Media Bias/Fact Check
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Media Bias/Fact Check (MBFC) is a fact-checking website which indexes and ranks websites by left- or right wing bias (each website is ranked from "extreme left" to "least biased" to "extreme right") and by quality of factual reporting (each website has a "conspiracy level" and a "pseudo-sci level"). Although MBFC's methodology is ultimately subjective, it appears to be fairly consistent and reliable in its ratings. MBFC has extensions for both Firefox( ) and Chrome( ).
Besides evaluating media bias and factual reporting, they have also made a profile of the current state of media in 36 countries with the aim of expanding to 180 countries by the next year and a report page that includes short excerpts from credible and unbiased news articles and fact checks selected by Dave Van Zandt.
About the website
According to its "About" page, MBFC was started by Dave Van Zandt in November 2015. Other than Van Zandt, the website has
five now nine other volunteers who perform source research, writing and assist in fact checking, who are:
- Aaron O’Leary – Writer/Contributor
- Karen O’Connor Rubsam – Writer/Contributor
- Kenneth White – Writer/Contributor
- Jim Fowler – Writer/Contributor
- Dennis Kelley – Research
- Michael Allen – Research
- Faith Locke Siewert – Research
- McKenzie Huitsing – Research
- Mike Crowe – Extensions – Web Development
Not much additional information about Van Zandt is publicly available online. A LinkedIn profile states that a Dave Van Zandt is the former owner of Van Zandt Webs and studied at William Paterson University of New Jersey. From the F.A.Q:
Media Bias Fact Check, LLC is a Limited Liability Company owned solely by Dave Van Zandt. He also makes all final editing and publishing decisions. […] Dave Van Zandt obtained a Communications Degree before pursuing a higher degree in the sciences. Dave currently works full time in the health care industry. Dave has spent more than 20 years as an arm chair researcher on media bias and its role in political influence.
According to their FAQ page, their methodology "is a simple tool that provides a general rating of bias" but it "is not a scientifically proven methodology." Their methodology page contains this disclaimer:
Disclaimer: The methodology used by Media Bias Fact Check is our own. It is not a tested scientific method. It is meant as a simple guide for people to get an idea of a source's bias. Media Bias Fact Check will always review and change any factual errors when brought to our attention. We make every effort to be as factual as possible. Our goal is to have MBFC rated as least biased by our own criteria.
Sites are rated on a 0-10 scale by Van Zandt and his team on 4 categories, biased wording and headlines, factuality and sourcing, story choices and political affiliation.
The scores of each of these (biased wording, factuality, story choices, political affiliation) is averaged to give one bias score. Scoring and classification on bias level is as follows:
- 0 – 2 = Least Biased (best)
- 2 – 5 = Left/Right Center Bias
- 5 – 8 = Left/Right Bias
- 8 – 10 = Extreme Bias (worst)
Classifications on bias is as follows:
Scoring and classification on factual reporting is as follows (increasing by failed fact-checks):
- 0 - 0 = Very High
- 1 - 3 = High
- 3 - 4 = Mostly Factual
- 5 - 6 = Mixed
- 7 - 9 = Low
- 10 = Very Low
Classifications on conspiracy level is as follows:
- Tin Foil Hat
Classification on pseudoscience level is as follows:
Other classifications are as follows:
- Questionable Sources (FN - stands for fake news - or Q in MBFC's official browser extensions)
For each source, a minimum of 10 headlines are reviewed and a minimum of 5 news stories reviewed. News reporting is reviewed first and then followed by looking at editorial and opinion pieces. If there is still not enough clear evidence, searching methods for articles on the site such as “Republican”, “Democrat”, “Liberal”, “Conservative”, “Trump”, “Clinton” etc. are used until the political affiliation is confirmed. This process can be time-consuming or very simple depending on the source.
Here is an example of how CNN would be (and is) scored with the same methodology.
Biased Wording = 5 (CNN uses moderate biased words that favor liberals and headlines typically match the story)
Factual/Sourcing = 4 (CNN is mostly trustworthy for providing evidence and sources, but sometimes jumps the gun on breaking stories)
Story Choices = 7 (CNN mostly favors pro-liberal stories and publishes negative conservative stories)
Political Affiliation = 7 (CNN mostly favors liberal ideology through content and wording)
Total = 23
Average 23/4 = 5.75
5.75 = Moderate Left Bias
Factual Reporting = 6 (See factual/sourcing above. Here, 0 is not perfect but it is the opposite)
6 = Mixed
Biased Wording = 0 (The actual content of the article matches the headline without deception. It asks the question and then answers it using sources to support the claim.)
