In early January, it was reported that President Biden’s lawyers discovered classified materials improperly stored at the president’s former office on November 2, 2022— less than a week before the 2022 midterm elections. Shortly after this, news broke that other classified materials were also found in the garage of Biden’s Delaware residence.
Much of the reporting and analysis on the Biden documents scandal featured comparisons to former President Donald Trump’s possession of classified documents. In August, FBI agents raided Trump’s Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago, and seized over 100 documents with classified markings.
Both the left and right sides of the political media spectrum showed media bias by pitting the two classified information scandals against each other.
Left-rated media often downplayed Biden’s scandal by comparing it to the Trump scandal. Right-rated media often portrayed the Biden scandal as a grave threat to national security, even after some of the same outlets downplayed the Trump scandal.
Bias by omission
Bias by slant
Bias by spin
Bias by omission of source attribution
How Left-Rated Media Covered It
Some sources with a Lean Left or Left AllSides Media Bias Rating™ framed Biden’s response to the situation as more honorable than Trump’s.
An article from the Associated Press (Lean Left bias) published on Jan. 24 says Biden’s decision to let federal agents search his properties for documents is “a legal and political calculation that aides hope will pay off in the long run as he prepares to seek reelection.”
The article continued: “The president is aiming to show that, unlike Trump, he never intended to retain classified materials — a key distinction that experts say diminishes the risks of criminal liability.” By inferring Biden’s thought process without directly quoting him, AP is engaging in mind-reading and subjective analysis presented as fact, two common types of media bias.
The article also seems to try to lend credence to the Biden team’s decision to not immediately disclose the discovery publicly, stating,“They didn’t acknowledge the first discovery before the elections, though they swiftly notified the National Archives, returned the documents the day after they were found and coordinated subsequent searches and discoveries with the Department of Justice.”
The article uses one truth to discount another, emphasizing the speed in which the documents were returned to discount the fact that the discovery was hidden from the public for months. This is an example of slant, another type of media bias in which journalists focus on, highlight, or play up a specific angle or piece of information to paint a specific picture.
The article continues by detailing criticism of Biden’s handling of the documents and questions about whether he’d agree to an interview with federal investigators. It also frames Republicans’ efforts to probe the Biden scandal as hypocritical in the face of their reluctance to investigate Trump’s scandal: “Republicans, meanwhile, have sought to use their new-found powers in the House, where they regained the majority this month, to investigate Biden’s handling of the documents and hope to capitalize on the investigation, even as they have said investigating the documents retained by Trump is not a priority.”
AllSides analysis shows that the Associated Press has a recent history of lean left bias in political matters. By focusing on Biden’s response to the situation as an intelligent “legal and political calculation,” the outlet could be accused of bias by spin and bias by slant.
In addition to AP, The Guardian (Lean Left), and PBS NewsHour (Lean Left), and USA Today (Lean Left Bias) also quickly drew comparisons between the Trump and Biden scandals.
How Right-Rated Media Covered It
Biden’s classified document scandal was highlighted much more prominently by right-rated media than by left- and center-rated sources.
When Fox News (Right Bias) covered the Trump classified document scandal, the angle was consistently focused around the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the raid of Mar-a-Lago, rather than the nature of the improperly-stored classified documents. This time around, Maria Bartiromo, a Fox News pundit, asked Rep. James Comer (R-KY) if President Biden had committed “treason,” which was not brought up in the Trump case.
Some right-rated outlets painted a picture of hypocrisy between the Trump and Biden scandal. For instance, a Fox News article dug up an interview given by Biden following the Mar-a-Lago raid. In the clip, Biden calls Trump “irresponsible.” The article frames Biden as hypocritical for this statement, but it omits details about Trump’s documents scandal that differentiate it from Biden’s — such as that Trump had more classified documents and resisted attempts by the National Archives to retrieve the classified materials. Not acknowledging the differences between the two is an example of bias by omission and slant.
Some right-rated sources highlighted the National Archives missing a deadline set by the House Oversight Committee to hand over info about the Biden scandal, framing that as a coordinated effort by the federal government to protect Biden.
An article in the Washington Examiner (Lean Right Bias) said the National Archives delay in handing over information related to Biden’s scandal was “the first of what could become many attempts to slow-walk responses under the Biden administration,” which, like AP’s article mentioned above, constitutes mind-reading and analysis presented as fact.
Another Examiner article stated that Republicans faced “roadblocks in their quest for information.” The National Archives informed the House Oversight Committee it would seek permission from the Department of Justice, which is currently investigating both Biden and Trump’s document scandals, before handing over information.
Similarly, an article in the Daily Wire (Right bias) reported on the missed deadline by the Archives without including the Archives’ stated reason for the delay. The article quotes only critics of Biden and Biden himself, despite referencing other news articles that did include more context on the delay — another example of bias by omission and viewpoint bias.
A Fox News article looking into the National Archives displayed multiple instances of bias by omission of source attribution, offering vague sources, or none at all, to back claims.
The article says that “critics have speculated whether Hunter Biden has had access to his father's classified documents over the years since many of them were found in the president's Wilmington home.” No critics are directly quoted or named. It also says that “political pundits have speculated that the revelations of Biden and Pence's possession of classified records will be beneficial for Trump, making it more difficult for the DOJ to prosecute the former president.” No pundits are quoted.
Voices on both sides say there is clearly reform needed in how classified materials are handled, as reports of similar incidents occurring with former Vice President Mike Pence and former President Jimmy Carter indicate this to be a bipartisan issue. Media bias and ‘what-about-isms’ from journalists working to either protect political figures on their side or attack political figures on the other side don’t help solve this issue.
Major media outlets on the left and right both displayed bias by slant, spin, and omission in their reporting on Biden’s classified documents scandal, in addition to other types of bias.
You can learn how to be a smarter news consumer and spot bias. Be sure to use the AllSides balanced news feed to consume news coverage from all sides of the spectrum on the classified information scandals and much more. You can also read other recent media bias alerts, such as our analyses of coverage on Sam Bankman-Fried and Elon Musk.
Isaiah Anthony is a News Curator at AllSides. He has a Center bias.
This piece was reviewed by Managing Editor Henry Brechter (Center Bias), Daily News Editor Joseph Ratliff (Lean Left Bias), and Director of Marketing and Media Bias Ratings Julie Mastrine (Lean Right Bias).