Spencer Platt/Getty Images via The New York Times

This piece was written by academics Rob Anderson (Lean Left bias) and G. Michael Killenberg (Center bias). AllSides CEO John Gable (Lean Right bias) wrote a response to this article. Read it here.

It took a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit for media mogul Rupert Murdoch to admit under oath that Fox News promoted lies about rigged voting machines and endorsed allegations that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election.

In December of 2022, the 91-year-old executive chairman of the conglomerate News Corp and chair of the Fox Corporation, submitted under court order to tough questioning from lawyers representing the plaintiff, Dominion Voting Systems, manufacturer of hardware and software used widely to tabulate election results.

Starting shortly after Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump by more than 7 million votes, Fox News hosts and invited commentators, mainly those featured on the network’s evening primetime programs, entertained a slew of conspiracy theories concocted by “stop the steal” fanatics. Dominion found itself the primary target, accused without proof that it somehow manipulated its machines to convert Trump votes to Biden’s.

Murdoch long has profited from sensational news. Now he faces legal jeopardy created by his own words, as highlighted in several pre-trial briefs filed by Dominion’s legal team. They read like a Netflix script that dramatizes Fox News as the embodiment of news bias, motivated by corporate avarice. But as jurors and the public waited for the trial to open, Fox settled with Dominion for $787 million, without airing a retraction or apology. It issued a statement that said: “We acknowledge the Court's rulings finding certain claims about Dominion to be false. This settlement reflects FOX's continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards.” 

There will be no public trial that legal and media observers hoped for, and for various reasons. Nevertheless, Dominion’s pretrial depositions laid out compelling evidence that Fox, from top management down to daily on-air talent, knew virtually all of its reporting about a corrupted vote was false.

Texts and email conversations among Fox commentators, reporters, and executives show they never believed the “crazy,” “insane,” and “idiotic” flimsiness of the public assertions from Trump, Sydney Powell, Rudy Giuliani and others, or the bogus assurances that they had ironclad evidence of extensive voter fraud. In his own sworn deposition, Murdoch said that Powell’s and Giuliani’s argument amounted to “really crazy stuff” that was “damaging everybody.” Murdoch testified that he could have stepped in to end the lies, “but I didn’t.”

Why? As Trump’s White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told CNN, the relationship between the administration and Fox was not only crazy, but in her word, “unethical.” The two organizations worked “hand in hand” to please Trump: “If he didn’t like something, we were to immediately call Fox and have them fix it or try to make a news story out of it.”

Based on multiple depositions by its top executives and hosts, Fox justified the disinformation campaign because it feared the truth — that Trump lost — would undercut the company’s status with its viewers, many of whom could migrate to other conservative sources to hear more of what they wanted to hear. Fox’s bottom line was endangered . . . if it had gone public with the truth.

A Greater Concern

Committed followers of Fox have been told for decades of the fairness, balance, and reliability of their chosen network. The parent company, News Corp, offers a comforting mission statement that omits, except for the corporate name, news and truth: “Driven by passion, guided by principles, and acting with purpose, we are dedicated to delivering value to our customers and our shareholders, with premium products and services that inform and inspire.”

The informed and inspired are also predictably loyal. It seems fair to say that at times they model a role the longshoreman and social critic Eric Hoffer long ago labeled “true believers”—those inoculated against contrary evidence by the safety of certitude.

Expressing certainty becomes a rhetorical device, a strategy most persuasive when combined with constant repetition. True believers ignore, dismiss, or mock contrary evidence because of absolute confidence in a cause that, as Hoffer described it, resembles living “with no surprises and no unknowns,” as if “all questions have already been answered, all decisions made, all eventualities foreseen.”

Fox employees, Dominion’s evidence discloses, are not themselves true believers. They only want audiences to believe they are. To protect the illusion of certainty, Fox rarely issues corrections—in contrast to major news organizations it attacks as “biased.” This sleight of hand signals how cynically the network cultivates a complicit audience, assuring them Fox is the trustworthy corner of the journalism business. Fox does not simply hire anchors; it aims to be an anchor for true believers. Although Murdoch says he’s still “a journalist at heart,” he more closely resembles an enabler. 

To protect the secret of the inside game, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, assuming they were communicating privately, discussed the firing of a Fox reporter who fact-checked an inaccurate Trump tweet about Dominion. “Please get her fired,” Carlson texted Hannity and Laura Ingraham, “. . . it needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down.” That attitude, indeed, is newsworthy, so newsy, in fact, that Fox personnel never expected it to be shared with their viewers.