We always evaluate a minimum of 10 articles, or more, if necessary to be accurate. First, we look at wording. This starts by looking at the headlines. Do the headlines have loaded (emotional) words in them? Yes or no? We then move on to compare that the headlines match the actual content of the article. We score on a 0 – 10 scale, with 0 being perfect and 10 being dreadful. This has a subjective component as what might be dreadful to one reviewer might be more tolerable to another. Hence, why we have multiple reviewers. Back to Snopes. On wording and headlines we score Snopes at 0. Their headlines usually just ask a question and do not convey emotion or opinion. The actual content of the article matches the headline without deception. It asks the question and then answers it using sources to support the claim.
Factual/Sourcing = 0 (Snopes always lists where the info comes from and when they cannot be certain they list the claim as Unproven or Mixed.)
Next, we look at how factual/well sourced the articles are. Do they list sources and are they credible? In other words, are they going directly to the source, such as transcripts of what someone said and/or to low biased news agencies such as Reuters etc. On sourcing, Snopes always lists where the info comes from and when they cannot be certain they list the claim as Unproven or Mixed. On factual sourcing we score them 0 again as they are very thorough.
Story Choices = 2 (They tend to fact check more conservative claims than liberal, but not by very much)
The third step is to look at reporting choices. Does the source report both liberal and conservative view points and do they cover them equally? Snopes fact checks everything. If you go to their page right now you will see they are covering a diverse collection of claims. On story selection we score Snopes a 2. This means that they tend to fact check more conservative claims than liberal, but not by very much. We don’t have a raw total, but a basic scan reveals it is close.
Political Affiliation = 2 (They cover more conservative fact checks by a very small margin and funding does not seem to be a factor.)
Lastly, we look at their political affiliation. This is pretty much a summary of everything we have learned through the first 3 steps and then factor in research about the people behind the website and also funding. Snopes was founded by David Mikkelson who is a political independent, and the website is funded through advertising and not corporate/political donations. Therefore, we score Snopes a 2 on political affiliation as they do cover more conservative fact checks by a very small margin and funding does not seem to be a factor.
Total = 0 + 0 + 2 + 2 = 4
Average = 4/4 = 1
1 = Least Biased (Any score between 0-2 is listed as least biased. Snopes is listed on the left side of least biased by the criteria, but not enough to be considered Left-Center)
MBFC's most trusted fact checking websites include:
Reception from nutters
Predictably, MBFC has drawn ire from several of the websites that file under "Conspiracy/Pseudoscience" or "Questionable Sources" — typically, in light of their regular publication of fake news and/or general bigotry. For example, WND was rated by MBFC as having mixed factual reporting and right-wing bias. WND then included MBFC in their article titled "Phony Baloney: The 9 Fakest Fake-News Checkers". Zero Hedge, a website rated as conspiracy-pseudoscience, posted the same article on their website. Media Fact Watch[note 2] wrote their own negative article about about fact checkers which also included MBFC.
The Columbia Journalism Review has described MBFC reviews as subjective assessments that "leave room for human biases, or even simple inconsistencies, to creep in". According to the methodology listed on the MBFC website, reviews may be assigned after reviewing as little as ten headlines and five articles, which may only represent but a sliver of all the content the said source produces. The Poynter Institute has also criticized the method of MBFC as "in no way scientific".
MBFC has rated some propaganda outlets as being "least biased". For example:
- The United States' Voice of America and allied Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which are considered to be propaganda outlets by some, and are also regarded as sources to be treated carefully by Wikipedia.
- Until October 2018 MBFC rated China's Xinhua News Agency as "least biased", but the rating has since changed to the somewhat more reasonable "left-center bias". Xinhua has been criticized by Reporters Without Borders as being the "world's biggest propaganda agency", and is regarded by Wikipedia as a source "to treat carefully". While seemingly avoiding the outright conspiracy peddling of fellow state media outfits Press TV and RT (both considered questionable sources by MBFC), Xinhua may still be using techniques that tend to evade MBFC's rating system: government-picked journalists, political indoctrination of trainee journalists, recapitulation of government reports, allowing some critical or sensitive reporting in English but not in Chinese, no demarcation between the Communist Party and Xinhua administrators, defense of repressive regimes (e.g., Zimbabwe, Burma, Sudan and Pakistan), and preparation of "internal reports" that are intended only for Communist Party leaders. An analysis of the French-language Xinhua site found that 80% of news stories about China were positive, indicating that there is a systematic absence of critical reporting.
