STUDY: PBS 'Washington Week' Journalist Roundtable Routinely Hates Republicans

March 25th, 2024 1:45 PM

Washington Week with The Atlantic, public television’s taxpayer-funded weekly political roundtable analyzing the major news stories of the week, is brazen enough to tout itself as "objective….known for its depth, balance, and civil discourse.” 

But a review of six months of episodes after the launch of Washington Week’s partnership with The Atlantic magazine (August 11, 2023 -- February 9, 2024) proved liberalism still reigns over the public airwaves.

Key Findings:

  • More than half (88) of the 157 topics addressed focused on Republicans, over twice as many as those focused on Democrats (38).
  • The panelists spent 149 minutes opining about Republicans, nearly 90% in negative fashion. The Democrats received just 66 minutes of opinionated commentary, split much more evenly (57% negative vs. 43% positive).
  • Republicans were branded as “extreme” 11 times over the study period, Democrats none. Meanwhile, Joe Biden was praised for being “mentally…quite acute.”
  • One reason for the ideological imbalance: The exclusion from these weekly discussions of journalists from any conservative media outlet, such as Fox News, The Washington Times, New York Post, Washington Examiner, Washington Free Beacon, or Daily Caller.


What Topics Were Covered?

A related way liberal slant revealed itself was topic choice. 157 separate topics were covered within the 27 episodes comprising the study period (average episode length 23 minutes).

Of those, 88 were focused on Republicans, compared to just 38 for Democrats (21 featured both parties, while 10 dealt with non-partisan subjects like the fighting in Ukraine). That’s a ratio of 2.3 to 1 of Republican-focused stories compared to Democrat-focused stories during the six months we examined. 

At first glance those numbers may sound favorable for Republicans. But Washington Week is a political roundtable, not a straight newscast, and emphasizes topical controversies, concerns, and scandals involving political personalities, not in-depth examinations of issues, meaning the one-sided GOP numbers were the opposite of a campaign favor to the Republican Party. When the show did touch on issues such as abortion, immigration, Israel, or Ukraine, it was often focused on how those issues could affect the 2024 elections. 

Bias By Omission: Democratic Scandals Ignored

Democratic Party scandals and problems, when not being downplayed, were often omitted entirely. There was no scrutiny of the progressive-activist “Squad” members recently elected to Congress, though several added fascinating scandals to their names during the period under study: 

  • Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) was convicted of pulling a House fire alarm to delay a vote. Later, old blog posts from Bowman resurfaced, promoting 9-11 conspiracy theories he wrote before taking office.
  • Rep. Cori Bush’s (D-MO) allegedly committed campaign finance violations involving security payments to her then-boyfriend.
  • Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) spouted anti-Semitic comments in the wake of the October 7 Hamas invasion of Israel, for which she was censured by Congress.

Topics devoted to those Democratic scandals on Washington Week? Zero. Not a single mention.

Even when a scandal involving a Democrat did break through, coverage was sparse. Sen. Bob Menendez’s (D-N.J.) corruption scandal, involving media-friendly details like gold bars, was relegated to a single brief segment on December 1, 2023, and a three-second reference on January 5, 2024, for a total of 34 seconds.

Yet viewers heard more about kerfuffles involving Republican officials, like Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) threatening to go mano-a-mano with a Teamsters union president during hostile testimony (1 minute 44 seconds) and accusations by Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) that former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) had sucker-punched him in the back (46 seconds).

Partisan Spin

The numbers reveal the show’s strikingly negative treatment of Republican figures and entities, coupled with a marked disinterest in stories involving Democrats besides President Biden.

Comments about Republicans, of which there were 149 minutes worth, tilted strongly negative, with evaluative statements nearly 90% negative versus just 10% positive for the GOP. Panelists described Republicans as “extreme” or “extremist” 11 times over the study period, often in reference to the right flank of House Republicans. There were zero references to Democratic extremism.

Within the smaller universe of Democratic-focused topics, scandals involving Democratic politicians were mostly ignored. Coverage of President Biden himself, while not wholly positive when it came to voters’ concerns about his age, or ideological challenges from his left flank on immigration or Israel, often either criticized his Republican opponents or rallied to his defense.

Worth noting: Retired Utah Sen. Mitt Romney comprised over a quarter of the GOP’s positive coverage (4 minutes), portrayed as a moderate hero for blasting his Trump-loving party’s alleged slide into “authoritarianism.” If one removes Romney’s coverage from the count, the anti-GOP slant was further strengthened to 92.4% negative versus 7.6% positive.

While Donald Trump’s legal woes and courtroom controversies garnered the most opinionated airtime, Republicans in Congress also received plenty of coverage, and near-universal condemnation, with a staggering 99% of commentary skewing negative, whether it was criticism of the dysfunctional House of Representatives or Sen. Tommy Tuberville (AL) holding up military promotions to protest abortion-related expenses for servicewomen. 

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley was the beneficiary of some positive coverage, especially as a potential moderate competitor to Trump in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries.

Democrats fared far better with the panelists, covered less often (66 minutes) and far more positively, with only 57.2% negative commentary and 42.8% positive commentary -- close to an even balance. 

Here’s how Washington Week panelists treated the top five most-discussed Republican political personalities/groups over the six-month study period:

  1. Donald Trump: 72 total minutes, 67 minutes negative, 5 minutes positive: 92.6% negative coverage 
  2. Republicans in Congress: 46 total minutes, 45 minutes negative, 28 seconds positive: 99% negative coverage 
  3. House Speaker Mike Johnson: 492 total seconds, 472 seconds negative, 20 seconds positive, 96% negative coverage
  4. Nikki Haley: 370 total seconds, 88 seconds negative, 282 seconds positive, 23.8% negative coverage
  5. Sen. Tommy Tuberville: 276 total seconds, 276 seconds negative, 100% negative coverage

The chatter on the Democratic side was far less robust. After President Joe Biden, who received relatively generous coverage (39% positive) compared to his once and likely future Republican opponent Donald Trump (7.4% positive), comments on Democratic politicians and controversies were hard to come by. The show even managed to spin up some sympathy for Hunter Biden, cast as a victim of a “political hit job” in its sparse coverage of his scandals.

