Does CNN Have Bias?

By · Apr 3, 2023 · 11 min read

Does CNN Have Bias?

CNN distributes news stories more widely than any media company in the world, with 200 billion people having access to its networks in over 200 countries. As of 2022, CNN was the United States’ third most-viewed news network behind Fox and MSNBC — and in late 2019, Pew Research found that CNN and Fox were the two most significant sources of political news among U.S. adults.

most cited sources

Source: Pew Research Center

Despite its staggering reach and a long-standing reputation for being a respectable media company, studies have shown that CNN’s bias has skewed over the years from center to left-leaning to very liberal, bringing the network’s reliability into question. But how valid is this concern, and has bias weakened the strength of CNN’s reporting?

Note: The bias ratings and analyses provided in this blog post focus on the CNN website and not its TV or radio programming unless mentioned explicitly.

How Does Biasly Rate News Sources?

Biasly’s algorithms produce bias ratings to help provide multiple perspectives on given articles. Biasly has analyzed 200,000+ news articles from more than 3,400 news sources through our A.I. technology and team of political analysts to find the most factual, unbiased news stories.

Biasly determines the degree of political bias in news sources by using Biasly’s Bias Meter Rating, in which Biasly’s team analyzes media sources’ reliability and bias and produces three scores, a Reliability Score that measures the accuracy of media sources; an A.I. Bias Score, evaluated by A.I.; and an Analyst Bias Score evaluated by political analysts. These scores are rated based on seven rating metrics including Tone, Tendency, Diction, Author Check, Selection/Omission, Expediency Bias, and Accuracy. These metrics help our analysts to determine the political attitude of the article.

Our A.I. machine-learning system employs natural language processing and entity-specific sentiment analysis to examine individual articles and determine their bias levels. By analyzing the key terms in an article such as policies, bias phrases, political terminologies, politicians, and their nicknames, the algorithms can rate the attitude of the text.  Bias scores range from -100% and 100%, with higher negative scores being more liberal and higher positive scores being more conservative, and 0% being neutral.

Is CNN Politically Biased?

Many political conservatives tend to view CNN unfavorably, feeling that the network has a left-leaning bias and does not represent conservative viewpoints accurately or give fair coverage to conservative issues or politicians. They see CNN as prioritizing the left-leaning agenda over objective news coverage. On the other hand, most liberals feel that CNN is a reliable news source that conducts fact-checks and prioritizes progressive social issues, including racial justice, climate change, and LGBTQ rights. From an objective standpoint, is CNN biased? And if so, which side of the political spectrum does it favor?

Biasly’s A.I. Bias Score for CNN is -68%, which falls under the umbrella of Very Liberal. Biasly also gave CNN an Analyst Bias Score of -23%, or Somewhat Liberal. Although CNN covers U.S. and world news, it tends to approach political topics from an American liberal political perspective. Praise for progressive politicians and policies and general aversion to Republican figures and policies are partial reasons for these ratings. Please note that these ratings only reflect news articles published on CNN’s website; segments, live news coverage, and talk shows have not yet been considered in this analysis, but some will be covered below independently of Biasly’s bias meter scores.

Biasly’s bias scores for CNN align with other third-party bias research agencies, including AllSides and Media Bias/Fact Check. From AllSides, CNN Online News received a Left rating, defined as displaying “bias in ways that strongly align with liberal, progressive, or left-wing thought and/or policy agendas.” Media Bias/Fact Check also rated CNN to the Left, or “moderately to strongly biased toward liberal causes through story selection and/or political affiliation.”

According to a 2022 survey by Statista, Americans have strong feelings about CNN, with 23% of survey respondents finding the media company “very credible” and 20% feeling it to be “not at all credible.” As we continue our discussion of CNN’s news bias, we will explain why this might be the case and how it may be determined whether CNN’s website contains bias.

Source: Statista

Before we begin, we need to discuss bias. Bias is a natural function of humans, and we can express it both consciously and unconsciously. Bias is one of the most fundamental forms of pattern recognition in humans. This isn’t to lower the bar and say that “all things are biased,” but to explain the process in which we may come to trust certain news organizations that display patterns of coverage.

The media is strongly motivated to maintain and grow its audience, gain new subscriptions, and achieve high ratings — and being unbiased is an important part of appealing to a broader audience. However, many viewers are also interested in news that aligns with their interests. This creates a cycle of reinforcement that influences the selection and presentation of news stories and partly explains the behavior of more left-leaning news outlets, including CNN.

CNN features several different kinds of news coverage that can differ significantly from its opinion-oriented programming. Programs like Anderson Cooper 360 and Cuomo Prime Time offer commentary and entertainment based on current events, while CNN’s written articles, except for opinion pieces, tend to be more balanced, less biased, and focused on factual reporting. We’ll dive into one of those written articles in the section below.

Analysis of CNN Online Articles

In February of 2023, Statista reported that CNN received the second most traffic of any news media website that month behind the New York Times, with 400.3 million visits. Given the influence of this website, it’s essential to look into its bias and whether these 400 million visitors can trust what they read.

