Thursday, April 4, 2019

Wonkette reacts to its Media Bias Chart placement, an update to 'A comparison of two measures of media bias shows readers and viewers respond to both ideology and quality'

I left off this series by telling my readers "I plan on resuming this series on April 4th with a retrospective about the most read entries covering media bias."  That's today, so it's time to fulfill my promise by updating A comparison of two measures of media bias shows readers and viewers respond to both ideology and quality, the third most read entry during the eighth year of the blog.

Of all the stories I could have used to follow up on this entry, which was the last one to enter the all-time top ten, the rating of Wonkette is by far the funniest.  Ad Fontes Media, which produces the Media Bias Chart, placed Wonkette on the chart in September 2018, one month after I posted the entry.  Wonkette was not pleased and had pointed things to say about its placement.
Here at Wonkette, we often make #jokes in our headlines and say things that are not literally true for humor purposes, and when we do that it's pretty fucking spelled out, honestly. For instance, when we wrote that Pat Robertson beat up Hurricane Florence with his Bible and now Hurricane Florence is dead, we do not expect Ms. Otero to literally believe the hurricane is gone because Robertson beat it up!
Shorter Wonkette: Ad Fontes Media has no sense of humor.  I've seen that before.

I'm not sure how Wonkette would react to being called a bunch of evil clowns.  They would probably agree about the clown part, but maybe not the evil, although it would depend on the writer.  I'm sure some of them would take it as a badge of honor.

Back to Wonkette's reaction.
Wonkette is not to the left of Jacobin. In fact, Jacobin would probably tell you that their own selves, verrrrry self-righteously. We are also not to the left of The Intercept.
I would agree we are 'nonsense damaging to discourse' but we're HYPERPARTISAN LEFT not EXTREME LEFT and we do NOT BELONG IN MISLEADING, we belong in EXTREME/UNFAIR INTERPRETATION OF THE NEWS.
In other words, "Yeah, we're biased, but not that biased!"  According to their own view of their site, it belongs on that chart next to Daily Kos, not where it is the the left of Jacobin (I agree, that's silly) and just above Patribotics (that's insulting).

Ad Fontes Media responded to Wonkette's reaction.
The main reasons for Wonkette’s low quality placement are that in our ranking methodology, highly unfair characterizations of political opponents, such as ad hominem attacks, name calling, and foul language result in low scores for quality and high scores for bias—even if it’s for humor.

I see they object to this. I am not calling them “fake news.” That term is not on the chart. Note that the category they are in for quality is “propaganda/ contains misleading info,” which is an “and/or” category. That is, the category is propaganda OR misleading. My ranking categorized them as “propaganda” because its articles get such high scores in the “unfairness instances” metric on the article grading rubric. Propaganda is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.” Many Wonkette headlines are also misleading—for example, though the headline says otherwise, the chart does not say it is “fake news,” and, it is ranked meaningfully higher than Louise Mensch’s blog, Patribotics. However, Wonkette’s articles can be categorized more often as “propaganda” than “misleading.”
That was Ad Fontes Media's justification of its placement of Wonkette.  What about Wonkette's defense that it's all a joke?
“It’s funny/it’s just a joke/it’s “clever snark”

This is true. Their writing is hilarious, especially as viewed through the lens of other liberal, internet savvy, politically astute readers who love a sick burn. However, things that are funny can also be unfair at the same time. So insults, ad hominem attacks, curse words, and name calling, WHILE VERY FUNNY, are still unfair means of persuasion. We categorize several rhetorical devices and statements as unfair in our rankings. A general guideline for what counts as “unfair” are 1) practices not in accordance with journalism ethics and writing style guides and 2) types of information that would not be admissible in court according to rules of evidence. I’ve written more on the “unfairness instances” metric in this previous post.

You may not be convinced that funny insults make a source low quality (just merely biased, you may concede), especially if you like and agree with them. If you like Wonkette and the names it calls Republicans and Trump, consider what you would think of the quality of a source on the right if it regularly called Hillary Clinton a bitch or a hag or worse. Also consider what moderate or slightly conservative readers would think of the quality of Wonkette’s stories in terms of how persuasive they are to them.
Ad Fontes Media then goes on from Wonkette to all kinds of political humor.
I admit it was my subjective decision to have that underlying premise, but I submit that this type of content only serves to reinforce one’s existing beliefs and alienate the other side, and is therefore, highly polarizing. There are certainly lots of sources that do this: for example, John Oliver, Bill Maher, and other evening comedy shows also use pretty cruel humor. There is an audience for it because it is cathartic. There is an important place in our discourse and democracy for humor—we need to have the freedom to be able to make fun of our leaders. But to the extent people rely on it for 1) news ( i.e., fact reporting) and 2) takes on the news (i.e., analysis/opinion), I think that kind of content  is highly polarizing, and thus, extremely damaging.

As support for the proposition that it is damaging, I point to the state of our country’s current discourse and the resulting election of our current president.

I’m not saying these sources have no merit. Humor has purpose. I watch these shows. I’ve read lots on Wonkette. But to the extent people rely on these for news, I argue they should not rely on them, and to the extent these sources try to fill the space where news is, they do damage.
That's a sobering thought.  It won't stop me from using John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah, or Samantha Bee to comment on the news, but I will be more cautious about doing so when I could use a more serious news source.

Follow over the jump for how this entry gained its page views, along with a story about how entertainment media shapes our biases as well plus the first appearance of the Media Bias Chart on this blog.

