Each week, AllSides Media Bias Alerts examine media bias in coverage of a major or important story using the AllSides Media Bias Ratings™ and our AllSides Media Bias Chart™.
The latest addition to tensions between the U.S. and China – a suspected spy balloon floating through U.S. airspace – led to biased media coverage on the Biden administration’s response.
Left- and right-rated outlets both suggested that the situation may have been handled differently under the Trump administration. But while some media outlets criticized the White House’s response, others seemingly defended it.
Your takeaways on how the government handled the spy balloon could be much different depending on which news sources you read.
- Sometimes referred to the “Chinese Spy Balloon,” but more often said “Chinese Balloon”
- Credited Biden’s seemingly improved surveillance for catching the balloon
Mentioned that these balloons have been in the U.S. (and other countries) before under both Trump and Biden
Covered the potential impact on U.S.-China relations
Said that China may have been testing America to see what kind of reaction we would have, and the reaction the U.S. gave was partisanship.
Often referred to the balloon as a “Chinese Spy Balloon”
Argued that the White House’s response was lacking
On January 28, a high-altitude balloon from China entered American airspace. Though China claimed the balloon is for meteorological purposes and drifted off course, U.S. intelligence believes that the balloon was intended for surveillance purposes.
The balloon traveled past the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska, through Canada, over Montana and Kansas, and then above the Carolinas before floating out over the Atlantic Ocean.
A U.S. fighter jet shot the balloon down seven miles off the coast of South Carolina on February 4. Meanwhile, a second balloon appeared over Latin America.
U.S. officials have stated that Chinese balloons crossed into U.S. airspace at least one other time in the Biden presidency, and at least three during Trump’s.
How The Right Covered It
The idea that the balloon was suspected to be a Chinese spying tool has been widely emphasized by right-rated media outlets, and many framed the Biden administration’s response to the situation as inadequate.
Sources including the Daily Caller and Newsmax (both Right bias) highlighted Republicans and conservatives who criticized the administration’s delay in destroying the balloon. Rep. Meuser (R-PA) said, “Here we have this Chinese balloon issue, another clear mistake when it comes to our overall national security. We're the super-power of the world, and China just feels it can send a spy balloon floating over our entire nation."
The New York Post (Lean Right bias) also highlighted Republican Congress members that were dissatisfied with the briefing about the balloon stating that the briefing was, “unspecific, insufficient and backward-looking.”
Fox News (Right bias) and others also focused on criticizing the administration over allegations that similar balloons traversed U.S. airspace during Trump’s presidency.
A Fox News article says that during a recent press briefing, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked, "How is it possible that this administration discovered at least three previous balloons that flew over the U.S. under the previous administration, but Trump officials didn't know it was happening?"
Fox News also used sensationalism and subjective qualifying adjectives in their description of Jean-Pierre saying she was “blasted” on Monday and she got “scorched for fumbled explanation on China spy flights.”
Fox News says Jean-Pierre “offered an unclear response,” which conservatives found “unconvincing.” The article continues by detailing specific criticisms from people on Twitter.
Some right-rated sources, including the Daily Mail (Right bias) and the New York Post (Lean Right bias), also tended to focus more on what the balloon traveled over, including a nuclear-armed U.S. military base in Montana.
The Washington Times (Lean Right bias), Washington Examiner (Lean Right), and Newsmax were among several right-rated outlets that focused articles on how the balloon may affect Biden’s State of the Union speech.
How the Left Covered It
While right-rated sources frequently referred to the balloon as the “Chinese spy balloon” in headlines, left-rated sources more often omitted the word spy, though some still called it the “spy balloon” or “suspected spy balloon.”
The Associated Press’ (Lean Left bias) story choice emphasized the Biden administration's purported advanced security measures that lead to servailing the Chinese balloon.
One ABC News (Lean Left bias) article said, “Republicans continue to condemn President Joe Biden for not having ordered the balloon shot down earlier, but Biden said Saturday he did ask for such action, until the American military advised him they should wait until the balloon wasn't over civilian territory.” ABC News implies that Republicans are wrong to criticize Biden, but omit other Republican concerns, such as the spy balloon flying over military bases and their dissatisfaction with the lack of details provided in their congressional debrief of the incident.
At least one article from CBS News (Lean Left bias) included none of Republicans' criticism but did include Democrats' praise of Biden's handling of the situation.
Where Both Sides Agreed
Both Fox News and NPR (Lean Left bias) agreed that partisanship played a role in the reactions to Biden’s response to the Chinese balloon. NPR said,
“That raises the possibility that one of the Chinese goals was to see how the U.S. would react to this kind of provocation. The clear answer is that it sparked a partisan feud in the U.S. Republicans are attacking President Biden for not shooting down the balloon sooner, while most Democrats are defending the president for taking a cautious, measured approach.”
“There’s no other way to put it; the country is in a seemingly bottomless bad mood. Dissatisfied with its leading presidential candidates, arguing when a balloon should have been shot down and profoundly pessimistic about America’s direction, there is no shortage of anger, fear and frustration.”
The Epoch Times (Lean Right bias) and Politico (Lean Left bias) both highlighted a bipartisan resolution to condemn the balloon being put together in congress.
Get All Sides by Reading Balanced News
For more analysis of biased news coverage on important stories, keep up with our Media Bias Alerts. Recently, we’ve also analyzed bias in coverage of Elon Musk’s apology over a conspiracy theory he shared regarding Paul Pelosi and coverage of police violence.
This blog was written by Clare Ashcraft, the Bridging & Bias Assistant at AllSides. She has a Center bias.
Reviewed by Managing Editor Henry A. Brechter (Center bias), Bias Research Manager & Data Journalist Andrew Weinzierl (Lean Left bias), and Julie Mastrine, Director of Marketing and Media Bias Ratings (Lean Right).