Is All Media Biased?: The Most Trusted and Distrusted News Sources

I recently posted angry rant on Facebook, despairing over the endless sharing of “news” articles from overtly biased media outlets pushing the same ideological agendas held by those sharing the articles. If you’ve read my manifesto, you’ll know that one of my core values is to challenge my beliefs.

If I am naturally conservative, then, I don’t want to go to Fox News for my information about what’s going on in the world–I’d be better off watching MSNBC. And if I’m naturally liberal, I don’t want to read Think Progress in order to get perspective on current events–I’d be better off reading The Blaze. In other words, I don’t want to find information that simply reinforces what I already believe. I want to stretch my thinking. I want to always be testing my assumptions. And I am trying to be this way not simply as a matter of personal preference but rather because I believe that it is the best way to be.

So you can understand how the entrenched thinking on Facebook manifested in the sharing of these politically charged articles really drives me crazy. So, I let myself go and told Facebook what I thought. But, then I got some surprising responses…

Rather than agreeing with me or defending their particular sources, some of my friends offered the following rebuttal: “All media is biased, so what difference does it make where I get my news from?”

The fact that several people responded to my rant with this line of reasoning gave me pause. After thinking about it, I realized that I both agreed and disagreed with idea. I agree that all media is biased, but it does not then follow that all media is equally biased.

  • First, not all media is biased in the same way. Of course, I do believe that all media is biased toward sensationalism. You know, the whole Ebola-is-going-to-turn-us-all-into-blood-thirsty-zombies-who-eat-our-young-for-kicks sort of coverage. I’m not so naive as to believe in the purely altruistic nature of journalism. The revenue model of demands that the news be shaped in such a way that attracts viewers. But that’s not the kind of bias I’m talking about. I’m talking about political or ideological bias–when a story about Ebola becomes a story about immigration, for example. The news can be entertaining without being politically skewed–that’s the kind of news I’m interested in.
  • Second, not all media is biased to the same extent. Even if all media is ideologically biased, I think it absurd to say that all media is equally trustworthy. If a group of movies all has a little but of cleavage in them, that doesn’t make them all pornographic. As with most everything, the political bias in media sources likely ranges ranges from hardly biased at all to mind bogglingly biased.

All of that being said, I decided to take a look at the sources from which I get my news. If you’re familiar with me, you’ll know I’m politically neutral. I like to call myself an extreeme moderate. I refuse to align myself with any party, because I want to do all I can to remain independent and objective in my thinking. As far as the media goes, I want to get my information from politically neutral sources so that I can come to my own conclusions about what’s going on in the world and what it means.

So, how do I go about determining which news sources can be trusted and which can’t? Well, it turns out someone’s already done the legwork for me…

How Trust Of News Outlets Differs Across the Political Spectrum

On a regular basis, the Pew Research Center–a nonpartisan polling and data collection organization–aggregates the perception of people with various ideologies on the reliability of various media outlets. Now, I know this doesn’t tell me how biased a news source is, per se. But that it is probably impossible to measure with any degree of accuracy. What the PRC’s data tells me is how trusted each source is by people with different ideologies.

The responses are broken down into 5 groups: consistently liberal, mostly liberal, mixed, mostly conservative, and consistently conservative. Now, there are dozens of different ways to analyze this data to come to a conclusion about which media outlets I should allow myself to be exposed to. But what I’m most interested in is how people without strong ideological biases would interpret the information. So, I used the responses of the “Mixed” group as the baseline for my list.

To create my own personal news rankings, I divided the percentage of people from this group who trust each news source by the percentage of people from this group who distrust each news source, to come up with a trust ratio. A trust ratio of “1” would mean that an equal percentage of people trust and distrust the source. A trust raio of “0.5” would mean that half the percentage of people trust the source versus the percentage of people who distrust the source. And a trust ratio of “2” would mean that twice the percentage of people trust the source versus the percentage of people who distrust the source.

I then ranked the media outlets by the “trust ratio” from the “Mixed” ideological group. And, here’s what I came up with…

Trust Ratios for Media Outlets

Now, let me explain a few things about my rankings. First, let’s start with I determined the trust level. I used the standard deviation of the “Mixed Trust Ratio” as a basline for dividing the sources into five groups. Here are my recommendations to myself and others regarding the news sources that fall within these groups:

  • Extremely Trustworthy: Consume liberally.
  • Very Trustworthy: Go for it.
  • Somewhat Trustworthy: Tread lightly.
  • Somewhat Untrustworthy: You can do better.
  • Very Untrustworthy: Please, just don’t.

Also, I thought it would be interesting to see which political group–extreme conservatives, extreme liberates, or moderates–has the highest trust ratio for each source. You can find that in the “Trusted Most By” column. It’s interesting to note that conservatives overwhelming distrust news sources more than they trust them. And, vice versa, liberals overwhelming trust news sources more than they distrust them. Moderates are, not suprisingly, somewhere in between. In other words, if you want to be blunt about it, it can be said that liberals are gullible, conservatives are paranoid, and moderates are indifferent.

One last thing I wanted to point out is the disparity between the trust ratios among conservatives and liberals. You can find this in the “Political Divisiveness” column. I used the standard deviation of the differences between conservative and liberal trust ratios to break these into categories. “Not Too Divisive” means that conservatives and liberals aren’t that different in their trust levels of the source. “Extremely Divisive” means there is a vast difference between how much trust conservatives and liberals have for the source.

9 News Sources You Can Trust

Obviously, the analysis doesn’t include a great deal of news sources. Right now, I consistently read National Geographic and Scientific American Mind. I follow blogs such as Fortune and Authority Nutrition. I listen to a podcast called Econtalk. None of these are part of the analysis, so I’ll just have to come to my own conclusion about their trustworthiness. But, I’ve decided that–based on my analysis–the following media outlets are going are going to be my go to sources for information on current events:

  1. USA TodayThe Nation’s Newspaper provides you with up-to-date coverage of US and international news, weather, entertainment, finance, and more
  2. CBS NewsCBS News is your source for the latest breaking, national and world news & video, including politics, sports, entertainment, business and more.
  3. CNNFind the latest breaking news and information on the top stories, weather, business, entertainment, politics, and more. For in-depth coverage, CNN provides …
  4. ABC NewsGet breaking national and world news, broadcast video coverage, and exclusive interviews. Find the top news online at ABC News.
  5. NPRNPR delivers breaking national and world news. Also top stories from business, politics, health, science, technology, music, arts and culture. Subscribe to …
  6. NBC NewsGo to NBCNews.com for breaking news, videos, and the latest top stories in world news, business, politics, health and pop culture.
  7. The EconomistThe Economist offers authoritative insight and opinion on international news, politics, business, finance, science, technology and the connections between them.
  8. BBCBreaking news, sport, TV, radio and a whole lot more. The BBC informs, educates and entertains – wherever you are, whatever your age.
  9. Wall Street JournalWSJ online coverage of breaking news and current headlines from the US and around the world. Top stories, photos, videos, detailed analysis and in-depth …

Notes: Description of the news sources above are taken from the sources’ websites. Also, a few news sources were excluded from my analysis either because they were actually news aggregators (Google News and the Drudge Report) or because they were more satire than news (Daily Show and Colbert Report).

Opening Photo: Rush Limbaugh, courtesy of Politico

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About Douglas E Rice

Douglas E Rice is just a guy who likes to learn stuff.
This entry was posted in blog, Media, politics, Statistics. Bookmark the permalink.

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