As I wrote above, A comparison of two measures of media bias shows readers and viewers respond to both ideology and quality posted on August 21, 2018 was the third most read entry during the eighth year of the blog with 8150 default and 9153 raw page views as of March 20, 2019.  I shared the link to the Join the Coffee Party Movement Facebook page that evening.  The result was that it knocked John Oliver on stadiums and NFL cheerleaders for Super Bowl Sunday out of the top ten about 9:00 A.M. on August 23, 2018 to reach 10th on the all time list.  Sic transit gloria mundi.  It later passed Seeker explains how television entertainment can shape our political opinions and Last Week Tonight examines Clinton and Trump foundations after winning three Emmy Awards" to end the month in 8th place all-time with 8113 default and 8135 raw page views.  It was also by far the most read entry posted during August 2018.

The tenth most read entry of all time and the fourth most read during the eighth year of the blog is Seeker explains how television entertainment can shape our political opinions posted May 31, 2018 with 7420 default and 7516 raw page views.  Before being shared at the Join the Coffee Party Movement Facebook page at 9:00 P.M. on June 1, 2018, this entry had 89 default page views.  It earned 2109 page views in the first two hours after being shared and ~6500 in the first 24 hours.  It helped earn the blog 1479 page views the hour it was shared and 10,863 the day it was shared.   It passed "Trump thinks Sanders is the right enemy" with 7072 page views to enter the all-time top ten about 7:00 P.M. on June 3, 2018, then passed John Oliver on stadiums and NFL cheerleaders for Super Bowl Sunday just after Midnight on June 4, 2018 to rank ninth.  It maxed out at ~7500 default page views for the month on June 29, 2018.  Of course, it was also the most entry during June 2019 with 7447 raw page views.

The Media Bias Chart made its first appearance on this blog in Alex Jones removed from Facebook, Apple, YouTube, and Spotify, prompting free speech concerns posted August 7, 2018.  This entry was the 26th most read entry of the eighth year of the blog with 2577 default and 2695 raw page views.  It was the third most read entry during August 2018 and tied for the most saved pins from entries posted that month with one.  It earned its page views by being shared at the Join the Coffee Party Movement Facebook page.

I plan on continuing this retrospective series tomorrow with an installment on last year's flu epidemic.  Stay tuned.

Previous posts in this series


  1. if people are relying on Wonkette as a news source, they are stupid. (Except their ongoing investigative coverage of Devin Nunes and his cows!) And Wonkette is not trying to persuade anyone. Phooey! This guy is totally mischaracterizing Wonkette.

    1. I wouldn't say stupid, just already biased, which is why I agree with you that the site is not trying to persuade anyone; they're already convinced! BTW, "this guy" is a woman, Vanessa Otero.

  2. Many Wonkette headlines are also misleading [...] Wonkette’s articles can be categorized more often as “propaganda” than “misleading.”

    Headline: Dean Cain Thinks Boycotting Georgia Over Its Bad Abortion Laws Is A Violation Of State's Rights

    Dean Cain direct quote and video from FOX: The hubris of Hollywood to say to a sovereign state like Georgia, you guys have to follow our beliefs on abortion, is ridiculous. There's a reason the 10th Amendment exists."
    NOT propaganda and NOT misleading.

    Headline: Incident Involving A MAGA Hat, A Sword, A Pirate Costume And A Roller Rink Ends Poorly For All Involved

    The headline contains facts of the case; the MAGA-pirate was yelling homophobic slurs, someone knocked his hat off in reaction, 'pirate' slashes his 'assailant' hand with a sword, runs off. Security finds bloodied sword and beer bottle the 'pirate had been drinking from. 'Pirate trscked down, fingerprints matched. He is now facing attempted murder (and other charges), and insists on defending himself. His victim 's hand was almost severed.
    NOT propaganda and NOT misleading.

    Headline: Sure, Nazis Are Killing People But The DHS's Katie Gorka Wants To Focus On Antifascists
    Absolutely true. NOT propaganda and NOT misleading.

    Headline: Laura Ingraham Was Sh*tty On Martin Luther King Anniversary, ARE YOU SURPRISED?
    She was, and Wonkette commenters were NOT surprised.

    Headline:Michael Cohen Has Idea: What If He Went To NOT Prison Next Month? True.

    Headline:Erick Erickson Says Pete Buttigieg Thinks Jesus Loves Bestiality, Which Is NOT A LICENSE TO F*CK GOATS, ERICK! True, and true.

    Headline:Ben Shapiro Still Throbbing Dickhead
    NOT LITERALLY TRUE, but not propaganda either, nor is there misleading intent in that headline--it is a sincere opinion.

    As we like to say at Wonkette; Ad Fontes is "A IDIOT" (and as its 'research' is either lazy and/or flawed in methodology it's pseudo-intellectual argle-bargle determinations are clearly ...*drum-roll"... misleading, propagandist and biased.

    In conclusion, allow me to re purpose the Wonkette headline "STFU AD FONTES [TIM RYAN} YOU DICK"

    1. Thanks for the examples. They serve as support for why I agreed with Wonkette that the site is misplaced. It is unfair persuasion and very partisan, but it is not to the left of Jacobin and more full of opinion less full of news than Daily Kos.

  3. Oh...and great post, Crazy Eddie---very interesting.

    1. Sorry, I meant Pinku Sensei.

    2. Thank you and no problem. I answer to both, although I am not really Crazy Eddie, especially when Sam Antar, the nephew of the original Crazy Eddie, likes my tweets.

  4. Thanks to all of you coming here from a Disqus link. It may not be the first time that's happened, but it's certainly the most traffic I've received from one. Could one of you do me a favor and link back to the discussion where you saw the link to this entry?

    1. This post may also have gotten some views from here.

    2. Ah, thank you, both for linking to it an for informing me of it. Once again, Crooks&Liars did now show up as one of the traffic sources.