Thoughtful citizens can now assess Fox News through a corrected lens that exposes a self-confessed unethical bias of its own. What allegations of “media bias” could possibly exclude Fox’s internal manipulations to protect its own economic advantage and its brand? Nor could the most powerful conservative voice of the past several decades deny its bias against accurate news reports of obvious public concern and its simultaneous bias toward walling off its viewers from vital political knowledge.

Reliable information about presidential elections is a touchstone of democracy, and Fox knowingly interfered with its dissemination to protect the Fox brand and ideology.

Greater Concern, No. 2

Despite efforts to mobilize “bias” as an accusation, we should recognize that many forms are harmless, unplanned, and often go uncriticized. For example, social scientists like Andrew Cline, in defining bias, report that it’s difficult for people to communicate “without influences built into human cognitive and communicative abilities.” If that’s true, bias involves some degree of inescapable and often innocent prejudgment and expectation.

But corruption? Intentional distortion of the American mind? That’s a disservice to actual working journalists, and also shortchanges citizens who need factual news and accurate context in a confusing world.

We should acknowledge that humans will never eliminate bias. Living with it and continuing the public conversation without trying to harm others or claim unearned superiority for ourselves—an admirable ethical goal that could begin to help citizens depolarize our fractured society.

This goal is exemplified in media historian Michael Schudson’s description of J-school training that prepares reporters to “report against their own assumptions,” without automatically assuming they’ll find what they expect to find. The ethical responsibility to stay alert to avoid one’s own confirmation bias, typical in journalism education, is sadly rare in political accusers aiming at journalists.

Journalism, left or right, never is bias-free. Neither is parenting, umpiring, teaching, or campaigning for the presidency. Bias can be helpful or regrettable. Our position is both simpler and more complex than a bias-is-bad bias.

We suggest, first, asking where nasty accusations and certainty have led us in the public domain (a question that almost answers itself), and second, asking if recent independent research studies might help clarify the roots of bias allegations in political media. Some research, for example, shows that much of what someone might label derisively as others’ biases results from how they define the issues. Opinions of others can sound like bias if we find ourselves disagreeing with, or not understanding, them.

The tricky part is self-awareness, something real journalists are trained for, but something Fox, by its admissions, apparently doesn’t find that important in its connection with citizens. Evidently, Fox News pushed aside introspection about its own obvious biases and decided that the more certain and combative it sounds when expressing its bias against liberals, the more likely true believers will tune in.

It’s easy to overlook self-bias. We do it all the time, as research (referenced below) into what is termed “mybias” has confirmed.

Here’s how it might happen: Persons deeply committed to Christianity as the only true religion, for example, could, though not necessarily, define public tolerance and openness to different faiths as part of an excessively “liberal” position. Thus, a news feature about the success of an interfaith community project could seem to some like evidence of a liberal slant. They wonder why a “balancing” article focusing on their own religious belief system and perhaps disavowing “excessive” ecumenism, wasn’t also presented.

Is the newspaper guilty of a liberal slant? Or is its article about a coming-together of community interests, relevant to a wide readership? Who gets to claim bias, and who doesn’t?

Journalism doesn’t work that way; its responsibilities are more complicated than the complainers believe.

Reasonable reporters often apply what we could call an “actual events” assumption in deciding what is newsworthy and what is not. If an event, or quote, is important for readers to know, report it—carefully, accurately, fairly, in context, and ASAP. Another reality of contemporary journalism: straining for a false equivalence misleads the public. A flattering story about one candidate does not necessitate an equally positive story on an opponent, justified as “balance.” 


Re-tuning the Bias Label

“Bias” isn’t an epithet, but it’s become battle-scarred with that connotation.

In daily life, bias can be as normal as loving your own children more than the kids down the street, as normal as keeping your distance from people you mistrust, or disregarding a mayor’s self-serving political positions that don’t take the full community into account. As normal as caring what happens to the kids of immigrants when separated from their families. As normal as finding the Christian Science Monitor (Center bias) more to your taste than Mother Jones (Left bias).

When it comes to news, different readers want and need different things, different contexts and events warrant different coverage, and news platforms can be seen differently biased toward adapting news for a particular community. Whether bias is hateful or justifiable, it can be a perception owned as much by the perceiver as the perceived. Bias depends on where you stand.

“Depending on where you stand” is a useful metaphor when presuming to analyze partisans’ accusations of “too much” bias in others while denying any at all in themselves. A groundswell of research (linked below) has demonstrated this in recent years, rarely making headlines because it’s not easily translated into soundbites. But knowing that it is independent scholarship should encourage thoughtful citizens at least to question the certainty and animosity behind accusations of liberal media bias.

There’s Bias in Mainstream News, but Not What You Think

We recommend that citizens frame American journalism as a generalized set of persistent practical biases, without which our news landscape would wither and leave the republic with a politics of perpetual accusation.

