Journalism is tied to a set of ethical standards and values, including truth and accuracy, fairness and impartiality, and accountability. However, journalism today often strays from objective fact, resulting in biased news and endless examples of media bias.
Media bias isn't necessarily a bad thing. But hidden bias misleads, manipulates and divides us. This is why AllSides provides hundreds of media bias ratings, a balanced newsfeed, the AllSides Media Bias Chart™, and the AllSides Fact Check Bias Chart™.
72 percent of Americans believe traditional news sources report fake news, falsehoods, or content that is purposely misleading. With trust in media declining, media consumers must learn how to spot different types of media bias.
This page outlines 16 types of media bias, along with examples of the different types of bias being used in popular media outlets. Download this page as a PDF.
Related: 14 Types of Ideological Bias
- Unsubstantiated Claims
- Opinion Statements Presented as Facts
- Mudslinging/Ad Hominem
- Mind Reading
- Flawed Logic
- Bias by Omission
- Omission of Source Attribution
- Bias by Story Choice and Placement
- Subjective Qualifying Adjectives
- Word Choice
- Negativity Bias
- Photo Bias
- Elite v. Populist Bias
- Some Final Notes on Bias
Spin is a type of media bias that means vague, dramatic or sensational language. When journalists put a “spin” on a story, they stray from objective, measurable facts. Spin is a form of media bias that clouds a reader’s view, preventing them from getting a precise take on what happened.
In the early 20th century, Public Relations and Advertising executives were referred to as “spin doctors.” They would use vague language and make unsupportable claims in order to promote a product, service or idea, downplaying any alternative views in order to make a sale. Increasingly, these tactics are appearing in journalism.
Examples of Spin Words and Phrases:
- Latest in a string of...
- Turn up the heat
- Stern talks
- Facing calls to...
- Even though
Sometimes the media uses spin words and phrases to imply bad behavior. These words are often used without providing hard facts, direct quotes, or witnessed behavior:
- Refusing to say
- Came to light
- Admit to
To stir emotions, reports often include colored, dramatic, or sensational words as a substitute for the word “said.” For example:
- Lashed out
Examples of Spin Media Bias:
“Gloat” means “contemplate or dwell on one's own success or another's misfortune with smugness or malignant pleasure.” Is there evidence in Trump’s tweet to show he is being smug or taking pleasure in the layoffs, or is this a subjective interpretation?
In this example of spin media bias, the Washington Post uses a variety of dramatic, sensationalist words to spin the story to make Trump appear emotional and unhinged. They also refer to the president's "vanity" without providing supporting evidence.
Journalists sometimes make claims in their reporting without including evidence to back them up. This can occur in the headline of an article, or in the body.
Statements that appear to be fact, but do not include specific evidence, are a key indication of this type of media bias.
Sometimes, websites or media outlets publish stories that are totally made up. This is often referred to as a type of fake news.
Examples of Unsubstantiated Claims Media Bias
In this media bias instance, The Daily Wire references a "longstanding pattern," but does not back this up with evidence.
In late January 2019, actor Jussie Smollett claimed he was attacked by two men who hurled racial and homophobic slurs. The Hill refers to “the violent attack” without using the word “alleged” or “allegations." The incident was revealed to be a hoax created by Smollett himself.
This Washington Post columnist makes a claim about wealth distribution without noting where it came from. Who determined this number and how?
Sometimes journalists use subjective language or statements under the guise of reporting objectively. Even when a media outlet presents an article as a factual and objective news piece, it may employ subjective statements or language.
A subjective statement is one that is based on personal opinions, assumptions, beliefs, tastes, preferences, or interpretations. It reflects how the writer views reality, what they presuppose to be the truth. It is a statement colored by their specific perspective or lens and cannot be verified using concrete facts and figures within the article.
There are objective modifiers — “blue” “old” “single-handedly” “statistically” “domestic” — for which the meaning can be verified. On the other hand, there are subjective modifiers — “suspicious,” “dangerous,” “extreme,” “dismissively,” “apparently” — which are a matter of interpretation.
Interpretation can present the same events as two very different incidents. For instance, a political protest in which people sat down in the middle of a street blocking traffic to draw attention to their cause can be described as “peaceful” and “productive,” or, others may describe it as “aggressive” and “disruptive.”
Examples of Words Signaling Subjective statements:
- Is considered to be
- May mean that
- It's likely that
- Would seem
An objective statement, on the other hand, is an observation of observable facts. It is not based on emotions or personal opinion and is based on empirical evidence — what is quantifiable and measurable.