  1. President Joe Biden: 57 total minutes, 22 minutes positive, 35 minutes negative, 61% negative
  2. Democrats in Congress: 253 total seconds, 208 seconds positive, 45 seconds negative, 17.8% negative
  3. Hunter Biden: 104 total seconds, 75 seconds positive, 29 seconds negative, 27.9% negative
  4. Gen. Lloyd Austin: 50 total seconds, 18 seconds positive, 32 seconds negative, 64% negative
  5. Sen. Bob Menendez: 34 total seconds, 34 seconds negative, 100% negative


What They Said: ‘Extremist’ Republicans, ‘Mentally, He’s Quite Acute’ Biden

The Washington Week-Atlantic partnership got off to a biased start on August 11, 2023, with Goldberg and company casting Florida governor and then-GOP candidate Ron DeSantis as an extremist autocrat

Following a clip of DeSantis saying that when he became president, “We’re going to have all these Deep State people, we’re going to start slitting throats on Day One,” Moderator Goldberg asked PBS NewsHour reporter Laura Barron-Lopez: “Laura, let me turn to you, because you’ve covered extremism. Talk about the relationship between rhetoric like that and the threat of violence in our society.”

The NewsHour’s White House correspondent did not disappoint: “…when you talk to historians, especially those who study authoritarianism, they will tell you that that is a classic tactic used by authoritarian figures, autocratic figures, to try to rally their base around them and they know exactly who they’re speaking to.”

On the August 25 edition, Barron-Lopez, serving as guest host, made it clear her preferred Republican candidate in the then-crowded field, the “rational” Nikki Haley, who was “trying to get Republicans to contend with reality” on liberal issues like climate change and abortion, while bluntly saying of conservatives, “They're feeling more emboldened to say racist things in some cases.” 

In a segment that didn’t, ahem, age well after Biden’s disastrous classified document-related press conference in February, Mark Leibovich of The Atlantic came huffily to the defense of the octogenarian president in this now-notorious exchange on September 1, 2023

Leibovich: Can I just actually just point out, though, that, I mean, it’s not just making an issue of Biden’s age, it’s lying, it’s saying he’s senile, saying he’s demented, saying he’s out of it. I mean, I think it’s important to sort of state for a fact that a lot of these are just --

Goldberg: Right. Mentally, he’s quite acute.

Leibovich: It seems like it.

In contrast, the November 24, 2023 edition treated taxpaying viewers to how the Republican “anger caucus” was “willing to blow things up” in Washington, while new House Speaker Mike Johnson was a “deeply, deeply religious conservative” who had, according to NewsHour’s congressional reporter Lisa Desjardins, “dehumanized the LGBTQ population in this country.”

Perhaps most revealing was the December 29, 2023 episode dedicated to the latest issue of The Atlantic, wholly devoted to the dangers of Donald Trump, with a roundtable of Atlantic-only magazine staff taking over the taxpayer-supported airwaves to fret over a second-term Trump administration that threatened to usher in “authoritarianism.” 

Who’s Talking?

Besides chief moderator (and Atlantic editor-in-chief) Jeffrey Goldberg, who mediated 24 of the 27 episodes, the show features a rotating panel of journalists from various outlets. New York Times’ White House correspondent Peter Baker, National Public Radio White House correspondent Asma Khalid, and PBS NewsHour White House correspondent Laura Barron-Lopez each appeared around the table five times, the most of any journalist. Liberal and even left-wing outlets dominated, making for a plethora of agreed-upon liberal-leaning opinions and interpretations of fact with no conservative rebuttals.

Staff from The Atlantic itself were the most frequent guests, with 22 total appearances (Goldberg counting as a single appearance). The public airwaves were also well represented, with reporters from NPR and the PBS NewsHour appearing frequently alongside liberal media stalwarts like the Washington Post and Politico. In all, eighteen separate media outlets were represented by a total of 57 individual panelists, some of whom made multiple appearances. 

By contrast, there was not a single appearance made by a member of a conservative media outlet: Not a single staffer for Fox News, Washington Times, New York Post, Washington Examiner, Washington Free Beacon, or Daily Caller appeared.

(Note: Similar taxpayer-funded slant involving the PBS NewsHour program’s choice of guests was documented in 2023.)


The publicly funded Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) that airs Washington Week was launched in 1969 by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which was born with a congressional mandate to maintain "strict adherence to objectivity and balance in all programs or series of programs of a controversial nature.” Yet judging by our findings -- an unbroken line of liberal-leaning panelists providing blatant anti-Republican spin on anti-Republican topics -- the tax-funded Washington Week with the Atlantic is a gross failure on the fairness front.


We tallied all explicitly evaluative comments from Washington Week panelists (e.g., colorful, mocking, or ideologically loaded descriptions, either critical or supportive) regarding Democrats or Republicans. Straightforward descriptions of the issue at hand were not included. We also counted the topics covered and assigned them a value based on partisan emphasis, if any (Democrat/Republican/both/neither). We also counted and sorted the media affiliation of the panelists.

The top five topics involving each party were then ranked based on the total amount of time in which they were evaluated, along with a percentage figure documenting the resulting spin, positive or negative. Note that the study period encompassed the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, and thus includes evaluations of the state of the presidential “horse race.”