Newsweek is a long-running news magazine and website with an average of 40 million website views each month, placing it in the same league as other major publication’s websites such as Politico and ABC News. Initially founded in 1933 as a weekly news magazine in the same vein as Time, Newsweek has since become a major publication of both print and digital news with around 100 million overall readers monthly. However, is its relative popularity indicative of Newsweek’s reliability in terms of accurate 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 Newsweek Fare with its Reliability?
Using Biasly’s political bias indicator, Newsweek was given an accuracy rating of 84 percent. In comparison, news sites of similar size, Politico and ABC News were given accuracy scores of 89 percent and 78 percent reliability respectively.
While we can see from the bias indicator that Newsweek’s reliability is comparable to other publications of similar size, what does this mean? How does bias factor into the reliability and accuracy of a publication?
Newsweek’s Accuracy and Reliability
While Newsweek is generally seen as a fairly reliable news source, how true is this in reality? When Newsweek’s articles do include bias, does this impact the factual accuracy of the publication? To determine this, we will look at the accuracy and reliability of a handful of Newsweek articles.
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. For Newsweek, the average reliability comes out to 84% based on 27 rated articles.
In general, articles with more bias score lower on the accuracy scale while less biased articles score higher. Because Newsweek is a fairly moderate source with a variety of viewpoints in its writers, Newsweek articles rated on Biasly tend to range from 80% reliable to 92% reliable. These changes in reliability can often be attributed to the presence of selection and omission bias in the articles, meaning articles intentionally leave out or include information that might sway readers to a certain way of thinking on the topic.
For example, the Newsweek article “White House Has ‘Serious Concerns’ About Escalating Tensions in Israel,” has an analyst bias score of -10% liberal and an author bias score of -14% liberal. With these Somewhat liberal-leaning biases, the article earned a 92% accuracy rating. The article cites a tweet from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which is a fair primary source, and The Associated Press, another well-known news publication with a somewhat liberal-leaning reputation as its major sources. Both sources are generally reliable but carry some bias. The Israeli Foreign Ministry, while it is a source with a direct connection to the issue discussed, is a bit biased in that it is coming from the Israeli side of the issue. In the tweet, the Israeli Foreign Ministry claims that the PA (Palestinian Authority, the government of Palestinian territories) and Palestinian terror groups were involved in the recent clashes in Jerusalem. However, there is no evidence to suggest either party was involved in the clashes from May 5th to May 7th, 2021 when the tweet was made. Interestingly, the Newsweek article leaves out the mention of the PA when it quotes the tweet. The Associated Press source is simply discussing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reaction to the Hamas rocket strikes and recent violence reported by the AP.
From the other side of the aisle, “Joe Biden Laughs at Notion That April Jobs Numbers Are Disappointing, Despite 6.1% Unemployment Rate,” was given an analyst bias score of 23% conservative and 14% conservative author bias. As a result of being a bit more biased than the first article, this article was given a still high 81% reliable score. This article cites the U.S. Department of Labor, a reliable government source, and a tweet from RNC Research, a decidedly more biased source.
The Labor Department source cited explains that the economy gained 266,000 jobs in April of 2021 but had a slight increase in the unemployment rate to 6.1%. While the information from RNC Research isn’t necessarily untrue, it is an undeniably partisan source showing some bias in the article. The RNC Research tweet says:
“Joe Biden laughs as April jobs report shows increased unemployment rate,” and includes a video in which Joe Biden states “This morning, we learned that our economy created 266,000 jobs in April. It hadn’t been adjusted again yet, but that’s what it says: 266. And listening to commentators today — (laughs) — as I was getting dressed, you might think that we should be disappointed.”
However, the video cuts off a further explanation in which Biden says:
“But when we passed the American Rescue Plan, I want to remind everybody, it was designed to help us over the course of a year — not 60 days, a year. We never thought that, after the first 50 or 60 days, everything would be fine.”
While the article makes mention of this, the RNC Research tweet neglects to mention this detail, making its motivation for this tweet dubious. With the added context of the rest of the quote which was omitted from the RNC Research tweet, it becomes clearer that Biden was laughing because 266,000 jobs was a bigger success than expected, not because of the slightly higher unemployment rate that month. On the other hand, the U.S. Department of Labor statistic that “the economy gained 266,000 jobs in April,” is true and widely reported in many other publications.
With this basis, we can understand that just because an article is biased doesn’t mean that it is completely inaccurate. While biases can certainly limit the accuracy of an article to some extent, news sources generally won’t misrepresent facts intentionally and many will have some sort of source for credibility. Despite this, many Americans, eight in ten according to Pew Research Center, believe different news sources provide different facts entirely.
