Breitbart is a news media company that focuses on its digital publications, receiving an average of around 30 million page views each month. The company was founded in 2007 by the late Andrew Breitbart and Larry Solov, the current CEO of the company. While it is a somewhat large company, Breitbart has a reputation as a conservative, right-wing, and even alt-right news source. While it has been established as conservatively biased, how do its biases impact the accuracy of Breitbart’s reporting?
Does Reliability Matter?
Reliability, in general, refers to how trustworthy or accurate information, or in this case, a news source is. If we consider this definition, it quickly becomes clear why reliability is important in media sources. If we can’t trust the things we read then there isn’t much of a point in continuing to consume content from that source, after all. So how exactly can we gauge the reliability of a news source anyways?
There are several potential measures of reliability to look out for when trying to determine whether a media source is reliable or not. Red flags for an unreliable article can include the presence of wild unsubstantiated claims, facts dependent on other unreliable sources, heavy use of opinionated language, and more. Some indicators of a reliable news source, on the other hand, include things like:
- Absence of subjective/opinionated language in articles
- Credible sources cited (e.g., neutral sources, .gov, .edu websites)
- Facts and statistics backed by multiple relevant outside sources
- Use of primary sources when possible (e.g., interviews, quotes)
- Information that remains consistent across news sources
How Does Breitbart Fair with its Reliability?
According to Biasly’s bias indicator, Breitbart has an analyst reliability score of 69%. In comparison, The Atlantic, a more liberally biased news site with similar numbers of monthly page visits to Breitbart, received the same reliability score of 69%. According to Pew Research, among people who have heard of Breitbart, about equal amounts trust and distrust the reliability of the company.
Source: Pew Research
From this comparison, we can see that Breitbart shares a similar level of reliability to The Atlantic. But how do these scores relate to biases and what do they actually mean? To understand how bias impacts the reliability of Breitbart, we need to gain a better understanding of these biases.
Breitbart’s Accuracy and Reliability
While Breitbart is widely regarded as a right-leaning news source, a belief which we confirmed in another article on this topic, how much does this impact Breitbart’s reliability and accuracy? To understand this, we will examine a few Breitbart articles to determine their reliability.
Selection bias is when stories and facts are selected or deselected, often on ideological grounds, to create a narrative in support of the new sources’ ideology. Omission bias, on the other hand, is when different opinions and political views regarding a situation are left out, so that the reader is only exposed to the ideological perspective supported by the author. It’s important to keep in mind these two types of biases when trying to assess an article’s level of accuracy.
Biasly’s accuracy rating system is based on a simple percentage scale with 1 percent being the least accurate and 100 being the most accurate. These ratings are determined by counting the number of credible sources used by that publication on average. As established earlier, Breitbart’s reliability score when using this system is 69%.
In general, articles with more bias score lower on the accuracy scale while less biased articles score higher. In the case of Breitbart, Biasly’s analyzed articles range from as high as 90% reliability to as low as 44% reliability. However, most of the analyzed articles land somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, generally in the 60s. Interestingly, the article with the highest reliability has the lowest bias score while the lower reliability articles have higher levels of bias.
For example, the article “Report: Democrat Dark Money Network Pushes $500 Billion to Fight ‘Environmental Racism’” was given a bias score of 40% conservative while the author bias score comes out to 52%. This article was given an accuracy score of 69%. The author cites an article from the Washington Free Beacon as one of its main sources, but this site is undeniably a conservatively biased source. While this doesn’t invalidate the claims in this article, it does come off as the author specifically selecting a source that aligns with his views.
In addition, this article cites the mission statement of the environmental organization The Windward Fund, which does help alleviate some selection bias by including a different perspective. In addition, the author cites two primary sources in the form of Senate paperwork. However, the article also mentions the term “environmental racism,” but omits what this term means. Environmental racism is defined by Dr. Robert Bullard as “any policy, practice or directive that differentially affects or disadvantages (where intended or unintended) individuals, groups or communities based on race.” By omitting a definition for the term, the author emphasizes how it might sound ridiculous based solely on the name.
Analysis of Reliability in Breitbart Opinion Pieces
Opinion pieces are, by their nature opinions, biased. While opinion pieces are inevitably going to be biased, they can also be reliable in some cases. Breitbart’s opinion pieces are difficult to differentiate from their news articles as they do not have their own page and are only separated from news stories by showing the author’s name, followed by a colon, in the title of the article. Other than this differentiation which is only mentioned on Breitbart’s Policy Information page, opinion pieces are not clearly marked as such. Because opinion pieces are simply the opinions of the authors aimed at convincing readers to agree, mixing them in with news reporting with little differentiation is a questionable practice.
As an example, we will examine the opinion piece Nolte: Tucker Carlson Will Wipe Those Smug Smirks off Left-Wing Faces to determine its reliability.
To start off, the author immediately refers to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as a fascist with the only evidence of this claim being a tweet showing a video of AOC saying deplatforming Tucker Carlson is generally a good thing. While it is certainly valid to criticize this video, immediately calling someone a fascist without a detailed explanation of the evidence and either intentionally ignoring or being ignorant of what fascism actually is, is certainly an example of omission bias.
The author also refers to Fox News as “Cuck News,” which might seem to imply a liberal bias. However, the author is instead praising Tucker Carlson for his intelligence and following while insulting Fox News. The author doesn’t present any sources or evidence for Tucker Carlson’s intelligence and instead states that:
“Most importantly, people trust Tucker. They know he’s smart, connected, willing to bolt the fascist establishment’s debate plantation (even at the expense of his job and position), and will lay things out in a way that’s refreshingly blunt.”
Without mentioning any source to back up this claim, the author calls the establishment fascist and praises Tucker Carlson for standing up against it. Throughout the article, the author seems to be trying to make the wider point about conservatives being censored and/or attacked. This claim can be seen when Nolte states that
“We live in a culture where half the population is under constant assault. We’re insulted in movies, TV shows, novels, songs, and even advertisements.”
As is the case with many of the claims in this opinion piece, the author omits any examples of movies, TV shows, novels, songs, or advertisements that would back his claim and seems to believe that this is just a self-evident fact.
I was unable to find Breitbart opinion pieces by any author other than John Nolte, which could be a result of either Breitbart’s system of labeling opinion pieces or possibly only having one writer who contributes opinion pieces to the site, both of which paint a negative picture of the reliability of Breitbart’s opinion pieces.
So is Breitbart Reliable?
Overall, Breitbart is like any other news source in the sense that some articles will be more reliable than others. This will always depend on the author and type of article. In general, opinion pieces tend to be less reliable due to them being, as the name implies, the opinions of the author. In Breitbart’s case, opinion pieces are mixed in with the news and it is often difficult to discern which is which. Breitbart also doesn’t exactly have a huge variety of opinions as most opinion pieces seem to be by the same author. Biasly’s News Check Chrome Extension can be used to analyze the reliability and bias of any particular article if you might have questions about it.
Because some articles are more reliable than others, it is generally best to examine these articles on a case-by-case basis rather than judging the reliability of an entire news source.