This post was written by Professor Maxwell Stearns, who is the Venable, Baetjer & Howard Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law and an Advisor to Ad Fontes Media. He’s a prolific legal scholar and has blogged about the Media Bias Chart twice before. He has written insightful theories about why news sources across the spectrum fall where they do, and why each of the two dimensions of the chart — reliability and bias — are important.
In this post he takes a deep dive to posit answers to a question I have gotten from many people who have followed the evolution of the Media Bias Chart: why the overall shape of the sources on the chart changed from a Gaussian (i.e., “bell curve”) shape to more of an inverted “V.”
If you like deep and thoughtful analysis, this post is for you. Here’s a preview, with a link to the full post on Professor Stearns’ blog below. He would love to hear your comments and is great about responding to them!
The Multiple-Analyst-Generated Media Bias Chart, by Professor Maxwell Stearns:
I previously posted twice about the Media Bias Chart, produced by Vanessa Otero, a Colorado patent attorney and founder of Ad Fontes Media. Ms. Otero originally created the now-viral chart to provide herself and her friends a means by which to assess media sources in an age of increasingly prevalent and influential fake news during the 2016 presidential campaign. Her chart ranks news sources along two analytical dimensions: (1) a north-south (or y) axis assessing media reliability, and (2) and an east-west (or x) axis assessing media bias. The former corresponds to media quality, and the latter to a conventional left-right ideological framing as commonly employed within the United States.
My first post corresponded to Otero’s version 3.0, and my second post corresponded to version 4.0. This post focuses on version 5.0. As compared with version 3.0, version 4.0 had modest changes. The graphic was a bit more compact, and although it retained Gaussian shape overall, its defining features were a bit less clearly pronounced. Version 5.0 exhibits a distinct change from Gaussian form to an inverted and somewhat flattened “V.”
Version 5.0 and those that will follow derive the underlying data using a different process. Rather than having Otero rank sources using her own intuition according to clearly defined criteria, for this version she hired a cohort of analysts that she trained to ensure evaluative consistency. These analysts were hired from an applicant pool in which each person self-identified across the political spectrum, with one liberal, one moderate, and one conservative evaluating several thousand stories as needed to derive the overall ratings reflected in the new graphic.
Explaining the new, multiple-analyst-generated graphic builds upon these earlier accounts. As a result, the post that follows operates in three parts, the first two providing synopses of the earlier posts, explaining the logic and features of the prior graphics, and the third culminating in a comparative analysis of version 5.0 with what came before. (Those familiar with the earlier posts might wish to skip ahead to part III). Part III will provide insights into why version 5.0 possesses its distinct features and will also reflect on what we might expect in the future.
Part I: Commitment Bonding and Dimensionality
In my first post, I set out my initial thesis concerning the logic of the graphic, including, most notably, its apparent Gaussian shape, based, in large part, on the series of seventeen evaluative factors that Vanessa Otero had employed to explain version 3.0. My primary insight and claim was that we could distill most of Otero’s evaluative criteria based on the presence or absence of features corresponding to credible commitment bonding for quality and accuracy, and the remainder to ideological bias. By commitment bonding, I mean costly infrastructures, such as print media and distribution channels, and journalistic staffing, which together convey a strong interest in ensuring and maintaining a reputation for accurate and reliable news coverage, along with credible analysis and opinion. The north-south axis was primarily associated with the presence of absence of such costly and credible commitment bonds.