Why Another ‘Media Bias’ Project?

Odds are, if you share political content online, you’ve seen the famous Ad Fontes Media Bias Chart. In many ways, Vanessa Otero’s chart has become the industry standard when it comes to discussing bias in the mainstream media. So why do I feel the need to make something new?

Simply put, I think we need a way to discuss bias in the media in a completely different, less partisan way. The Ad Fontes chart made a conscious decision to have a single axis, left-to-right, and to rate partisanship based on political party platforms and the statements of elected representatives. This is a completely reasonable decision, as many (if not most) people who engage with politics do so on the basis of electoral competitions.

However, this leads to a very limited view of bias, in my opinion. For example, from their website:

“For example, if the [then] current Governor of Ohio, John Kasich, appears on a show and fairly criticizes President Trump for a particular statement or action, such a stance should be rated as neutral or skews left, instead of using his party affiliation (Republican) to rate his stance as skews right. However if he was talking about his positions on abortion or taxes, his stance would likely be rated as skews right (based on such stated right-leaning positions on Kasich’s website).”

While I understand and respect the rationale behind that decision, in a very real way, it means that loyalty to the President is a proxy for partisanship. This leads to some… interesting examples, such as The Palmer Report being listed as the ‘Hyper Partisan Left’, when a quick glance at their site shows that while the site is rabidly anti-Trump, it doesn’t actually seem to advocate for any liberal or left wing positions.

And how would, for example, the Socialist Rifle Association rate, if they were rated by those standards? The Democratic Party is against socialism and for gun control, so by those standards it would seem like a right wing organization. However, American conservatism is rabidly anti-socialist, generally speaking, so that doesn’t make sense either. Would it then be a centrist organization?

This is because the political parties are both coalitional and always changing. The Democratic Party of today is considerably more progressive on social issues than they were 60 years ago… but also considerably more conservative on economic ones than they were in that same time period. Those changes are impossible to track using an Ad Fontes model.

So, what the Media Ideology Mapping Project seeks to do is create a methodology of tracking bias in the mainstream media that is divorced from political party. Using real-world examples of political ideology, we are going to try to chart where different media outlets stand, not just overall but on specific issues.

In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be posting drafts of our rating system, a look at the map, samples of ratings, and more. But while I’m running the show for now, I am very aware of my own fallibility. I’ll be seeking helpers to make sure my own partisan biases – a post of its own, I’m sure – stay out of the way as much as possible. And I’m always open to hearing feedback from expert and amateur alike. Please, call me on my bullshit.

Anyway, that’s all for the introduction. In my next update, I’ll be giving a look at the first draft of our rating scale and the way mapping would work on it.

Thanks for reading!

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