Media Bias Chart Ranks Patribotics All The Way Left

Even though its author is a self-described conservative and the National Enquirer skews right (and its owner squashed a damaging Trump story)

One of the most fascinating types of comments I get are the ones insisting that one of the sources I have ranked in the bottom left of the Media Bias Chart, the Patribotics blog, should actually be ranked to the right. More fascinating still are the comments defending the credibility of the site. This post explores why I have this source ranked where it is, and also discusses similar reasons why National Enquirer is ranked where it is.

It all has to do with the fact that the rankings on this chart are based primarily on content analysis. Remember, “Ad Fontes” (the name of my company) means “to the source.” When ranking quality and bias, we look at the content of the story itself as the primary basis. We do this because we believe it is the most fair, transparent, and repeatable way to rank information sources, all of which are created by human beings with their own biases.

A Deeper Look Exposes Bias

Some content on the extreme right and left, including the blog Patribotics, includes actual purposeful falsehoods, conspiracy theories, and hoaxes. Most left and right political topics are assigned as such on the chart because of their associations with the political parties. However, these conspiracy theories cannot necessarily be associated with a particular political party, because usually, they are dismissed out-of-hand as just insane by most reasonable people of either party. However, I categorize these on the extreme ends of the horizontal axis when these stories tend to be shared overwhelmingly by the extreme fringe members on either the right or the left. For example, InfoWars has done “stories” claiming that the shooting at Sandy Hook was a hoax, and while reasonable conservatives rightly dismiss that nonsense, those who pick up, share, and believe such hoaxes are overwhelmingly right-wing extremists. This nonsense extends from an underlying pro-gun, right-leaning ideology, but goes off the deep end in the rightward direction.

The blogger Louise Mensch, who writes the blog Patribotics, has done “stories” claiming that “the Supreme Court notified Mr. Trump that the formal process of a case of impeachment against him was begun,” which did not happen, and moreover, does not accurately reflect how impeachment actually works. While reasonable liberals dismiss this nonsense, those who pick up, share, and believe such hoaxes are overwhelmingly left-wing extremists. The nonsense itself extends from an underlying Trump-is-bad, left-leaning ideology, but goes off the deep end in the leftward direction.

In these cases, when a particular story is nonsense and its content cannot accurately be ascribed to a political party, the clue you can look to in the content is what the underlying, reasonable ideology is. In these cases the audience that picks it up and shares is also an appropriate proxy for detecting whether it should be classified as right-wing or left-wing garbage. I submit that the partisanship of the author/publisher that writes or produces it is NOT, by itself, the most important proxy.

I believe it is important to categorize content as extreme left-wing or right wing in order to distinguish which kinds of readers and parties are most damaged by it. One of the main reasons I created this chart is because I believe misinformation and disinformation harms certain individual readers by compromising their reason and logic and manipulating their emotions. I believe misinformation and disinformation also harms each of the political parties by harming their members who are most susceptible to it.

Always look at the author’s political affiliation.

Again, the political affiliations of the authors/publishers themselves are not a good proxy for how extremely right- or left-wing a story is because motives of various authors or publishers of nonsense can vary widely. Nearly all are profiteers with high awareness that they are exploiting gullible extremists, but some do it to their own “side.” For example, some (like Alex Jones of InfoWars) are known to be extreme conservatives themselves and publish for such content to gin up rage among other extreme conservatives for the dual purposes of profit and for advancing causes they truly promote. Others do it to the “other side” for the dual purposes of profit and sowing confusion and discord among the opposing political party. Mensch, for example, is believed to be very conservative politically, having been a conservative member of the British parliament in the past. This fact is often cited by her extreme left-wing followers as evidence of her credibility (e.g., “if a conservative person, who would ordinarily take all conservative positions, is saying things that I, a liberal person, would like to be true, then it must be true”). I’ll call this the “My Extreme Opposite Agrees With Me Extremely” trope. It is a logical fallacy which is, unfortunately, appealing to many people. The fact that Ms. Mensch is, herself, conservative, means nothing in our content analysis ranking, because the content itself is left-wing biased. The fact that she is conservative but is publishing things that are popular with liberals does not make her falsehoods any more true.

Many people are deceived into falling for Mensch’s and similar authors’ garbage based on this specific trope. “My Extreme Opposite Agrees With Me Extremely” is actually quite a common trope in low-quality, highly biased media. An example is Fox News’ use of internet celebrities Diamond and Silk as political analysts. I’ll explore this more in a subsequent post, because there are many more examples. One should be highly skeptical of outlets that employ this trope. Note that this is different and highly distinguishable from “My Moderate Opposite Agrees With Me Moderately.” When historically moderate people on opposite sides of an issue find agreement, that is more often a sign that there is truth in that agreement (all generalizations are false).