Other questionable ratings:
- Epoch Times was evaluated as 'least biased' with factual reporting 'high' as of September 7, 2017. By November 4, 2018, the rating was changed to 'right-center' with 'high' factual reporting. By December 30, 2018, after it was pointed out to MBFC that Epoch Times had regularly been reporting uncritical pseudoscience in their "Beyond Science" section, their rating was changed to 'mixed' factual reporting. By July 28, 2019, it was clear that Epoch Times had entered full-Trump mode, and their rating changed to 'right bias'. As of its most recent update, it is listed as a "Questionable Source" with "Low Credibility".
- Prior to its re-evaluation as a conspiracy website in November 2018,[note 3] American Herald Tribune was described as "usually factually based and sourced". The website has articles describing LGBT people as "perverts", the Sandy Hook massacre as a "staged event", and 9/11 as a "false flag". The editor of the website, Anthony Hall, hosts a YouTube program called False Flag Weekly News and has supported an "open debate" on the Holocaust in a video for a Holocaust denying organisation. The website also includes articles written by Robert David Steele who famously believes "there is a colony on Mars that is populated by children who were kidnapped and sent into space on a 20-year ride."
- Quillette was rated as "right-center" bias with its factual reporting to be high. This is despite the site pushing absolutely bunk racialist pseudoscience and highly questionable views on hereditarianism and other biological bullshit. This is also in spite of the founder following 16 alt-right accounts on Twitter and being hosted on the alt-right Rebel Media, while other frequent contributors include Toby Young, supporter of eugenics; and Adam Perkins, supporter of hereditarianism. Quillette included several alt-right figures, KKK members, Proud Boys, and Neo-Nazis in their list of conservatives being oppressed by media. Media Bias Fact Check later updated Quillette on July 19, 2019 and has rated them Questionable based on promotion of racial pseudoscience as well as moving away from right-center to right bias. Great!
- MBFC had stated, a "factual search reveals a Pants on Fire claim" by Right Wing Watch. However, they linked to an article which mentions that Right Wing Watch had reported the claim from right-wing pastor Paul Begley that Melania Trump ordered the White House to be completely exorcised before moving in. Right Wing Watch highlights fringe views from right-wing figures and is clearly not endorsing them, such as the article titled "Paul Begley Says Kate Spade And Anthony Bourdain May Have Been ‘High Profile Sacrifices Of The Illuminati’". Another Right Wing Watch article also specifically stated that "there was no reason to believe that Begley’s [exorcism] story was true or that he was in any position to know about the first lady’s spiritual housecleaning practices." MBFC has since corrected this error, and changed the Factual Reporting rating to "High".
- Blue Lives Matter is rated correctly with "right bias". However, they were given a "high" factual rating until July 2020 when it was lowered to "mixed". Some of their examples do have neutral language, but fail to mention how articles preface police deaths as "hero down"; other articles, some writtten by the community, others by Sandy Malone, a managing editor, do have loaded, misleading headlines such as "School District Defends AP History Lesson Calling Trump A Nazi And Communist". Some articles written by have been sourced from sites Media Bias/Fact Check has rated as "mixed" in accurate reporting including Project Veritas and Fox News, loaded headline included. They have also promoted a highly misleading article, with a misleading headline, on the effects of hydroxychloroquine and governor's apparently hypocritical approaches to them, and that "doctors all over the world have [been] experimenting with it and seeing success" This runs against Snopes's article on hydroxychloroquine, where all success from COVID-19 treatment are only in cell cultures, a very weak line of evidence, and that more is needed. The Blue Lives Matter article also fails to note the distinction between addressing shortage of hydroxychloroquine used to treat malaria compared to using the drug for limited circumstances, emergency use authorization while creating the narrative of apparently hypocritical governors. The site has also used a Campus Report article as its source of news, which was also rated as "Mixed" from Media Bias / Fact Check and was lambasted by Media Matters.