It’s important to note that an objective statement may not actually be true. The following statements are objective statements, but can be verified as true or false:
Taipei 101 is the world's tallest building.
Five plus four equals ten.
There are nine planets in our solar system.
Now, the first statement of fact is true (as of this writing); the other two are false. It is possible to verify the height of buildings and determine that Taipei 101 tops them all. It is possible to devise an experiment to demonstrate that five plus four does not equal ten or to use established criteria to determine whether Pluto is a planet.
Editorial reviews by AllSides found that some media outlets blur the line between subjective statements and objective statements, leading to potential confusion for readers, in two key ways that fall under this type of media bias:
- Including subjective statements in their writing and not attributing them to a source. (see Omission of Source Attribution)
- Placing opinion or editorial content on the homepage next to hard news, or otherwise not clearly marking opinion content as “opinion.”
Explore logical fallacies that are often used by opinion writers.
Examples of Opinion Statements Presented as Fact
The sub-headline Vox uses is an opinion statement — some people likely believe the lifting of the gas limit will strengthen the coal industry — but Vox included this statement in a piece not labeled “Opinion.”
In this article about Twitter CEO Elon Musk banning reporters, we can detect that the journalist is providing their personal opinion that Musk is making "arbitary" decisions by making note of the word "seemingly." Whether or not Musk's decisions are arbitrary is a matter of personal opinion and should be reserved for the opinion pages.
In this article about Hillary Clinton’s appearance on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert," the author makes an assumption about Clinton’s motives and jumps to a subjective conclusion.
Sensationalism is a type of media bias in which information is presented in a way that gives a shock or makes a deep impression. Often it gives readers a false sense of culmination, that all previous reporting has led to this ultimate story.
Sensationalist language is often dramatic, yet vague. It often involves hyperbole — at the expense of accuracy — or warping reality to mislead or provoke a strong reaction in the reader.
In recent years, some media outlets have been criticized for overusing the term “breaking” or “breaking news,” which historically was reserved for stories of deep impact or wide-scale importance.
With this type of media bias, reporters often increase the readability of their pieces using vivid verbs. But there are many verbs that are heavy with implications that can’t be objectively corroborated: “blast” “slam” “bury” “abuse” “destroy” “worry.”
Examples of Words and Phrases Used by the Media that Signal Sensationalism and Emotionalism:
- Lashed out
- Embroiled in...
- Torrent of tweets
Examples of Sensationalism/Emotionalism Media Bias
“Gawk” means to stare or gape stupidly. Does AP’s language treat this event as serious and diplomatic, or as entertainment?
Here, BBC uses sensationalism in the form of hyperbole, as the election is unlikely to involve bloodshed in the literal sense.
In this piece from the New York Post, the author uses multiple sensationalist phrases and emotional language to dramatize the “Twitter battle."
Mudslinging is a type of media bias when unfair or insulting things are said about someone in order to damage their reputation. Similarly, ad hominem (Latin for “to the person”) attacks are attacks on a person’s motive or character traits instead of the content of their argument or idea. Ad hominem attacks can be used overtly, or as a way to subtly discredit someone without having to engage with their argument.
Examples of Mudslinging
A Reason editor calls a New York Times columnist a "snowflake" after the columnist emailed a professor and his provost to complain about a tweet calling him a bedbug.
In March 2019, The Economist ran a piece describing political commentator and author Ben Shapiro as “alt-right.” Readers pointed out that Shapiro is Jewish (the alt-right is largely anti-Semitic) and has condemned the alt-right. The Economist issued a retraction and instead referred to Shapiro as a “radical conservative.”
Mind reading is a type of media bias that occurs in journalism when a writer assumes they know what another person thinks, or thinks that the way they see the world reflects the way the world really is.
Examples of Mind Reading
We can’t objectively measure that Trump hates looking foolish, because we can’t read his mind or know what he is feeling. There is also no evidence provided to demonstrate that Democrats believe they have a winning hand.
How do we know that Obama doesn’t have passion or sense of purpose? Here, the National Review writer assumes they know what is going on in Obama’s head.
Vox is upfront about the fact that they are interpreting what Neeson said. Yet this interpretation ran in a piece labeled objective news — not a piece in the Opinion section. Despite being overt about interpreting, by drifting away from what Neeson actually said, Vox is mind reading.