Let’s look into one of CNN’s articles for answers and break it down to the nuts and bolts.

On March 23, 2023, CNN Politics posted this piece: Trump’s intensifying legal drama could drag America closer to historic precipice. The Bias Meter indicates that the article is extremely liberal, with a score of -100% from the A.I. bias rating and a 100% negative politician portrayal. Upon closer examination of Biasly’s analysis, there appear to be 28 negative sentiments for Donald Trump, with only 2 positive sentiments to balance the negative portrayal. It is also evident from the emotionally charged words used in the title — including “drama” and “drag” — that the author sees Trump in an unfavorable light. Although the photos used are relatively neutral, the article links only to other CNN articles on the same topic with similar bias ratings.

Digging into the language of the article itself, it is evident that the author is biased against Republicans and former President Trump, in particular. Take, for instance, the following passage:

“… Trump’s legal mire also may remind voters who rejected him in 2020 and some of his favored candidates in last year’s midterms why they were alienated by his chaotic leadership.”

Words like “alienated” and “chaotic” are word choices that reveal how the author feels about Trump and his administration without saying it outright, suggesting a bias toward the former president. Using these words in this context may also indicate that Collinson sees the Trump administration as disloyal to its base and in a state of confusion and disorganization.

In another quote, the author states:

“A fateful national moment is brewing amid Trump’s wild rhetoric and predictions of his own arrest, a political storm whipped up by his allies, and anticipation among those who have long chafed at his flair for impunity.”

Using phrases like “wild rhetoric” and “flair for impunity,” the author seems to imply the former president’s guilt before the indictment.

The article further reveals its bias by leaning solely on quotes and analysis from CNN’s staff members, left-leaning political figures like the District Attorney of Fulton County, and liberal analysts from organizations like the Brookings Institution for providing factual information but with bias loaded words that favor liberal causes. While Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is quoted, his words are used to portray the former president in a negative light and illustrate Trump’s camp turning against him:

“Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis told a crowd on Monday that he doesn’t ‘know what goes into paying hush money to a porn star’ and later implied in an interview that if he won the Oval Office, he would be far more disciplined than Trump was in his riotous four years as president.”

What this article does not mention, however, is that Ron DeSantis has refused to get involved with Trump’s potential indictment in any way, according to Politico. DeSantis has been quoted saying:

“I have no interest in getting involved in some type of manufactured circus by some Soros DA … He’s trying to do a political spectacle … I’ve got real issues I’ve got to deal with here in the state of Florida.”

This article pits DeSantis and Trump against each other while leaving out the context that DeSantis is not interested in engaging in the matter and prefers to focus on his state — not a political rivalry. The author appears to have cherry-picked quotes to further political drama and portray Trump in an unflattering light.

Overall, the body of the article makes little attempt to be politically neutral and is very left-leaning. This coincides with the Biasly analysis that CNN, as a network, tends to lean very left in its biases — but remember that this is only one article and does not reflect every piece the company produces. Bias between articles in the same network can vary, underscoring the importance of looking for the signs of bias in every article.

Analysis of CNN Talk Shows

Having just analyzed a website article, let’s review a transcript of a CNN talk show to see if it shows the same signs of bias. One of CNN’s popular primetime shows is The Lead with Jake Tapper. As of the time of writing, the most recent transcript available for this show discusses the TikTok congressional hearing, the Afghanistan withdrawal, the Supreme Court, and responses to recent commentary from political figures like Donald Trump and Kyrsten Sinema.

In the first half of the transcript, Tapper interviews the commissioner of the FCC, a Republican, about the TikTok ban. Tapper remains reasonably neutral throughout, facilitating a question/answer format without offering up much personal interpretation. He sticks to the facts as he poses his questions: “So, in order to ban the app from the United States, Congress or President Biden would need to prove TikTok is a national security threat. Did you see any hard evidence presented that it is?” Once his guest has answered the question, he moves on to the next question without injecting personal opinion.

However, once the subject changes to a more partisan topic, Tapper becomes more engaged and changes his approach. In the second half of his show, he interviews the National Investigative Correspondent from Politico — which has a Somewhat Liberal rating on Biasly — about Donald Trump’s potential impending indictment for paying hush money to an adult film actress amid the 2016 election. Here, we see Tapper become critical of Speaker Kevin McCarthy for giving the former president the benefit of the doubt after being asked about one of Trump’s social media posts. McCarthy is shown in a video clip saying,

“I mean, I think the thing that you may misinterpret… when President Trump talks, when someone says that they can protest, he would probably be referring to my tweet, educate people about what’s going on. He’s not talking in a harmful way.”

Tapper reveals a more left-leaning approach in the tone of his response, which could be interpreted as sarcastic:

“Golly. Speaker McCarthy always takes the bright side of things when it comes to Donald Trump and interpreting. It’s really quite remarkable.”

