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Media Bias Detector

David's Personal Highlights of the Media Bias Detector!

By David M. Rothschild

Media Bias Detector tracks news coverage of: category, topic, subtopic by publisher by quantity, lean, tone, and coverage type. It tracks events by publisher, along with key facts, quotes, and opinions. It tracks absorption by topic. A day before launch it is inspiring for me to play around because this platform is the fruition of years of research of many dedicated colleagues, but also because I am learning about my research and the media ecosystem from the views we have created. So, let me just walk you through my top 5 personal highlights of the Media Bias Detector so far!

1) This view (click here) captures the quantity of coverage by publication by topic in politics, and the average lean. First, there is a lot of coverage of the 2024 election, Israel-Gaza War, and Trump’s Legal Troubles. Second, Fox News and AP dig into crime a lot as well, while Fox News and Breitbart cover immigration disproportionately. Third, core Democratic topics such as democracy, environment, guns, and reproductive rights are covered comparatively little, across the board. Fourth, only Breitbart averages pro-Republican lean, while Breitbart and Fox News cover all topics with at least a neutral/Republican lean, even topics that are naturally more Democratic leaning. Fifth, HuffPost and the Guardian are not symmetric to Fox News and Breitbart, they cover many, but not all topics with a neutral/Democratic lean. Sixth, mainstream publications generally average neutral, outside of a few topics that inherently lean Democratic, such as environment, LGBTQ, and reproductive rights.

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2) There are a lot of different ways to understand the quantity of coverage of various topics and subtopics, so I chose a deep-dive view inside the New York Times (click here) to see how big horse-race coverage really is. The New York Times had 324 articles on the presidential horse race, and further articles on governors, house, senate races. All told this greater than any other topic than the Israel-Gaza war. This confirms earlier work by Duncan Watts and myself on the lack of policy coverage versus horse-race coverage. This serves as a stark reminder that even the most lionized mainstream media publications are much more into entertaining their readers on the odds (who is going to win!) than informing of the stakes (what would winning mean?). Or, to more directly credit Jay Rosen, we need to focus on the stakes, not the odds.

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3) Political coverage is extremely negative in tone (click here). While sports and culture and lifestyle have overwhelmingly positive coverage, political coverage is uniquely negative (across all publications). While we all think a lot about partisan lean, tone can be so influential, especially as we worry about a potentially creeping nihilistic view towards politics (i.e., negative towards democracy) which certainly is not helped by continuously negative coverage of everything.

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4) Yesterday’s event page (click here) tells the top stories of the last three days (the entire platform is updated daily through the previous day). Some rows tell highly partisan stories, like the Republican publications leaning into the Jocelyn Nungaray murder. Other rows show a shared reality, such as every publication covering Donald Sutherland’s death. While others, like the Louisiana Ten Commandments Law tell a more mixed story. If you click on the arrows you can see the top facts for each of these events.

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5) People have absorbed a lot of content about Trump’s Legal Troubles (click here), and that includes both Democrats and Republicans. But, like almost everything: independents are lower information. Not shockingly, correlating with the production data: Republicans have been absorbing more content about immigration and crimes than Democrats, while Democrats absorb more about reproductive rights and the environment. But, like in the production data, both Democratic topics trail those Republican topics (and democracy and gun safety are so far down, they got cut off of this image).

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