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How Biased is MSNBC if at all?

By · May 17, 2023 · 7 min read

How Biased is MSNBC if at all?

MSNBC is a well-known news source that caters to a liberal audience. But does this mean that it is biased in its reporting?

Since its inception in 1996 as a joint venture between Microsoft and NBC, MSNBC has grown to become one of the most influential cable news networks in the United States. As a 24-hour news channel, it has established itself as a key player in the media landscape, featuring a variety of opinion-driven and hard news programming.

As a prominent news outlet with a considerable audience, the question of whether MSNBC is biased warrants thorough scrutiny. According to Pew Research Center, the partisanship and ideological leaning of MSNBC’s viewers are primarily Democrat (58%), with a much smaller Independent (24%) and Republican viewership (16%). Additionally, Pew Research found that 36% of viewers of MSNBC were liberal, 23% were Independent, and 32% were conservative.

In this article, we will evaluate the network’s coverage and editorial choices to ascertain if a clear political bias exists in their reporting. By conducting an in-depth analysis, we aim to provide a comprehensive answer to whether MSNBC is biased and illuminate the factors that contribute to media bias more broadly.

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, 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 MSNBC Politically Biased?

MSNBC has faced criticism from conservatives, independents, and even some liberals for displaying bias in favor of left-leaning causes. Biasly’s A.I. Bias Score for MSNBC sits at 68% for being “Very Liberal,” and it gave a Policy Leaning score of 59%, which means it provides political coverage from an American liberal political perspective. Praise for liberal politicians and policies, as well as criticism toward Republican policies and politicians, contribute to this rating.

Biasly’s scores closely align with determinations by other third-party bias research agencies, including MBFC. MBFC ranked MSNBC as “Left-biased” for “strong loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes), publish misleading reports, and omit information reporting that may damage liberal causes.”

Accusations of bias often arise from the network’s tone, tendency, author, diction, and expediency biases as outlined below.

Type of BiasDefinitionExample in MSNBC’s Reporting
Tone BiasTone towards a particular perspective, expressing bias against specific ideas or values.Presenting stories from a progressive point of view, favoring evidence that confirms progressive beliefs.
Tendency BiasConsistency of tone and perspective across multiple articles or within a news outlet.Consistently maintaining a liberal tone in articles, potentially leading to a skewed representation of the news.
Author BiasBias in the way commentators and authors interpret and analyze political events.Praising progressive politicians and policies while criticizing conservative politicians and policies.
Diction BiasEmotive words and emotionally charged language used to support or criticize certain values and policies.In their articles, using  “compassionate” for progressive policies and “divisive” for conservative policies.
Expediency BiasFocus on first impressions, headlines, images, and clickbait to quickly capture the audience’s attention.Crafting provocative headlines or using images that appeal to a liberal audience.

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. 

Analysis of Bias in MSNBC Online Articles:

Pew Research has discovered that the primary audience of MSNBC tends to be less college-educated on average than other news sources, between the ages of 30 and 64, and have a somewhat lower income than on average. Given its diverse viewership base, is MSNBC really biased? We’ll examine some of their programs, segments, and reporting styles in more detail below to identify the signs and determine whether the network displays a significant political bias.

We can look at an example of a fairly recent article that displays these biases. Biasly recently reviewed this article and judged it as a 98% Extremely Liberal bias.

On MSNBC’s Deadline: White House blog, a recent article discusses what to expect from former President Donald Trump’s arraignment. While the article does provide information on the legal proceedings that may take place, it also includes several biases that may affect readers’ perceptions of the event. Below are some of the biases present in the article:

The tone of the article is somewhat sensationalized and focuses heavily on the potential drama of Trump’s arraignment, using phrases like “historic arraignment” and “most attention the public has ever paid to an arraignment.” This may heighten emotions and create a sense of excitement or alarm for readers, rather than presenting a more neutral or balanced tone.

The author of the article appears to have a bias against Trump, as evidenced by the negative language used to describe him and the lack of balanced reporting. This bias may have influenced the author’s selection and interpretation of the information presented in the article.

This is further made clear by the fact that the author often writes about Trump in different articles in a negative manner. One such example is the article “Trump’s danger is on display in multiple Manhattan courts.” The tone and choice of details presented suggest a critical perspective on Trump’s actions and the consequences he might face due to his past behavior. 