Source: Pew Research
Analysis of Accuracy/Reliability in Newsweek Opinion News Articles
Newsweek’s opinion section includes a solid array of opinion pieces from both sides of the aisle, even featuring a “debate of the week” in which two articles with differing views on a topic are contrasted as equals, and with the authors of these two articles debating in a podcast format. Currently, the opinion page is featuring a debate on whether or not there should be a unanimous jury requirement for the death penalty. This section in and of itself is a great example showing that Newsweek is a publication that will portray both sides of politics at least somewhat fairly.
While normal news articles like those presented above tend to have some amount of bias but can also avoid it, opinion pieces are specifically written to be biased. Where news articles are intended to inform but often end up persuading as well, opinion pieces are blatantly meant to persuade readers of a particular way of thinking. While they are biased, that doesn’t make opinion pieces inaccurate. As an example, let’s take a look at the opinion piece “The Right Is Better at Communicating. What Progressives Should Learn From Ben Shapiro” on Newsweek’s website.
“For my money, it’s Bernie Sanders—not Ronald Reagan—who deserves the title of the ‘Great Communicator’ of American politics. Agree with him or not, Sanders is incredibly effective at delivering a clear, simple message that resonates with his audience.”
The author makes it fairly clear that he is trying to, at the very least, respect both sides in this article. This quotation very clearly articulates the author’s claim and reason for writing this opinion piece. Despite this, he is also transparent about his own political views when he states,
“Unfortunately, Bernie’s clear and direct style of communication is the exception rather than the rule on the Left.”
Although the author makes his position as Left-leaning purposefully transparent within the article, the author is criticizing an issue within his side of the political divide rather than criticizing the Right. The following quote is another example of the author admitting that the Right does something broadly better than the Left.
“Lately I’ve been reading dozens upon dozens of right-wing books, by figures from Friedrich von Hayek to Tucker Carlson, as research for a book of refutations of conservative talking points. And one of the most striking, undeniable facts is that conservatives are far better writers than their Left-wing counterparts.”
This admission by the author that the opposite side of his own political beliefs is generally better at presenting their ideas in a well-written, digestible way shows that he is willing to concede that the Left can learn something from the Right when it comes to presenting their ideas. He also focuses on Bernie Sanders in particular as a Left-wing politician who does a good job in this department.
In terms of omission and selection biases in this opinion piece, this author certainly omits and includes some information to make his argument more convincing. He omits many other examples of effective communicators from the Left while instead mentioning examples from the Right including the modern-day Ben Shapiro and Tucker Carlson to the past Friedrich von Hayek and Ronald Reagan.
While these omissions and selections aren’t particularly egregious, they are certainly evidence that the author is carefully choosing what information to include in this piece to sway his readers to his way of thinking. Interestingly, the author’s use of selection and omission is mainly to support that the Right is, for the most part, better at communicating their views than the Left, despite his political leanings. In doing so, he highlights Bernie Sanders in particular as an example of the Left communicating more effectively in a way akin to those on the Right.
This article cites many sources from moderately reliable news sources such as The Guardian and The New York Times, as well as a Yale study on newspaper op-eds, which is a high-quality .edu source. Interestingly, the article even includes a link to an article from Salvage, a self-described communist journal, as an example of the author’s point that the Left can be bad at communicating their ideas effectively. Overall, the actual sources in this opinion piece are fairly credible, albeit somewhat biased. Being an opinion piece, this is not unsurprising as the author is trying to prove a point rather than report factually on the news.
Overall, this opinion piece, while leaning to the Left, is only one of many on Newsweek’s website, many of which lean to the Right. By including opinion pieces from authors on both sides of the aisle, Newsweek’s opinion section in particular does a good job overall at managing its bias by showing both sides.
So is Newsweek Reliable?
As with any other news source, Newsweek does carry some bias in its articles and its reliability will sometimes be impacted by this fact. While Newsweek does score Center bias on Biasly’s bias meter, it is important to continually evaluate news articles for factuality on a case-by-case basis. An easy way to keep an eye out for this is to use Biasly’s News Check Chrome extension.
Many writers do a good job managing their biases to put out accurate reporting, but it is always important to verify the accuracy of any given news article by examining its sources. Overall, Newsweek does a good job of maintaining an image of neutrality by including opinions and articles from both sides of the aisle while remaining fairly reliable and accurate.