A number of recent books, for example, including our own, stress that 21st century journalism must commit to protecting democratic principles from autocratic threats against the republic. If this is a bias, it’s one built into the spirit of the First Amendment, and it reinforces the republic.

News in a democracy also must have a proactive truth bias, inasmuch as truth and evidence can be verified. It recognizes a bias toward official sources, necessary as a fount of decisions, laws, and regulations affecting daily life. And the sooner the better. Mainstream news organizations usually are biased toward covering the immediate, the now, in their service to a constantly shifting public sphere. With few exceptions, citizens need to know what important and verified events are happening, as they are happening, and in historical context. Journalism at its best is biased, too, toward recognizing and explaining conflict and its context. 

There’s always the gravitational pull toward what media critic Eric Alterman called tasty pudding stories—ones that usefully entertain, gratify or explain complexities in simpler terms that invite public dialogue. Conversely, reporters share a traditional bias toward serious investigation, toward digging and prying to uncover stories behind lawbreaking and social injustice. They often dig aggressively but are usually guided by an ethic of compassion and empathy in interacting with newsmakers and citizens.

The mix of practical biases also includes fielding complaints from leftist critics (yes, there are many). Some within the profession argue often that news institutions prioritize, maybe to a fault, the goal of staying afloat financially. Awareness of this bias is variously described, depending on one’s viewpoint, as selling out to ownership’s special interests, or as plain old garden-variety fiscal responsibility.

You would think that such a large bundle of responsibilities would leave journalists little time to scheme with fellow travelers to undermine American conservatism and steal elections. Our point is not that all evidence points unswervingly in the same direction, exonerating legacy or mainstream media, or that everyone must agree.

Instead, we fear the dangers of characterizing beliefs about toxic bias in media with “everyone knows this” thinking. Much of the rhetoric of dismissiveness, however, is justified by the certainty and frequency with which it is asserted, or by sarcastic putdowns launched in political disagreements. Or, worse, on closer examination, many attacks on news sources seem to originate from cable “news” channels that turn out to be little more than affiliates of a political party.

If we step back to consider the big picture, the biases that supposedly taint politics and threaten the republic aren’t so easily explained or understood.

Informed citizens know that when public or private talk turns to “bias,” the subject is both complex and loaded with meaning. Cliches, generalizations, and shortsightedness won’t advance the deliberative dialogue needed for citizens to address the multiple issues dividing the nation—including media bias.

G. Michael Killenberg is emeritus professor of journalism and founding director of the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. He’s worked at various newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and the Alton (Ill.) Telegraph, and specialized in teaching media law and public affairs reporting.

Rob Anderson is emeritus professor of communication at Saint Louis University, whose books on public dialogue, media studies, and interpersonal communication blend practical and theoretical traditions. Their latest book, Democracy’s News: A Primer on Journalism for Citizens Who Care About Democracy, was published in February by the University of Michigan Press.

This blog was reviewed by AllSides Editor-in-chief Henry A. Brechter (Center bias).

AllSides CEO John Gable (Lean Right bias) wrote a response to this article. Read it here.

Image Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty via New York Times


Tien-Tsung Lee, “The Liberal Media Myth Revisited: An Examination of Factors Influencing Perceptions of Media Bias,” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 49, no. 1 (2005)

S. Robert Lichter, “Theories of Media Bias,” in Kate Kenski and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Political Communication (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), 403, 409, 412.

David Domke, et al., “The Politics of Conservative Elites and the Liberal Media Argument,” Journal of Communication, 49, no. 4 (1999), 35-38. 

Amy Mitchell, et al., “Political Polarization and Media Habits,” Pew Research Center (10/21/2014) 

Rob Faris, et al., “Partisanship, Propaganda, and Disinformation: Online Media and the 2016 US Presidential Election,” Berkman Klein Center, Harvard University (8/16/2017)

Hans J. G. Hassell, John Holbein, and Matthew R. Miles, “There is no Liberal Media Bias in Which News Stories Political Journalists Choose to Cover,” Science Advances 6 (4/1/2020) 

Peter H. Ditto, et al., “At Least Bias is Bipartisan: A Meta-Analytic Comparison of Partisan Bias in Liberals and Conservatives,” Perspectives on Psychological Science 14, no. 2 (2019) 273-291

Jonathan Baron and John T. Jost, “False Equivalence: Are Liberals and Conservatives in the United States Equally Biased?,” Perspectives on Psychological Science, 14, no. 2 (2019), 292-303


Qi Wang and Hee Jin Jeon (2020) “Bias in Bias Recognition: People View Others but Not Themselves as Biased by Preexisting Beliefs and Social Stigmas.” PLoS ONE, 15(10): e0240232.