The article also uses language that may be seen as negative or prejudicial towards Trump, such as referring to the “Stormy Daniels hush money case” and implying that Trump is guilty by using phrases like “convictions for the former president’s company.” This may reflect a bias toward portraying Trump in a negative light and could influence readers’ perceptions of the case.

However, not all of MSNBC’s online articles have had an Extremely Liberal bias as was shown in this example. For example, another article “Supreme Court keeps abortion pill access through at least Friday” was rated as a 4% liberal bias by Biasly, making it a fairly unbiased piece.

This article demonstrates a relatively low level of bias by providing factual information about the case and the legal proceedings surrounding the abortion pill Mifepristone. The article includes statements and perspectives from both the Justice Department and Danco Laboratories, the manufacturer of the drug. It also outlines the conflicting orders issued by judges appointed by different presidents, highlighting the differing perspectives on the issue.

Nonetheless, some elements in the article might be seen as biased, such as the use of terms like “extreme restrictions” or referring to the rulings from Trump-appointed judges as “unprecedented” and “dubiously reasoned.”

Overall, the article offers a relatively balanced account of the legal battle surrounding mifepristone, but it could benefit from further neutral language adjustments to minimize potential bias. 

Analysis of MSNBC’s opinion articles:

In the case of MSNBC, it is essential to distinguish between opinion and reporting. Reporting aims to present neutral information, offering facts and primary source quotes to enable readers to form their own opinions. In contrast, opinion pieces provide a platform for columnists to express their personal views on current issues. While some MSNBC articles may contain elements of factual reporting, their opinion pieces prioritize expressing a perspective rather than seeking objectivity.

One article that can be used to understand more about MSNBC’s overall biases in their opinion articles is “Roe v. Wade remains law, but the Supreme Court isn’t acting like it.

The article has a clear stance against the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, accusing them of acting more like a political body than a judicial one. This perspective may influence the way readers perceive the court’s actions regarding the Texas abortion law and other related cases. One example of diction bias found within this article is the sentence:

And the Supreme Court, which, let’s say it one more time, is charged with striking down laws that violate the Constitution, is aiding and abetting Texas’ behavior.”

A clear example of tone bias within the article is this passage:

“The time for polite euphemisms is over. Let’s be blunt. Texas passed an unconstitutional ban on abortions.”

This passage is an example of left-leaning tone, as it explicitly accuses the Supreme Court of supporting Texas’ abortion ban, which the author argues is unconstitutional.

The author also uses strong language to criticize the Supreme Court’s decision-making, such as describing its actions as a “callous indifference to abortion rights” and accusing the court of “aiding and abetting Texas’ behavior.” This language may elicit an emotional response from readers and further establish the author’s bias against the court’s handling of the issue.

The overall tone of the article is critical and assertive, presenting the author’s perspective on the Supreme Court’s actions as a grave threat to abortion rights and the rule of law. This tone can certainly influence readers to view the court’s actions as inherently negative and harmful to the democratic process.

While this opinion piece is biased, it is certainly expected to be more biased than other articles simply due to the fact that it is an opinion article. It is also important to note that this article does not accurately represent all MSNBC articles, and other articles on the website can have a variety of levels of accuracy.

Who Owns MSNBC?

MSNBC is owned by NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast Corporation. Comcast, a publicly traded company, is thus the ultimate owner of the network, with its shareholders holding stakes in the business. The company was formed in 1996 as a joint venture between Microsoft and General Electric’s NBC unit, but Microsoft divested its share in 2005, and Comcast acquired a majority stake in NBCUniversal in 2011.

Brian L. Roberts, the Chairman and CEO of Comcast, has significant influence over the company and supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. MSNBC’s programming has consistently leaned towards the left, with a liberal slant in its coverage of news and politics. This suggests that Roberts may have somewhat of an influence on what MSNBC decides to broadcast.

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. 

Although Biasly gave MSNBC a -68% Very Liberal bias score, keep in mind that bias can vary by article, and MSNBC does not solely publish liberal-leaning thought pieces. In fact, the network has been known to produce some centrist articles as well. Additionally, certain article types inherently exhibit more or less bias; for example, general news articles tend to be less biased than opinion pieces.

It is crucial to remember that every article you read will exhibit some degree of bias, but some adhere to the facts better than others. This is why using tools like Biasly’s News Check can be helpful in determining the bias of the content you consume. By staying aware of potential biases, readers can maintain a more balanced and well-informed perspective on various issues.

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