deserved, and there can be no argument against it.
The use of the lawyer’s words more than any others’ shows a leaning in support of the prosecution and thus reveals the “discourse schemata” (Deacon et. al., 1999). The only time we hear from Saddam is when he is quoted as saying, “Well done” (Juhi, 2006) after the lawyer’s asking for the death penalty. This makes Saddam seem somewhat insane, ruthless, that he thinks he is invincible and could care less what the lawyer’s requests were since he believes he will soon have opportunity to punish him later. It should be mentioned, however, that not much context is given in regards to Saddam’s comment. Did he say anything immediately before or after? Was he looking at the prosecutor while making this comment, or elsewhere? This could change the implications of the comment.
In describing Saddam, the article says that he was “dressed in a black suit” (Juhi, 2006). This is a signifier since black is a symbolically ‘evil’ colour. It is likely that others were wearing black also, but the colour is specifically mentioned in relation to Saddam. This is “framing” him as the “antagonist” (Deacon et. al., 1999). The article also says that he “occasionally took notes” (Juhi, 2006). Again, this is “framing” (Deacon et. al., 1999). There is nothing unusual about taking notes in a courtroom, and probably many others were doing the same. This creates curiosity with readers as to what Saddam might be thinking, or feeling. It allows for an endless possibility of imaginations that can self-serve to create an image of an ‘evil’ Saddam in people’s minds. Perhaps Saddam, (dressed in black and therefore evil) is ready to make his defense for killing “women and children” (2006). Or maybe he is making note of what the prosecutor is saying so that he can charge him for it when, as he might so believe, he is released to become a ruthless ruler again.
“Lexical choice” (Deacon et. al., 1999) in this article suggests that Saddam, in the eyes of the newspaper, is as good as dead, or at least he should be. This is seen by use of words and phrases like “henchmen,” making Saddam seem like a lead ‘gangster’ backed by his ‘gang’ of evildoers; “demanded,” as explained earlier; “killings of women and children,” that implies the ruthlessness of Saddam; and “ousted,” (Juhi, 2006) which is a form of “passivisation” (Deacon et. al., 1999) that removes blame from America for dethroning Saddam by war and makes it seem as though he was kicked out by Iraqis. The article also mentions that Iraqis are “eager” to have Saddam and his “cohorts executed in revenge for the oppression of their communities by his Sunni Arab-dominated government” (Juhi, 2006). This sentence is also a form of “passivisation” (Deacon et. al., 1999). It frames the picture so as to make it seem like it was Iraqis that made this trial possible. As we know, without U.S. intervention, this would not have happened. So the ‘democratic’ ideology of the paper seems to support U.S. intervention in the affairs of other countries and makes it seem like it is also welcome by ‘oppressed’ people, who will live happily ever after if only democracy is brought to them.
To conclude, we have looked at this story’s position in the paper, its “composition,” “intertextual relations,” “sequencing structure,” “source quantity and quality,” “framing procedures” and “lexical choice” (Deacon et. al., 1999) to portray Hussein as the ultimate evil, undemocratic icon in the world. Doing away with him is the hope of the paper, as we have seen, and this punishment is to be symbolic of the ‘struggle’ for democracy everywhere.
Deacon et. al. (1999). Researching Communications: A Practical Guid to Methods in Media and Cultural Analysis. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Juhi, B. (2006, June 20). Prosecution demands death for Saddam and henchmen: Ousted dictator mutters ‘well done’ as prosecutor calls for harshest penalty. The Vancouver Sun, p. A9.
Associated Press. (2006, June 20). Three American soldiers charged in deaths of Iraqi prisoners: The three detainees died while the U.S. was conducting an operation north of Bagh