The Washington Post was established in 1877 and is one of the leading daily newspapers in the United States. A study by Statista found The Washington Post’s credibility fared relatively well in 2022, with a survey revealing that 48 percent of respondents believed the publication to be very or somewhat credible. However, a similar poll by Statista found that 37 percent of respondents found the Washington Post to be either trustworthy or very trustworthy. Considering its long history in American News, how reliable is the Washington Post?
At Biasly, we endeavor to evaluate the accuracy and dependability of all media outlets. Let us investigate the reliability and accuracy of the Washington Post.
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 anyway?
There are several potential measures of reliability to look out for when trying to determine whether a media source is reliable. 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
So How Does the Washington Post Fare in its Reliability?
The political bias index developed by Biasly objectively assesses news organizations’ dependability. The Washington Post has a rating of 74% reliability on our meter, which suggests readers can trust most of The Washington Post’s content online. However, since there is an average, specific articles could be more or less trustworthy. Our findings are in line with those of other third-party raters that show the source is mostly reliable, rather than extremely reliable. This is mostly due to the Post retracting several stories in the past and instances of other reliability issues.
Let’s examine the data that backs these rankings and delve into what to look for when seeking reliable sources of news.
Washington Post Accuracy and Reliability
The credibility of news organizations is significantly impacted by bias and political orientation. For example, The Washington Post has been accused at times of prioritizing a liberal perspective over factual accuracy. We will assess the credibility of The Washington Post’s news articles and determine the extent to which the publication supports claims with evidence. We will check for selection and omission bias as we asses the articles’ correctness and factuality.
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 assigns a percentage score to accuracy, with one being the least accurate and 100 being the most. Ratings are calculated by weighing assertions with supporting evidence, the number of reliable internal sources, and the number of reliable external sources employed. A full page at Biasly’s website includes dependability and accuracy ratings for newly released Washington Post news stories. As we previously stated, according to the reports analytics have assessed, The Washington Post is generally 74% reliable. This score can vary from article to article, though, and the most extreme variations in dependability are caused by bias, notably omission, and selection bias.
Consider also, Breitbart which has a very conservative bias at 62% and has a reliability score of 62% according to Biasly. For example, they had one article that was 94% reliable titled “MSNBC’s Ruhle: Defund the Police Really Enhances and Empowers Law Enforcement” and another article called, “Biden’s Deputies Urge Children to Demand Transgender Status,” that is only 25% reliable. As a result, stories displaying political leaning are less reliable than those that are sharing a story using direct quotes and data.
For instance, in The Washington Post article titled, Man killed in FBI raid after alleged threats against Biden, other officials are rated as Center. Concerning the selection and omission bias, the author Ben Brasch does a decent job of getting quotes from both the FBI and other witnesses, as well as Craig D. Robertsons’ social media posts that led to the FBI raid and shooting. One neighbor is interviewed and provides additional context to the story.
“The neighbor said Robertson would wave on Sunday mornings coming to or from church as he passed. “I can’t believe it escalated to this level,” the neighbor said. “He was a very sweet older gentleman.” ”
The article however is very short and although the author reached out to both the FBI and the White House for comment, they gave very little additional details. Instead, it relies heavily on quoting Craig D. Robertsons’ social media posts that may have led to the investigation and subsequent raid. The author writes that the 30-page felony complaint included screenshots of Facebook posts allegedly made by Robertson, one of which read:
“THE TIME IS RIGHT FOR A PRESIDENTIAL ASSASSINATION OR TWO. FIRST JOE THEN KAMALA!!!”
This article portrays a somewhat neutral stance, mostly due to using quotes and court documents to tell the story. There are no quotes about the actual raid and the subsequent shootout that ultimately killed Mr. Robertsons. There were no additional quotes from other witnesses or individuals who knew him personally which could have provided additional context. This article can be considered mostly reliable but there is additional information missing.
We will take a closer look at more examples like this below, providing a further investigation into the reliability of the Washington Post’s articles. This will include its use of selection bias, omission bias, and the quality of its sources and facts used.
Analysis of Reliability in Washington Post Opinion Pieces
Opinion-based journalism provides journalists with a platform to convey their opinions and convictions. Normally it’s advisable to steer clear of excessive bias when crafting impartial news pieces but opinion articles are inherently subjective. Therefore they are often less reliable but are still a great resource because they can offer valuable insight into complex issues that can be viewed from different perspectives.
The Washington Post Opinion pieces tend to be liberal-leaning but some are neutral. Although they do seem to post a balanced amount of Liberal and more Center-leaning opinion pieces, they do not post many conservative-leaning opinions, if at all. We know that opinion pieces are riddled with bias, but the news organization itself could remove bias by posting opinion pieces from opposite sides of the political aisle. Many of the opinion pieces are not just liberal but very liberal and because these articles rely on quotes from other liberal sources, they can not be viewed as reliable as they could.
Quality of Sources and Facts Used
The Washington Post is not the best at using reliable sources from both sides of the ideological divide and citing facts as evidence when it is a political story. If the story is about a national emergency or an event, then the Washington Post does a better job of sticking to the facts.
