USA Today has advanced from its humble beginnings in 1982 to become one of the most well-known and frequently read publications in the United States, ranking 10th in the country according to similarweb.com, with 138.8 million views in April on top of that.
USA Today is a prominent digital and print publication with a reputation for high-caliber journalism, so whether it is biased deserves careful consideration. According to Pew Research, most of USA Today’s readers are 40% Democrat, 39% Independent, and 20% Republican:
In this piece, we will examine the newspaper’s reporting and editorial choices to see whether there’s any apparent political bias there. Through our investigation, we seek to fully address the question, of whether USA Today is biased, as well as offer insight into the elements that generally lead to media bias.
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 3,200 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, biased 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 USA Today Politically Biased?
Biasly’s A.I. Bias score for USA Today sits at -8% for “center,” and it gave a policy leaning score of -11% which is “somewhat liberal.” USA Today gives praise for liberal policies but as a whole remains fair and centric which slight leanings to the left. The results from Biasly closely match those of other independent bias research organizations. For “overall, we rate USA Today Left-Center Biased based on editorial positions that slightly favor the left.” MBFC also gave USA Today the rating left-center, noting that USA Today had failed fact checks where they [the editors] have missed some fabricated stories in the past.
Based on your political inclinations, readers like you are more likely to view USA Today in a positive light due to their propensity to remain somewhat neutral and tell mostly factual stories. They tend to support liberal causes and individuals but not too much which does not degrade or retract from the quality of articles being posted. The rest of this post will discuss how to spot the bias so you can distinguish between views and facts and improve your knowledge of news consumption.
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.
On the media’s part, there is an incentive to retain audiences, encourage them to purchase subscriptions, and rate products positively. Bias is a two-way street, people want to see news stories about things they care about, and the media needs viewers to continue their operations. This creates a positive feedback loop that influences what stories are covered and from what perspective. This also explains the actions of more liberal news organizations.
Analysis of Bias in USA Today’s Online Articles
According to Pew Research, the majority of USA Today’s readers are between the ages of 30 to 49, are 76% college educated or some college, are up-to-date on current events, and 59% make $30,000 or more a year, with 28% of that making over $75,000 a year. Given its educated, well-funded, and knowledgeable audience, can USA Today be biased? In order to see the warning flags, we’ll take a closer look at a few of their publications below.
Tone, Author, and Diction are the main metrics we’ll concentrate on here because they are some of the most often utilized metrics for determining bias. Tone, while connected to but different than diction, which is the writer’s word choices, tone relates to the attitude of the text. The author of this article and their positions on various subjects as expressed in prior publications and social media posts are referred to in the author metric.
Source: Pew Research
The first article that we will investigate is called, “White House rallies around Kamala Harris after Reports of Dysfunction in West Wing.” Biasly rated this article as -10% on the Bias Meter, or “center.” It leans to the left based on the author’s tone, which stays informative about the dysfunction inside the white house. Additionally, the author, Matthew Brown, stays consistent in his informative approach throughout the article. The tone suggests that there is discord within the Whitehouse between Kamala Harris and Joe Biden due to the upcoming election.
“A Sunday Politico story highlighted early jockeying to replace Biden as the Democratic nominee for president in 2024 or 2028 and noted that Democrats outside the White House are still gearing up for a potentially competitive primary despite Harris’ status as Biden’s second-in-command and presumed heir.”
Brown’s diction also stays moderate throughout the article and does not use any extreme language or phrases. The language used in this article is neutral and cited from multiple new agencies as seen in the example above. Furthermore, when we inspect the author himself, we find that Brown is a White House NOW reporter for USA Today, where he covers all breaking news coming out of the Biden Administration. He additionally does not have a Twitter account for us to look at however, we can inspect previous articles’ of his and find if there is any bias in those. Some of his other articles include pieces about the financial aid Biden has given to Ukraine and they indicate a slightly left-leaning but mostly neutral background. Those articles were titled, “Biden to announce $800M in additional military aid for Ukraine: March 15 recap” and, “ Biden calls Putin ‘war criminal,’ signs off on $800M for Ukraine: March 16 recap.”
In conclusion, the author makes an effort to be objective and includes a few viewpoints from different news organizations that give a clear and holistic view of the issue that he is reporting on. All of this shows that, despite the fact that certain parts of his piece were considered to have left-leaning viewpoints or slightly left-leaning word use, the article as a whole is considered to be neutral, which is consistent with our study of USA Today as a business with a propensity to be neutral with few left-leaning opinions filtering into their articles. Ultimately USA Today is a neutral media source with a slightly left-of-center bias.
Even if this article is politically centric, writers, and articles might have different levels of bias even when they are produced by the same organization. This highlights how critical it is to scan each article you come across for indications of bias, such as (but not limited to) tone, diction, and author bias.