Yet other authors and publishers are mere profiteers who do not have identifiable extremist positions themselves, but know that there are many people to be fooled on both sides. For example, one prolific, admitted “fake news” publisher, the late Paul Horner, was not an extremist himself, but made plenty of money putting out content that was shared by both right- and left-wing extremists. Therefore, I submit that the partisan position of an author or publisher should not be a primary consideration in characterizing extreme partisan stories. Rather, content itself, then the underlying ideology, then audience (as a proxy), should be taken into consideration first.

The National Enquirer’s Bias Effect

If you look at The National Enquirer’s content under the Ad Fontes content analysis model, then, a “skews right” designation makes sense. Yes, the owner of the outlet is a friend of Trump’s and reportedly paid to “catch-and-kill” a damaging story about a Trump affair, which is certainly a “pro-Trump” move. This incident, however, is more indicative of why The National Enquirer is in the garbage bin on the quality scale. It is there for other reasons too, such as the fact that it often does not adhere to journalism ethics standards on sourcing, which results in them publishing rumors. Though they defend this practice because it sometimes results in them reporting something true, in which event they can claim they “broke the story,” (see, e.g., John Edwards’ affair), they broke the story in the same way a broken clock is right twice a day.

When looking at The National Enquirer’s content for political bias, it is hard to detect because most of their stories are not about political topics. One doesn’t turn to The National Enquirer to find out about immigration or business regulations. It primarily focuses on salacious or highly personal topics about its subjects. The skews right designation stems mostly from their propensity to run unflattering stories more often about Democrats, not from political position stances. If you are upset that The National Enquirer isn’t further right, take solace in the fact that it is in the lowest quality section.

In sum, don’t be influenced by who the author/publisher says they are. Look at what they SAY. In media ranking world, content should be king/queen.

 

 

By |2018-09-16T21:36:46+00:00July 28th, 2018|All, Media Bias|11 Comments

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Haven Pell
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Thanks Vanessa, This is the first of your posts I have received as I just subscribed. Glad to hear how your decisions are made.

Easter Lemming
Guest

Thank you for the explanation. After looking at the Patribiotics site myself I am would agree with you that she posts anti-Trump material which in this environment would be extreme Leftist. I am now just wondering though if most posts are as nonsense as critics claim. All of the 2018 stuff is likely true.

Robert Rapplean
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Robert Rapplean

Thanks for the good information. It makes me wonder about how Poe’s Law applies to news, and if The Colbert Report would have been rated conservative if it were in print.

Kris
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Kris

Hi, I’d consider myself a News Junky. Spending a great deal of time between most of the major networks (150 hr+ a week CNN, FNC and MSNBC). I like your reasoning and this post elaborates it very well. However, what you are preaching and what the chart depicts are completely off from the mainstream. My first impression is clean depiction and well explained. But, seeing many of the common names I read and watch on a daily basis and I am not at all surprised. We live in an era of Buzzfeed, Snopes, and Politicafact. These companies in respect are… Read more »

Kristopf
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Kristopf

I agree wholehearted about CNN. That’s the only organization on the chart that I think is way off. In the past couple years they seemed to have taken a strong hard turn left.

Bruce
Guest

CNN is not entirely trustworthy, but its placement in relation to other outlets (such as Fox News or The National Enquirer) is accurate. It is much more trustworthy than either Fox or the National Enquirer. And while the biases of left-wing organizations do not excuse their behavior, right-wing organizations are often far more biased. Fox News printed “stories” about the city of Paris having “no-go” zones, which were entirely false. That was before Fox shifted further to the right with Trump’s election. They deny fact on many of their programs daily; and while right-wing biases do not mean a bias… Read more »

Cordell Mathieu
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Cordell Mathieu

Thanks Vanessa. I appreciate all the work you do on this. Very informative. I do have a small problem with version 4.0: Its picture resolution is lower than your past posts. This is important because I (and I suspect others also) expand it significantly to see fine detail and v 4.0 doesn’t resolve high enough to do that. Your sub-posts (great addition, BTW) are fine at their high resolution.

Thanks again for your great work.

Marc Freedman
Guest

Vanessa, Well done on the Patribotics post, as well as the charts for a few networks. That’s a lot of work and media to consume! I wonder about your partisan ratings. Your chart is balanced with MSNBC Hyerpartisan Left and Fox Hyerpartisan Right. But that appears to be a false equivalency (Fox’s use of Balanced in its slogan notwithstanding). Three years ago that might have been closer to the truth. But the extremism of Trump and his ultra-nationalism have taken the party – and sympathetic media – a huge step further to the right, which isn’t indicated in the chart,… Read more »

Frank McCullar
Guest

Your description of the how you rank news sources is helpful and, I am happy to say, consistent with mine feelings on the subject. In this era of ‘too much shouting’ on the internet your thoughtful analysis is a welcome change. Since this is also the era of an attack on the Fourth Estate by our president and many of his followers, anything that helps people sort information into what is true and not-true is helpful. Never have we lived in an era when such obvious attempts to deceive were used by elected officials.

P LARSSON
Guest
P LARSSON

Would it be possible to include some foreign sources such as Russia Today, Xinhua News Agency and similar?