If you’ve ever seen a Fox News segment about media bias that talks about how overly generous the media is being to President Biden, for example, the odds are that the research undergirding the segment came from one of those organizations.
Recent analysis from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, though, indicates that such criticisms get the problem precisely backward.
Pew took a novel approach to assessing the coverage from about two dozen outlets. Instead of categorizing outlets as left or right, it looked at which outlets people on the left and on the right identified as ones they consumed. So instead of identifying left-leaning outlets, it built a categorization of organizations with left-leaning audiences. That categorization, completed for an April report on Biden’s first 100 days in office, looked like this.
What aspects of the Biden administration were covered varied depending on those outlets. Those with left-leaning audiences were more likely to cover the economy than those with mixed audiences or right-leaning audiences. Organizations with right-leaning audiences, by contrast, were more than twice as likely to cover the administration’s immigration policies or Biden’s personal political skills.
Stories about immigration and Biden’s political skills also skewed much more heavily negative.
While correlation doesn’t always equal causation, sometimes it does. While stories in outlets with left-leaning audiences were about three times as likely to be positive as negative, about half of stories were neutral in tone. In outlets with right-leaning audiences, only about a fifth of stories were neutral in tone — and stories were about 20 times as likely to be negative as positive.
If you have more stories about immigration and political skills from outlets where 4 in 5 administration stories were negative, you get a disproportionately negative density of stories about those subjects.
Again, note how this contrasts with the common right-wing criticism of the mainstream media, which is presented as hopelessly in thrall to the left and to Democrats. The reality is quite different.
Pew tracked other differences between the outlets as well. Outlets with mixed or left-leaning audiences were less likely to run stories with single sources or no sources and less likely to use other media outlets as sources than were the outlets with right-leaning audiences.
It was on immigration stories where outlets with right-leaning audiences were really differentiated, though. Analysis published by Pew last week showed audiences that only consumed right-leaning media (a different grouping than the charts above) were far more likely to say they had heard a lot about immigration reform — and were far more likely to say the subject wasn’t getting enough coverage in the media overall.
That appears to be the other side of the equation. Not only were those outlets with heavier right-leaning audiences more focused on immigration and more negative in their coverage, but their audiences appear to have been critical of the media at large for not echoing that approach.
Much of the criticism of the media from the right is that it operates from within a liberal bubble. It’s certainly fair to note that the media broadly is the domain of people who tend to share cultural if not political values. But Pew’s analysis suggests outlets with right-leaning audiences are more consistently skewed in their assessments of the Biden administration.