Despite a few issues, Media Bias/Fact Check does often correct those errors within a reasonable amount of time, which is commendable. It helps if someone brings the problem to their attention with citations, and the problem is fixed speedily.
- Category:Google News Fact Check — websites that frequently appear in Google News' "Fact Check" section
- Especially from right-wing media. See WND’s article targeting Snopes, FactCheck.org, MBFC and other credible news organisations that have debunked some of the claims made by WND and made it not too happy about it.
- MBFC rating: conspiracy-pseudoscience. Factual reporting: mixed.
- MBFC's page on American Herald Tribune was rewritten when it was re-evaluated and the quote ("usually factually based and sourced") has been removed. According to the new description:
The main theme of the website is human rights. Most articles do not utilize loaded language and many are sourced properly. Sounds good right? That is only part of the story. As I mentioned there is a wide variety of writers, some of which are conspiracy theorists. [...] While many articles on this website are credible there are just as many that are in the tin foil hat realm of conspiracy theories. Overall, we rate the American Herald Tribune a Conspiracy website.
- Methodology, MediaBiasFactCheck
- Country Profiles — MBFC
- Dave studied at the William Peterson University
- Snopes is a Least Biased Source despite what you may have read — MBFC
- We can probably measure media bias. But do we want to? by Tamar Wilner (January 9, 2018) Columbia Journalism Review.
- Methodology (April 15, 2021) Media Bias/Fact Check
- Here’s what to expect from fact-checking in 2019 by Daniel Funke & Alexios Mantzarlis (December 18, 2018) Poynter Institute.
- Voice of America (8/15/2016) Updated (7/5/2017) Media Bias/Fact Check
- Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (M. Huitsing 5/8/2018) Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty] Media Bias/Fact Check
- Uncle Sam Got a Shiny New Propaganda Bullhorn for Christmas: A new partnership is turning Radio Free Europe into an anti-Russia propaganda machine. by James Carden (January 6, 2016) The Nation.
- Americans Finally Have Access to American Propaganda by Elspeth Reeve (Jul 15, 2013) The Atlantic.
- See the Wikipedia article on Potentially unreliable sources.
- Least Biased Media Bias/Fact Check (archived from October 10, 2018).
- Xinhua News Agency (M. Huitsing, 1/6/2018; Updated by D. Van Zandt 10/14/2018) Media Bias/Fact Check.
- Xinhua: the world's biggest propaganda agency (September 30, 2005 - Updated on January 20, 2016) Reporters Without Borders.
- The World's Biggest Propaganda Agency by Gautier Battistella et al. (2005) Reporters Without Borders.
- The Epoch Times Media Bias/Fact Check (archived from September 7, 2017).
- The Epoch Times Media Bias/Fact Check (archived from November 4, 2018).
- The Epoch Times Media Bias/Fact Check (archived from December 30, 2018).
- The Epoch Times Media Bias/Fact Check (archived from July 28, 2019).
- Van Zandt, D. (June 4, 2017; updated May 10, 2019). https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/quillette/ Media Bias Fact Check. Retrieved July 1, 2019.
- Staddon, J. (January 25, 2019). How Real Is Systemic Racism Today?. Quillette Retrieved August 10, 2019.
- MediaBias/ Fact Check page for Blue Lives Matter. Retrieved April 13, 2020.
- Malone, S. (February 24, 2020). "School District Defends AP History Lesson Calling Trump A Nazi And Communist". Blue Lives Matter. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
- Malone, S. (January 15, 2020). "Project Veritas Posts More Videos Of Bernie Staffers Promoting Killing Opponents" . Blue Lives Matter. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
- Malone, S. "Governor Now Asking Trump For Virus Drugs She Banned After Trump Mentioned Them'." Blue Lives Matter. Retrieved April 14, 2020.
- Gantert, Tom (April 16, 2020). College Educators Worried Their Online Lectures May Be Exposed By Conservatives Blue Lives Matter. Retrieved April 16, 2020.
- Campus Reform's article on Media Bias / Fact Check. Retrieved April 16, 2020.
- Vogel, Pam. (March 29, 2017). Campus Reform And The Leadership Institute. Media Matters. Retrieved April 16, 2020.
- Corrections Policy Media Bias/Fact Check.