USA Today, which has an overall source rating on the Media Bias Chart of “Neutral, Fact-Reporting,” published an Op-Ed written by President Trump yesterday that was widely panned by other news sources and on social media. The op-ed itself was analyzed and fact-checked by an article in the Washington Post the same day, which explained how many of the statements in the op-ed were misleading or inaccurate. USA Today got so much media peer pressure that today it actually published its own analysis, in partnership with FactCheck.org, which came to similar conclusions to the Washington Post article.
According to Ad Fontes Media’s methodology, the Op-Ed itself is ranked on the chart as shown below. See details on our methodology ranking here. Note that in our system, no credit is given for labeling something as an opinion or opinion-editorial (op-ed), because that does not change what the article states.
In contrast, the Washington Post Analysis of the Op-Ed is ranked here:
And the USA Today/Factcheck.org analysis is ranked here:
I immediately started getting questions of what the publication of the original Op-Ed meant for the overall source ranking of USA Today. The Op-ed is ranked well outside the average rankings for most USA Today articles. Does that mean that USA Today, as a whole, is not actually a Neutral, Fact-Reporting source? In short, no. The Op-Ed, which can be viewed as an editorial mistake, departure from USA Today’s typical standards, or breach of journalism norms, does not by itself, negate the track record developed by USA Today. Over the years, it has provided hundreds of thousands of neutral, fact-reporting stories, which comprise a high proportion of their overall content.
So one story—even one widely viewed as a mistake—does not change everything about the source, if you average the articles out over time. However, such huge mistakes should absolutely be taken into account, particularly because they stand out in the minds of news readers, and negatively affect the trust the readers have of the organization, in the immediate aftermath.
The interactive version of the chart can take occurrences of low-quality articles into account much better than the static version ever can. It is important to account for low-quality articles in otherwise reputable sources when they happen. The interactive chart will be able to show where exactly this op-ed ranked, shortly after it appeared. That way, readers asking “what about this article, and what does it mean for USA Today’s ranking” would get an answer to that question right away.
Further, the outlier, low-quality article, would exponentially weight the score of the source downward in a moving weekly average, and less so in a moving monthly average, reflecting the recent hit in the source’s reputation. Users could also view all historical ranking data to see the total source article ranking average.
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