To serve as an example, here is an article from USA Today that shows heavy bias, “Elise Stefanik becomes next GOP conference chair, replacing Liz Cheney.” Biasly’s A.I. rating is -92%, or “extremely liberal”. The authors Bart Jansen and Savannah Berhmann do an adequate job of using a neutral tone throughout the article, however, they only used quotes from Republicans in their story. According to the Biasly A.I. metric, the authors used certain words, phrases, or quotes that gave several negative sentiments toward Republican politicians throughout the article. These sentiments consisted of 15 negative sentiments toward Donald Trump, 19 negative sentiments toward Elise Stefanik, and 11 negative sentiments toward Liz Cheney. Additionally, there were only two mentions of Democrats in this article and each had one positive sentiment given to both.
This is unsurprising as Savannah Berhmann and Bart Jansen have a left-leaning Twitter feed. Berhmann posted on June 1, 2023,
“Tonight’s vote is a good outcome because Dems did a very good job taking the worst parts of the Republican plan off the table. And that’s why Dems voted overwhelmingly for this bill while Republicans, certainly in the Senate, did not.”
Additionally, Jansen has posted about student debt forgiveness multiple times with a politically left-leaning appeal in his posts. To be fair he usually posts links or markets his articles, but they clearly have a liberal bias in all his tweets. For example:
“Join us today at 1 p.m. ET as USA TODAY reporters @ganjansen and @CQuintanaDC talk about how the Biden administration has been cracking down on certain debtors as well as how you could qualify for more student loan forgiveness.”
Ultimately, we have uncovered the fact that just because an organization can be centric in a majority of its publications, there is no way to remove all bias from every article. This is because everyone has some inherent bias, and some authors have more than others as typified by our above example. This is why it is important to use the Biasly.com media bias news checker as it can provide you an in-depth breakdown of the bias in each article you look at.
Analysis of USA Today Opinion Articles
In advance of analyzing the opinion articles of USA Today, we must first define the differences between reporting and opinion pieces before we can respond to this issue. Opinion pieces provide a platform for columnists to express their individual views on hot-topic issues of the day, whereas reporting is meant to be objective, providing the reader with the facts and quotes from primary sources to enable them to create their own opinions. Although the study above had some parts of factual reporting, USA Today’s opinion columns stress expressing an opinion over seeking neutrality.
Let us investigate our first opinion article, “Debt ceiling deal reveals the Impotence of Donald Trump’s MAGA Movement.” Since it contains a slew of wording that implies the Republicans are bad and implies a negative opinion of Republicans’ intentions or deeds, the title is loaded with discrimination against Republicans. The word “Impotence” when defined says an “inability to take effective action,” specifically indicates that the Republicans in Congress, are weak and ineffective at leadership. This is used to sway the reader’s perception before they read the article.
The author does not offer a balanced and impartial account of the facts, as seen by the title’s bias and the author’s anticipatory condemnation of the previous President and Congressional Republicans. The tone and diction throughout the article indicate a heavily biased story, however, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is important to note, that while there is a large difference between opinion pieces and reporting, opinion pieces are okay as long as the authors do not mislead their readers.
Next, we will inspect another opinion article with less bias, “Measles, mpox, Marburg virus, oh my! Here’s why we’re seeing so many emerging infections.” This article has a much more objective title, focusing on informing the reader instead of chasing an agenda or shoving an opinion down our throats. Neutral language along with reliable information from trustworthy sources are indicators of a reliable article. It is fair to predict that this article will be less prejudiced than the one before it based only on its title.
Along with the aforementioned reporting articles from above, these opinion columns depict that USA Today is frequently characterized by plenty of opinions, further stressing the importance of knowing how to differentiate subjective writing from genuine reporting.
Who Owns USA Today?
In 1982, entrepreneur, author, and columnist Al Nueharth founded the daily publication USA Today. Currently, the media organization is owned by Gannet CO., Incorporated. The newspaper covers national and international news with an emphasis on entertainment, popular culture, and celebrity scandal. USA Today says its, “mission is to serve as a forum for better understanding and unity to help make the USA truly one nation.” The USA Today network also provides a set of Principles and Ethical Conduct for Newsrooms. Maribel Perez Wadsworth is the president and publisher of USA Today. As of March 2018, Nicole Carrol serves as the Chief Editor. On June 16, 2022, it was reported that USA Today had withdrawn 23 articles authored by Gabriela Miranda for the fabrication of facts.
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.
Despite receiving a -8% “centric” bias score from Biasly, it is important to note that USA Today’s bias level can vary depending on the article. Furthermore, it should be acknowledged that the publication does not solely feature neutral perspectives. It has been reported that the publication has previously published articles with left and right-leaning viewpoints. It is worth noting that certain types of articles may exhibit varying degrees of bias. In particular, news articles of a general nature are typically regarded as less biased than opinion pieces. In today’s media landscape, bias is an ever-present concern. While it’s true that every article has some degree of bias, certain sources are more committed to factual accuracy than others. That’s why it’s crucial to utilize Biasly’s News Check tool, which can assist you in gauging the level of bias in the news you consume.