It’s been another notable month for media bias, as breaking news stories around Elon Musk taking over Twitter as CEO and reinstating previously banned accounts revealed slant, bias by omission, and other types of bias in the press.
Elon Musk reinstated a number of previously banned Twitter accounts, including a few that were banned for speech about transgender issues. Media coverage from some outlets on the left and in the center showed strong bias against Musk’s decision, while some media outlets on the right highlighted Musk’s dismissal of such news coverage.
- Only quoted people who opposed the reinstatements
- Framed the moves as dangerous
- Criticized an Axios report about the situation
- Framed the left’s reaction to Musk Twitter takeover as dramatic
The Washington Post (Lean Left) and Axios (Center) quoted only activists on the left and people who do not support Musk’s move, and did not quote anyone who believes it is a positive development. (Axios is currently under bias review by AllSides). The Post and Vox also used subjective qualifying adjectives to paint one side as more political or extreme.
Meanwhile, some right-rated outlets openly criticized Axios’ report, and also used adjectives to qualify the political leanings of Axios and to highlight which side commentators fall on politically.
Slant is a type of media bias when journalists only focus on one side of a story. Bias by omission or bias by viewpoint are closely related types of bias that refer to a journalist omitting certain voices.
Let’s unpack the instances of bias around this story.
Left-Rated News Sources Highlight Voices on the Left
The Washington Post showed sensationalism in its headline, which read (emphasis ours): “‘Opening the gates of hell’: Musk says he will revive banned accounts.”
The Post piece by journalist Taylor Lorenz quotes seven people who are concerned about Musk’s move, including a journalist who tweeted to Musk that he will have “blood on [his] hands,” as well as representatives from left groups including the Center for Countering Digital Hate (Left), Free Press (Left bias), and Media Matters for America (Left). The Post omitted any voices who agree with Musk’s move or those who believe Twitter’s “hateful conduct” policies have been too unspecific or far-reaching. Noticing whether or not journalists provide balanced quotes giving both sides is an easy way to spot media bias.
The Post also used subjective qualifying adjectives in its piece, which is a type of media bias in which journalists use adjectives to qualify a noun, suggesting a way for you to think about or interpret the issue instead of just giving you the facts and letting you make judgements for yourself.
For example, The Post writes (emphasis ours) that Musk reinstated 11 “high-profile far-right Twitter accounts, including Jordan Peterson, a professor who was banned from Twitter for misgendering a trans person, and the Babylon Bee, a conservative media company.” The Post later qualifies journalists Andy Ngô and Ian Miles Cheong as “far-right influencers” and Tim Pool (Center) as a “right-wing YouTube star.” The inclusion of these adjectives serve to make the subjects seem politically motivated, and saying they are "far" along the political spectrum can make them seem extreme.
Meanwhile, The Post does not qualify people or organizations on the left, referring to them only as “experts.”
For instance, The Washington Post quotes Angelo Carusone, chairman and president of Media Matters, but refers to the group only as “a nonprofit advocacy group and media watchdog.” Media Matters aligns with the left, regularly running campaigns urging advertisers to drop Fox News. The Washington Post does not call Media Matters “far-left” or apply equal treatment to other sources quoted, only using political qualifiers of extremism for groups and people it associates with the right.
Another way to see media bias is to notice at what point in the article the journalist mentions the other side — this is called bias by viewpoint placement. Sometimes, a journalist will include an opposing view, but will bury it at the end of the article, where it’s less likely to be read. In the case of the Post, it’s not until paragraph 24 that the Post mentions that some are in favor of the move, stating, “But conservatives have largely embraced Musk and his decision making.” However, it doesn’t quote anyone other than Musk.
Axios showed similar bias by viewpoint in its coverage of the issue. Its headline states, “Musk's Twitter "amnesty" plan for suspended accounts alarms activists.” Axios quotes many of the exact same people the Post quoted, including Alejandra Caraballo, clinical instructor at Harvard Law's cyberlaw clinic, Imran Ahmed, CEO of campaign group the Center for Countering Digital Hate, and Hopewell Chin'ono, the Zimbabwean journalist who accused Musk of having blood on his hands.
