Analysis: Wikipedia Articles on American Politicians Mostly Cite Leftist Media

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On Wikipedia criticism site Wikipediocracy, a user posted a sourcing analysis for articles about recent American politicians and found the news outlets cited in the articles were often left-wing. In gauging bias, the analysis relied on two separate sites measuring media bias. One showed a clear majority of sources were left-wing, while another showed a plurality. Both showed conservative outlets were a very small minority of sources.

Centrist sources were also cited far more than conservative sources, although that includes sites dedicated to cataloging candidate positions. The findings follow a 2018 analysis showing left-leaning outlets were among the most-cited news outlets on Wikipedia, with the left-wing Guardian being the third most-cited among all news outlets.

The latest analysis was published in a thread on Wikipediocracy’s discussion forums, where critics of Wikipedia congregate to discuss problems with the online encyclopedia. User “ExoticBeast” started the thread at the beginning of August describing the basic process of gathering sources using a public tool for extracting data from Wikipedia pages and then weighing any sources used more than a hundred times against a media bias rating system employed by AllSides. The analysis was further expanded using the ratings from Media Bias/Fact Check (MBFC).

For the analysis, all articles included in Wikipedia’s category for 21st Century American Politicians had sourcing data pulled from their pages using the tool. What the analysis shows is that articles involving recent U.S. politicians tended to rely primarily on left-leaning sources, with right-leaning sources being a small minority. AllSides and MBFC describe sources neither left- nor right-leaning as “centrist” and “least biased” respectively, with the two rating systems each showing a significant share of the sources on U.S. politicians being in the center.

Data used for the analysis covered articles on U.S. politicians as of late July this year. According to the analysis, over 33,000 sources used were left-leaning based on AllSides ratings and nearly 44,000 based on MBFC ratings. Roughly 3,000 and 9,000 right-leaning sources, based on AllSides and MBFC respectively, were used. Each set of sources showed a high number of sources in the center with AllSides showing over 26,000 centrist sources and MBFC showing almost 37,000. This translates to a majority of cited sources being left-leaning based off the AllSides ratings and a clear plurality between leftist and centrist under MBFC’s ratings.

Certain details about each rating site impacts the data. MBFC is more comprehensive than AllSides, but neither has rated every news site on the list. Each also includes non-partisan voter information sites such as Vote Smart and FollowTheMoney.org. If such sources, as well as government sites, are removed from the analysis, then Wikipedia’s sourcing bias shifts even further leftward. Some Wikipediocracy members, typically left-leaning themselves, objected to AllSides citing a funding connection to the Koch family known for backing conservative causes. AllSides states it works with donors to both progressive and conservative causes. MBFC claims to mostly be funded through advertising and memberships.

Both AllSides and MBFC provide detailed explanations of how they assess bias in sources. However, each comes to conflicting results. For example, AllSides identifies publicly-funded broadcasters PBS, NPR, and BBC, as centrist sources, while MBFC considers all of them left-leaning. Meanwhile, Chicago Tribune and Detroit News are considered centrist by AllSides, but right-leaning by MBFC. Despite these differing interpretations of bias, using either site’s bias criteria shows Wikipedia relies mostly on left-leaning sources for articles on U.S. politicians.

Prior analysis published in a Wikipediocracy blog post examined sourcing for all Wikipedia articles, rather than just articles on U.S. politicians as in the latest analysis. In that 2018 analysis, The New York Times, BBC, and the Guardian, were found to be the top three news sources on the site. With a narrower focus on U.S. politicians, the data shifts with British outlets dropping in rank. However, the New York Times remains the top news source and is rated as left-leaning by AllSides and MBFC. the Washington Post and CNN are instead the second and third most-cited news sources, each also rated as left-leaning.

Some right-leaning sources perform better when data is limited to just articles on U.S. politicians. Fox News, most notably, ends up beating several news outlets in this narrower analysis than when all Wikipedia articles are considered. However, the data for the analysis was pulled mere days after a discussion concluded with Fox News being formally discouraged as a source for contentious content on political Wikipedia articles. It is likely Fox News will gradually drop from its current position as happened after the 2018 analysis when several right-leaning outlets were later banned, including Breitbart News itself.

Wikipedia’s heavy reliance on left-leaning news outlets, particularly on articles about U.S. politicians, aligns with criticism from the site’s co-founder who declared neutrality “dead” on Wikipedia due to its left-wing bias. Yet the online encyclopedia is still relied on by media, academia, and Big Tech, who all copy extensively from Wikipedia and have even spread hoaxes created by the site’s editors. Conservative figures such as Candace Owens and Mark Levin, outlets such as the Gateway Pundit, and the anti-corruption movement in gaming GamerGate, have all had Wikipedia smears repeated by sources deemed “reliable” on Wikipedia over conservative media.

T. D. Adler edited Wikipedia as The Devil’s Advocate. He was banned after privately reporting conflict of interest editing by one of the site’s administrators. Due to previous witch-hunts led by mainstream Wikipedians against their critics, Adler writes under an alias.

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