Slant is a type of media bias that describes when journalists tell only part of a story, or when they highlight, focus on, or play up one particular angle or piece of information. It can include cherry-picking information or data to support one side, or ignoring another perspective. Slant prevents readers from getting the full story, and narrows the scope of our understanding.
Examples of Slant
In the above example, Fox News notes that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s policy proposals have received “intense criticism.” While this is true, it is only one side of the picture, as the Green New Deal was received well by other groups.
Here, Snopes does not indicate or investigate why police made sweeps (did they have evidence criminal activity was occurring in the complex?), nor did Snopes ask police for their justification, giving a one-sided view. In addition, the studies pointed to only show Black Americans are more likely to be arrested for drug possession, not all crimes.
Flawed logic or faulty reasoning is a way to misrepresent people’s opinions or to arrive at conclusions that are not justified by the given evidence. Flawed logic can involve jumping to conclusions or arriving at a conclusion that doesn’t follow from the premise.
Examples of Flawed Logic
Here, the Daily Wire interprets a video to draw conclusions that aren’t clearly supported by the available evidence. The video shows Melania did not extend her hand to shake, but it could be because Clinton was too far away to reach, or perhaps there was no particular reason at all. By jumping to conclusions that this amounted to a “snub” or was the result of “bitterness” instead of limitations of physical reality or some other reason, The Daily Wire is engaging in flawed logic.
Bias by omission is a type of media bias in which media outlets choose not to cover certain stories, omit information that would support an alternative viewpoint, or omit voices and perspectives on the other side.
Media outlets sometimes omit stories in order to serve a political agenda. Sometimes, a story will only be covered by media outlets on a certain side of the political spectrum. Bias by omission also occurs when a reporter does not interview both sides of a story — for instance, interviewing only supporters of a bill, and not including perspectives against it.
Examples of Media Bias by Omission
In a piece titled, "Hate crimes are rising, regardless of Jussie Smollett's case. Here's why," CNN claims that hate crime incidents rose for three years, but omits information that may lead the reader to different conclusions. According to the FBI’s website, reports of hate crime incidents rose from previous years, but so did the number of agencies reporting, “with approximately 1,000 additional agencies contributing information.” This makes it unclear whether hate crimes are actually on the rise, as the headline claims, or simply appear to be because more agencies are reporting.
Omission of source attribution is when a journalist does not back up their claims by linking to the source of that information. An informative, balanced article should provide the background or context of a story, including naming sources (publishing “on-the-record” information).
For example, journalists will often mention "baseless claims," "debunked theories," or note someone "incorrectly stated" something without including background information or linking to another article that would reveal how they concluded the statement is false or debunked. Or, reporters will write that “immigration opponents say," "critics say," or “supporters of the bill noted” without identifying who these sources are.
It is sometimes useful or necessary to use anonymous sources, because insider information is only available if the reporter agrees to keep their identity secret. But responsible journalists should be aware and make it clear that they are offering second-hand information on sensitive matters. This fact doesn’t necessarily make the statements false, but it does make them less than reliable.
Examples of Media Bias by Omission of Source Attribution
In this paragraph, The New York Times says Trump "falsely claimed" millions had voted illegally; they link to Trump's tweet, but not to a source of information that would allow the reader to determine Trump's claim is false.
In this paragraph, the Epoch Times repeatedly states "critics say" without attributing the views to anyone specific.
In a piece about the Mueller investigation, The New York Times never names the investigators, officials or associates mentioned.
Story choice, as well as story and viewpoint placement, can reveal media bias by showing which stories or viewpoints the editor finds most important.
Bias by story choice is when a media outlet's bias is revealed by which stories the outlet chooses to cover or to omit. For example, an outlet that chooses to cover the topic of climate change frequently can reveal a different political leaning than an outlet that chooses to cover stories about gun laws. The implication is that the outlet's editors and writers find certain topics more notable, meaningful, or important than others, which can tune us into the outlet's political bias or partisan agenda. Bias by story choice is closely linked to media bias by omission and slant.
Bias by story placement is one type of bias by placement. The stories that a media outlet features "above the fold" or prominently on its homepage and in print show which stories they really want you to read, even if you read nothing else on the site or in the publication. Many people will quickly scan a homepage or read only a headline, so the stories that are featured first can reveal what the editor hopes you take away or keep top of mind from that day.
Bias by viewpoint placement is a related type of bias by placement. This can often be seen in political stories. A balanced piece of journalism will include perspectives from both the left and the right in equal measure. If a story only features viewpoints from left-leaning sources and commentators, or includes them near the top of the story/in the first few paragraphs, and does not include right-leaning viewpoints, or buries them at the end of a story, this is an example of bias by viewpoint.