By framing the news in the context of what activists who are against the move have to say — but never including any voices or perspectives in favor — these media outlets give a one-sided view of this story. Some journalists do this intentionally — they overrepresent the perspective of one side because they believe it to be socially responsible to focus on the concerns of specific voices and communities. But by not giving an objective, balanced view of both sides, it moves into the realm of bias and arguably, advocacy.
Vice (Left bias) also showed slant in its coverage of Musk’s decision. Its headline reads, “Elon Musk's Twitter Reinstates Anti-Trans Activists on Same Weekend as Club Q Attacked.” It details Musk’s decision to reinstate Jordan Peterson and James Lindsey, both of whom were banned for violating policies related to “hateful conduct” in the context of transgender issues (Peterson was banned for referring to the doctor who performed Elliot Page’s mastectomy as a “criminal” and referring to Page as “she,” and Lindsey was banned for calling Caraballo — who had criticized his use of the word “groomer” — a “child sexualization specialist”).
Like in the case of the Post, tying Musk’s decision to restore these accounts to an arguably unrelated event (the shooting) allows Vice to slant the story to imply that people who disagree with surgical treatments for gender dysphoria or who disagree with the transgender treatments for children as being responsible for or linked to violence. And by calling people with such views “anti-trans activists,” it gives the impression that Peterson is against transgender people personally, instead of having a dissenting viewpoint about treatments and care.
Right-Rated News Sources Highlight Pushback on Axios Report, Frame Left Media as Sensationalist
Some outlets AllSides rates on the right had the opposite slant — they focused only on voices (including Musk’s) who criticized Axios’ report.
Fox News (Right bias) specifically focused coverage on Musk and Peterson’s reactions to the aforementioned Axios article, running the headline (emphasis ours), “Musk torpedoes Axios report on 'lives at risk' over reinstating Twitter accounts: 'Much ado about nothing.’” Words like “torpedoes” and “slammed” in the body coverage indicate bias by sensationalism. Fox News also used qualifiers, calling the Axios report “alarmist reporting,” and highlighted Musk’s tweeted response to the article, in which he stated, “Much Ado About Nothing.”
Fox News also showed bias by viewpoint in essentially the opposite way that Axios and Washington Post did, quoting only conservatives and libertarians — eight in total, nine if you count Musk himself. They also used qualifying adjectives to identify which side the commentators fall on politically, pointing to quotes from “conservative commentator Ian Miles Cheong,” “conservative digital strategist Logan Hall,” “libertarian Twitter user Preston Byrne,” and “Christian conservative influencer Amy Curtis.” Others quoted did not receive qualifiers; Peterson was referred to as “psychologist and author Dr. Jordan Peterson.”
Zero Hedge (Right bias) also responded to the Axios article, running a reprint of an Epoch Times (Lean Right) article under the headline (emphasis ours), “Musk Blasts Claims That Reinstating Banned Twitter Accounts ‘Puts Lives at Risk’”. It refers to Axios as a “left-leaning outlet” and uses the sensationalist term “blasts.”
Reports by Axios, Washington Post and Vice highlighted left-wing opposition to Musk’s move, framed his move as dangerous, and did not qualify the political bent of left-wing organizations and sources. Right-rated outlets, however, focused on conservative voices and Musk’s pushback of this characterization.
Seeing media bias is made easier when you read across the political spectrum. Those who only read one side will only hear one angle and not get the full story. Use AllSides’ balanced newsfeed and refer to our media bias alerts to get the full picture.
Julie Mastrine is the Director of Marketing and Media Bias Ratings at AllSides. She has a Lean Right bias.
This piece was reviewed by Henry Brechter, Managing Editor (Center bias), Clare Ashcraft, Bridging & Bias Assistant (Center bias), and Joseph Ratliff, Daily News Editor (Lean Left bias).