Reality Check: The ‘Leftist Agenda’ of the Deseret News

July 20th, 2021 1:15 PM

In an opinion column published this week, the executive editor of Salt Lake City’s Deseret News, Hal Boyd, says his newspaper doesn’t have “a leftist agenda.”

“In my view, such a claim is, well, fake news,” Boyd wrote. One bit of evidence he provides for his conservative credentials: “I even wear socks with sandals and proudly sport a receding comb-over.”

Saying his newspaper has no bias — that’s what an editor gets paid to say, of course. So what’s the case? It starts with one of those colorful charts that you’ve probably seen, aligning scores of news sources from left to right. According to this Internet chart (which Boyd proudly included in the online version of his piece), the Deseret News “leans right.”

Not yet convinced? Boyd cites two other quasi-scientific sources, including a second colorful Internet chart from Ad Fontes, which he claims is a “respected gauge of bias.”

I’ve included links, if you’re interested in trying to disentangle the convoluted methodologies these sites use. If you dare to dive in, bring plenty of Tylenol.

Bottom line: these charts may satisfy the Internet’s desire for a quick side-by-side comparison of news sources, but they don’t offer any substantive examples to back up their grades. Just trust them.

That’s not how we study media bias here at NewsBusters. Our daily output consists of endless examples, with transcripts and embedded video so everyone can see the coverage themselves. Our empirical studies focus exclusively on content, rigorously examining all coverage on a specific topic, from one or more designated news sources, for a specific period of time. In my 30+ years of experience, that’s the only way a study’s conclusions have merit.

And as it happens, I’ve managed two studies of the Deseret News, and both showed coverage skewed pretty heavily against conservatives.

In 2013, our analysis showed the Deseret News tilted 6-to-1 (24 stories vs. four) against Utah Senator Mike Lee and other conservatives’ strategy of holding up government funding as a way to oppose ObamaCare. This wasn’t as lopsided as coverage at the neighboring Salt Lake Tribune, which tilted 41 to zero against the conservative strategy, but it’s hardly a “lean right” result.

Then last year, we looked at coverage of the 4th Congressional District race between incumbent Democrat Ben McAdams and Republican challenger Burgess Owens. Our analysis showed Owens, the conservative, received significant negative coverage, while McAdams faced none. That’s not the work of a paper that “leans right,” either.

Boyd also touted that his paper “published essays from Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton” in 2016, and “from Mike Pence and Kamala Harris” in 2020 (emphasis in the original). Go ahead and chuckle, for this is not serious evidence of non-partisanship. By that token, CNN and MSNBC aired the debates between these candidates — hardly proof that rest of their political coverage was even-handed!

To be clear, I do not think the Deseret News is on the same level as a woke/progressive/leftist newspaper like the New York Times. But when we’ve analyzed their political coverage, it reads more like Democratic talking points than a “leans right” newspaper.

And, if you want to know if a news outlet is biased, don’t look at a complicated chart whose methodology you don’t understand. Just read their coverage, and judge for yourself.