He then starts to speculate and infuse personal analysis:

“Kevin, how did you interpret that, our country is being destroyed as they tell us to be peaceful? It sounded to me, and I showed it to a law enforcement officer who was there on January 6, and he couldn’t — he wasn’t surprised, but again, shocked. He considered it to be an incitement to violence.”

As the show goes on, Tapper’s comments demonstrate Expediency Bias in that he is rushing to judgment without fully considering all the facts on both sides of the issue; according to MSN, Trump’s lawyer asserts,

“You can’t bring a case, cobble two misdemeanors together to try and make a felony and meet the statute limitations when not one misdemeanor exists. There is no crime here. There’s not even a bad act.”

Tapper’s show could reduce its bias by weighing legal insights like these from the other side of the political spectrum in addition to those from his left-leaning guests. On partisan and bipartisan issues, such as the TikTok congressional hearing, having input from multiple viewpoints is equally important.

How Opinionated is CNN?

Before diving into whether or not CNN is opinionated, let’s first distinguish between opinion and reporting. While opinion articles provide an outlet for authors looking to express personal feelings and viewpoints on a particular issue, reporting is meant to be neutral and give the readers provable facts, quotes, and events so they can form a personal opinion on their own based on the available evidence.

Based on the CNN article analyzed above, there are clear elements of factual reporting included — such as quotes, events, and provable facts. It overviews the status of the grand jury in Trump’s case and other legal situations he is involved with and provides direct quotes from the former president. However, the piece is also replete with negatively charged word choices, like, “circus,” “vendetta,” “tactics,” “lashing out,” and “trauma,” which reflect the author’s opinion on the subject. Given this tone of voice, this piece has a more opinionated slant than factual articles that use neutral reporting to explain the situation at hand.

In the Jake Tapper transcript, there is more evidence of bias through pointed language and tone of voice. For instance, when Tapper responds to a Truth Social post from Trump, he says,

“And look, obviously, everybody has a right to peacefully protest, but that sounds like he’s belittling the idea of peacefully protesting. And also he’s lashing out against all of his perceived enemies on Truth Social today. He’s attacking Ron DeSantis, Special Counsel Jack Smith, the New York Attorney General Letitia James, Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis, and the Manhattan — about the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, he writes, quote, “He is doing the work of anarchists and the devil.” He is doing the work of anarchists and the devil.”

The wording of his response is very critical, especially in the last sentence, as Tapper accuses Trump of “doing the work of anarchists and the devil.” Again, only one episode of one talk show and one article have been analyzed in this blog post. Still, these suggest a significant amount of opinion in CNN’s content — talk shows and online articles alike — indicating how important it is to know how to look for this language and differentiate neutral reporting and opinion.

Who Owns CNN?

As of summer 2022, CNN is under new ownership. After Jeff Zucker resigned from CNN, Chris Licht took over as CEO and Chairman of the network. He is best known as being the executive VP of special programming at CBS and the executive producer of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. Licht has a goal of “bringing CNN back to its hard-news roots, to tamp down on anti-Trump, left-leaning punditry, and to cut costs,” according to the New York Post.

Additionally, one of the primary investors has a new vision for the media company. John Malone, CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery and CNN board member, is calling for a reinvention of the company with the goal of steering it away from its liberal bias that he says “muddles opinion and news.” He wants anchors and hosts to take a more centrist, “just the facts” standpoint.

According to Malone, “I would like to see CNN evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with and actually have journalists, which would be unique and refreshing … Fox News, in my opinion, has followed an interesting trajectory of trying to have ‘news’ news, I mean some actual journalism, embedded in a program schedule of all opinions.”

Malone is considered a conservative/libertarian who sat on the board of the Cato Institute and is known to have donated several hundred thousand dollars to Donald Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee. Given Malone’s newly acquired influence over CNN, there may soon be a shift in the company’s bias that fundamentally changes it for good.

How to Evaluate and Uncover Bias

It can often be difficult to tell if the news you watch is biased. If you have settled on a news channel, it’s usually because you trust the information you are gaining. Unfortunately, many trust the information they are hearing because it confirms what they already believe. This is referred to as “confirmation bias.” It is important to challenge your beliefs and get third-party verification that what you are hearing is the full story. This is why we recommend using Biasly to compare different news stories side-by-side using our bias ratings to figure out what both sides think of a political issue.

Although CNN has a -68% bias score from Biasly, it’s important to remember that Biasly’s ratings are different for every article, and not every CNN article published has a left-leaning bias. Please also note that some articles, such as opinion editorials and talk shows, are avenues for personal viewpoints and are more likely to be biased — but this doesn’t necessarily make them less trustworthy if their factual articles are more centrist and objective.

If you ingest political media regularly, you will notice that nearly every article you read will have at least some bias, but some try harder to stick to the facts than others. If you aren’t sure about an article or website’s propensity toward objectivity, make sure you have the Biasly Chrome browser extension so you can review its Biasly rating and become a more informed consumer of news.

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