Examples of Media Bias by Placement
In this screenshot of ThinkProgress' homepage taken at 1 p.m. ET on Sept. 6, 2019, the media outlet chooses to prominently display coverage of LGBT issues and cuts to welfare and schools programs. In the next screenshot of The Epoch Times homepage taken at the same time on the same day, the outlet privileges very different stories.
Taken at the same time on the same day as the screenshot above, The Epoch Times chooses to prominently feature stories about a hurricane, the arrest of illegal immigrants, Hong Kong activists, and the building of the border wall. Notice that ThinkProgress' headline on the border wall focuses on diverting funds from schools and day cares, while the Epoch Times headline focuses on the wall's completion.
Journalists can reveal bias when they include subjective, qualifying adjectives in front of specific words or phrases. Qualifying adjectives are words that characterize or attribute specific properties to a noun. When a journalist uses qualifying adjectives, they are 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. This can manipulate your view. Subjective qualifiers are closely related to spin words and phrases, because they obscure the objective truth and insert subjectivity.
For example, a journalist who writes that a politician made a "serious allegation" is interpreting the weight of that allegation for you. An unbiased piece of writing would simply tell you what the allegation is, and allow you to make your own judgement call as to whether it is serious or not.
In opinion pieces, subjective adjectives are okay; they become a problem when they are inserted outside of the opinion pages and into hard news pieces.
Sometimes, the use of an adjective may be warranted, but journalists have to be careful in exercising their judgement. For instance, it may be warranted to call a Supreme Court ruling that overturned a major law a "landmark case." But often, adjectives are included in ways that not everyone may agree with; for instance, people who are in favor of limiting abortion would likely not agree with a journalist who characterizes new laws restricting the act as a "disturbing trend." Therefore, it's important to be aware of subjective qualifiers and adjectives so that you can be on alert and then decide for yourself whether it should be accepted or not. It is important to notice, question and challenge adjectives that journalists use.
Examples of Subjective Qualifying Adjectives
- disturbing rise
- serious accusations
- troubling trend
- sharp rise
- sinister warning
- awkward flaw
- extreme law
- baseless claim
- debunked theory (this phrase could coincide with bias by omission, if the journalist doesn't include information for you to determine why the theory is false.)
- critical bill
- offensive statement
- harsh rebuke
- extremist group
- far-right/far-left organization
HuffPost's headline includes the phrases "sinister warning" and "extremist Republican." It goes on to note the politician's "wild rant" in a "frothy interview" and calls a competing network "far-right." These qualifying adjectives encourage the reader to think a certain way. A more neutral piece would have told the reader what Cawthorn said without telling the reader how to interpret it.
Words and phrases are loaded with political implications. The words or phrases a media outlet uses can reveal their perspective or ideology.
Liberals and conservatives often strongly disagree about the best way to describe hot-button issues. For example, a liberal journalist who favors abortion access may call it "reproductive healthcare," or refer to supporters as "pro-choice." Meanwhile, a conservative journalist would likely not use these terms — to them, this language softens an immoral or unjustifiable act. Instead, they may call people who favor abortion access "pro-abortion" rather than "pro-choice."
Word choice can also reveal how journalists see the very same event very differently. For instance, one journalist may call an incident of civil unrest a "racial justice protest" to focus the readers' attention on the protesters' policy angles and advocacy; meanwhile, another journalist calls it a "riot" to focus readers' attention on looting and property destruction that occurred.
Words and their meanings are often shifting in the political landscape. The very same words and phrases can mean different things to different people. AllSides offers a Red Blue Translator to help readers understand how people on the left and right think and feel differently about the same words and phrases.
Examples of Polarizing Word Choices
- pro-choice | anti-choice
- pro-abortion | anti-abortion
- gun rights | gun control
- riot | protest
- illegal immigrants | migrants
Examples of Word Choice Bias
An outlet on the left calls Florida's controversial Parental Rights in Education law the "Don't Say Gay" bill, using language favored by opponents, while an outlet on the right calls the same bill the "FL education bill," signaling a supportive view.
Photos can be used to shape the perception, emotions or takeaway a reader will have regarding a person or event. Sometimes a photo can give a hostile or favorable impression of the subject.