For instance, think about, “DeSantis’s Florida shows the disaster of more competent Trumpism” In this article from Catherine Rampell, she only used 3 quotes. Two of the quotes were short and one was medium length. The lack of quotes is concerning in any article, even an opinion article. It is good to stay well-balanced in our approach to sourcing.
In addition to that, the author’s 7 sources for the article were as follows:
- The Florida Senate, Senate Bill 1718 – Immigration
- Renata Bozzetto, Deputy Director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition
- American Immigration Council, Litigation “Challenging Florida’s Unconstitutional Anti-Immigrant Law”
- Migration Policy Institute, Florida Workforce Statistics
- The Society for Human Resource Management, “Employers Wary of New Florida Law Cracking Down on Illegal Immigration”
- New York Times, Article “New Florida Immigration Rules Start to Strain Some Businesses”
- NPR, Article “Sales are way down at a Florida flea market. A new immigration law could be to blame.”
- Joel Tooley, Lead pastor of Melbourne First Church of the Nazarene
Overall the quality of the sources is okay, but the biggest problem is that most of the quotes are coming from other liberal sources and news articles. The author relies heavily on other articles by the New York Times and NPR, she also uses multiple sources that are pro-immigration. Her only source that is conservative is a lead pastor at a church in Florida who recently left the Republican Party, so that doesn’t do much. She does not include any sources that are against illegal immigration, and nor does she clarify in her article that the recent laws in Florida affect illegal immigrants. She notes that these immigrants can face prosecution or deportation but she does not acknowledge that those immigrants are breaking the law if they do not have legal permission to work or live in the United States.
The evidence points to the author being committed to a liberal viewpoint and is not a trustworthy source for information on Florida’s immigration laws.
Selection and Omission Bias
In a more extreme example from The Washington Post, we can see an author who is committed to stating that Donald Trump is a liar while discussing the Indictment filed against him on August 1st, 2023. The article, “The strongest part of Trump’s Jan. 6 indictment has its own weaknesses”
by Jason Willick is an opinion piece that only uses a limited number of sources. The author relies on previous Washington Post articles about Donald Trump’s indictment and the 2020 election, as well as an article from Vox and Just Security. The author also references the legal documentation that was filed for the most recent indictment. However, he only uses two quotes, both from Legal scholar and Washington Post contributing columnist Edward B. Foley:
“Openly asserting that one is the duly appointed elector of the state, even when that claim is utterly without merit — as it was in the case of the supposed South Carolina electors for Tilden, and as it would have been even more so with respect to any Vermont electoral votes purportedly cast for Tilden — is to make an argument about one’s status under the law. It is not an attempt to dupe recipients with counterfeit papers.”
The indictment documents list the accusations that will be presented in court against the defendant, but the actual trial and outcome are still undetermined. Therefore it is inaccurate to portray the indictment as the complete truth, since the defendant and his legal counsel may present different evidence at trial. The United States government through the prosecutor has to prove their case against a defendant beyond a reasonable doubt, which is why a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. If an author is discussing an ongoing legal case they should only discuss the facts so as not to sway the public perception of the defendant.
In opinion pieces, issues with factuality, sources, selection, and omission are frequently present. The articles we’ve covered so far are mostly biased and exclude adequate relevant background and information that may contradict the author’s position. As a news organization with a mostly liberal slant, The Washington Post is incentivized to continue appealing to liberal viewpoints to maintain the interests of its sizable left-wing readership. Now that we have gone through some indications of trustworthiness, you can feel more confident in keeping yourself informed with the most accurate news.
So Is the Washington Post Reliable?
Finally, it can be argued that The Washington Post is a semi-reliable news source with a less-than-stellar reputation for journalistic integrity, and some lone exceptions, therefore the degree of truth in its publications fluctuates. There have been numerous stories that were published by the Washington Post that were later corrected or removed completely. For example in 2021 the Washington Post corrected two articles dating back to 2017 and 2019. Both articles were about the Steele Dossier which led to accusations of Trump colluding with Russia. Those claims were later debunked and this article was published “The Washington Post corrects, removes parts of two stories regarding the Steele dossier” and states:
“The newspaper’s executive editor, Sally Buzbee, said The Post could no longer stand by the accuracy of those elements of the story. It had identified businessman Sergei Millian as “Source D,” the unnamed figure who passed on the most salacious allegation in the dossier to its principal author, former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.”
Although the Washington Post did correct the stories years after their publication, it does not change the fact that their readers were provided false information. In the correction, the Post admits that Steele’s dossier consisted of “raw information and unconfirmed tips from unidentified sources” but the news organization still decided to publish unconfirmed information from these anonymous sources.
This incident is a prime example of why readers have to be diligent in vetting their news sources. It is important to cross-check articles from different news organizations and to pay attention to the sources and quotes used in articles. The more you practice these methods the easier it will be to spot unreliable articles. For additional resources and tips, you can use Biasly’s News Bias Checker to uncover reliability problems and assist you in finding the most accurate and dependable news.