Topic: Media Research Center
The last time we noticed AllSides -- an organization that claims to be about eliminating "filter bubbles" so people "can better understand the world" -- it was when the Media Research Center embraced a study from the group claiming that Google put "left-leaning" news websites at the top of its news search results, using a methodology that conveniently assigned most mainstream media outlets as "left-leaning."
It appears that AllSides' work dovetails so closely with the MRC's anti-media mission that it granted AllSides space at NewsBusters to push a similar study. Co-founder John Gables and editor Henry Brechter write in an Aug. 9 NewsBusters post:
AllSides, a media technology company that provides media bias ratings and balanced news across the political spectrum, conducted an audit of Google’s “Top Stories” section following the two mass shootings that occurred in Dayton, OH and El Paso, TX last weekend. The findings reveal a heavy preference for CNN and left-leaning media outlets overall, reinforcing previous audits completed by AllSides and researchers at Northwestern University.
AllSides assessed 522 news articles that were featured as one of the top three results in Google’s “Top Stories” section for 10 shooting-related queries over three days. AllSides found that:
- 70% of results were from outlets that have an AllSides Media Bias Rating of Lean Left or Left.
- 18% of stories were from outlets that have a Center media bias.
- 4% of stories were from Lean Right or Right biased outlets.
- 8% of results came from outlets not rated by AllSides.
In addition, nearly half (46%) of results came from just three news websites. CNN (25%), the New York Times (14%) and the Washington Post (7%) appeared in the first three results of the “Top Stories” box most often.
Google’s preference for left media outlets means certain perspectives on the shootings were seen more than others. For example, media outlets on the left tended to emphasize past comments President Trump made, reporting on them as incitements to racist violence. Outlets on the right, on the other hand, urged free speech protection and reported on the Dayton shooter’s support of socialism and Elizabeth Warren.
AllSides has a chart that conveniently places major news outlets as the New York Times, CNN, CBS, ABC and Politico in the "left-leaning" category -- something it even admits is subjective, which is made even more so by including public opinion into the calculation.Then again, that's the kind of less-than-objective methodology and reinforcement of the MRC narrative that earned AllSides a place at NewsBusters. (It also earned AllSides a space at the conservative Washington Examiner last year.)
Gable did concede that "This analysis shows no direct evidence that Google is intentionally suppressing voices from the center or right on the shootings," but added that "there was a clear and overwhelming bias in Google’s results covering these shootings, intentional or not." Gable seems to be mistaking ideological bias for credibility and popularity bias, which appears to be the actual bias Google has. CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post are well established and have a long track record of credible reporting, which in and of itself is not indicative of a "left-leaning" bias, as Gable seems to be suggesting.
Gable and Brechter also don't explain why the fact that Trump's anti-immigration rhetoric reflected that contained in the El Paso shooter's manifesto should be deemed solely an interest of "media outlets on the left." By contrast, there's no direct link between anything Elizabeth Warren ever said and the Dayton shooter's actions -- though, yes, a search for that link would bring up many right-leaning media outlets who are specifically highlighting it to advance a political agenda, an accusation much more difficult to make about mainstream media outlets reporting on Trump's rhetoric.
Indeed, it seems AllSides have bought into the MRC's narrative that simply to bring up the issue of the tone of Trump's rhetoric is to express "liberal bias" -- another reason it got that NewsBusters space.
The article concluded with more bias confusion from Gable:
Gable said the bias could be caused by the relative lack of right-leaning online news media as compared to left and left-leaning media overall, or could be an unintended consequence of Google’s complex algorithm.
“It is bad for democracy when diverse perspectives are hard to find,” Gable said. “News media, including digital aggregators, should present all perspectives so that people can decide what they think for themselves. This helps people to appreciate diverse perspectives, creating a more tolerant and better informed public.”
Again, Gable seems to think ideological bias is the issue when it's really about credibility and popularity. That's reinforced in the full study as well, which states: "Not every story published by a left-leaning outlet is biased. But they often provide similar narratives that align more with the left-wing than other political tribes. Consuming articles like this is part of a healthy news diet, but a 70% left-wing bias is not balanced."
One of the tags on the study, listed at the bottom of the page, reads "Bias Against Conservatives." The study does not prove that such bias actually happened.
Gable and AllSides are falsely conflating "left-leaning" with "left-wing," as if the New York Times was the same thing as, say, Mother Jones. That sort of sloppy labeling also helps AllSides get in good with the likes of the MRC -- even though doing so hurts its credibility as a supposedly objective, nonpartisan organization.