For example, a media outlet may use a photo of an event or rally that was taken at the very beginning of the event to give the impression that attendance was low. Or, they may only publish photos of conflict or a police presence at an event to make it seem violent and chaotic. Reporters may choose an image of a favored politician looking strong, determined or stately during a speech; if they disfavor him, they may choose a photo of him appearing to yell or look troubled during the same speech.
Examples of Photo Bias
Obama appears stern or angry — with his hand raised, brows furrowed, and mouth wide, it looks like maybe he’s yelling. The implication is that the news about the Obamacare ruling is something that would enrage Obama.
With a tense mouth, shifty eyes and head cocked to one side, Nunes looks guilty. The sensationalism in the headline aids in giving this impression (“neck-deep” in “scandal.”)
With his lips pursed and eyes darting to the side, Schiff looks guilty in this photo. The headline stating that he “got caught celebrating” also implies that he was doing something he shouldn’t be doing. Whether or not he was actually celebrating impeachment at this dinner is up for debate, but if you judged Townhall’s article by the photo, you may conclude he was.
With his arms outreached and supporters cheering, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott appears triumphant in this photo. The article explains that a pediatric hospital in Texas announced it will stop performing “gender-confirming therapies” for children, following a directive from Abbott for the state to investigate whether such procedures on kids constituted child abuse. The implication of the headline and photo is that this is a victory.
Negativity bias refers to a type of bias in which reporters emphasize bad or negative news, or frame events in a negative light.
"If it bleeds, it leads" is a common media adage referring to negativity bias. Stories about death, violence, turmoil, struggle, and hardship tend to get spotlighted in the press, because these types of stories tend to get more attention and elicit more shock, outrage, fear, and cause us to become glued to the news, wanting to hear more.
Examples of Negativity Bias
This story frames labor force participation as a negative thing. However, if labor force participation remained low for a long time, that would also be written up as bad news.
Elite bias is when journalists defer to the beliefs, viewpoints, and perspectives of people who are part of society's most prestigious, credentialed institutions — such as academic institutions, government agencies, business executives, or nonprofit organizations. Populist bias, on the other hand, is a bias in which the journalist defers to the perspectives, beliefs, or viewpoints of those who are outside of or dissent from prestigious institutions — such as "man on the street" stories, small business owners, less prestigious institutions, and people who live outside of major urban centers.
Elite/populist bias has a geographic component in the U.S. Because major institutions of power are concentrated in American coastal cities (which tend to vote blue), there can exist conflicting values, perspectives, and ideologies among “coastal elites” and “rural/middle America" (which tends to vote red). The extent to which journalists emphasize the perspectives of urbanites versus people living in small town/rural areas can show elite or populist bias, and thus, political bias.
Examples of Elite v. Populist Bias
Elite Bias: This article emphasizes the guidance and perspectives of major government agencies and professors at elite universities.
Populist Bias: In this opinion piece, journalist Naomi Wolf pushes back against elite government agencies, saying they can't be trusted.
Everyone is biased. It is part of human nature to have perspectives, preferences, and prejudices. But sometimes, bias — especially media bias — can become invisible to us. This is why AllSides provides hundreds of media bias ratings and a media bias chart.
We are all biased toward things that show us in the right. We are biased toward information that confirms our existing beliefs. We are biased toward the people or information that supports us, makes us look good, and affirms our judgements and virtues. And we are biased toward the more moral choice of action — at least, that which seems moral to us.
Journalism as a profession is biased toward vibrant communication, timeliness, and providing audiences with a sense of the current moment — whether or not that sense is politically slanted. Editors are biased toward strong narrative, stunning photographs, pithy quotes, and powerful prose. Every aspiring journalist has encountered media bias — sometimes the hard way. If they stay in the profession, often it will be because they have incorporated the biases of their editor.
But sometimes, bias can manipulate and blind us. It can put important information and perspectives in the shadows and prevent us from getting the whole view. For this reason, there is not a single type of media bias that can’t, and shouldn’t occasionally, be isolated and examined. This is just as true for journalists as it is for their audiences.
Good reporting can shed valuable light on our biases — good and bad. By learning how to spot media bias, how it works, and how it might blind us, we can avoid being fooled by media bias and fake news. We can learn to identify and appreciate different perspectives — and ultimately, come to a more wholesome view.
Julie Mastrine | Director of Marketing and Media Bias Ratings, AllSides
Early Contributors and Editors (2018)
Jeff Nilsson | Saturday Evening Post
Sara Alhariri | Stossel TV
Kristine Sowers | Abridge News