CNN has long been a major news source and was one of the pioneers behind round-the-clock news programming. However, the organization has shifted to the left over the last decade — now, critics argue it has a strong liberal bias that skews its coverage. This leads us to ask two important questions. How reliable is CNN and how biased is it? 

Note: This article is specifically about CNN’s news website, not any of its television programming, unless noted otherwise.

How Factual Is CNN?

The Factual analyzed 785,000 news articles from 32 major news sources between January 1, 2020 and May 18, 2021. To be included, each news source must have published at least 5,000 articles over the time period, or at least 10 articles per day.

CNN scored an average Factual Grade of 53.6% across 47,199 articles. This is well below the 62.0% average for all articles in the dataset, placing CNN in the 13th percentile. For comparison, CNN scores similarly to Fox News (55.3%) according to our ratings, but both score well below average. In part, this is because both sites rarely link to external sources and at times engage in opinionated reporting.

Article scores for each news source, as rated by The Factual’s algorithm, show how measurements of author expertise, writing tone, and provided evidence vary by article. For instance, some articles from CNN scored 80% or above, while others scored below 50%. 

A high grade means an article is informative, relatively objective, and written by a topical expert. A low grade means many of these elements were not present or could not be verified. The article may still have merit, but readers should know to treat the article with greater scrutiny. To learn more, visit our How It Works page.

How Biased Is CNN?

Together, assessments from media bias organizations indicate that CNN’s news website has a “Left” bias. 

AllSides assigns CNN a “Left” bias, based on survey data, editorial review, and over 98,610 community ratings. This rating shifted significantly since 2017, moving from “Center” to “Lean-Left” in March 2018, and to “Left” in November 2020. As one reviewer noted, “​​CNN uses proper source attribution and good hyperlinks, and often has clear, accurate labels for content,” but is “dominated by anti-Trump/anti-GOP narratives and features few to zero anti-left/anti-Democrat narratives.” 

Meanwhile, Media Bias/Fact Check gives CNN a strong “Left” bias rating. Articles are “moderately to strongly biased toward liberal causes through story selection and/or political affiliation” and may “utilize strong loaded words, publish misleading reports, and omit reporting of information that may damage liberal causes.” While CNN receives a “Mixed” score for factual reporting related to TV coverage, the news site “tends to be properly sourced with minimal failed fact checks.

In a recent survey, The Hill found that 47% of respondents ranked CNN as liberal (48% ranked Fox News as conservative). 

CNN’s shift to the left has been widely documented by both sides. The Washington Post recently noted CNN’s “emotional” and “opinionated” reporting: “CNN’s new emotional rawness can sound like bias at a network that built its reputation on studiously neutral impartiality.” This shows that even left-leaning sources take issue with CNN’s approach. Such bias was particularly evident in the Trump era. For example, a Harvard study classified 93% of CNN’s online coverage in the first 100 days of the Trump administration as negative.

Who Owns CNN?

AT&T bought CNN in 2018 and made it part of WarnerMedia, a mass media and entertainment conglomerate. Notably, AT&T has few other news assets, which means CNN fits into a portfolio mostly focused on entertainment. In 2017, former AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson wrote that AT&T was “committed to continuing the editorial independence” of CNN. This contrasts with a slide toward “sensationalism” in recent years.

Like other major news sites, CNN relies on ad revenue. In 2020, Variety reported that CNN expected to generate $773.1 million from ads that year, compared to $1.32 billion for Fox News and $723.1 million for MSNBC.

How to Mitigate Bias

Of course, having a liberal bias does not disqualify CNN from producing factual news. CNN still publishes many factual articles. That said, most news articles have some bias because all authors have some frame of reference within which they describe a story. Political bias ratings are useful in understanding this framing. However, it can be more useful to know how factual an article is based on the cited evidence and whether the tone of writing is objective or opinionated. This is what The Factual Grade ascertains. Reading several highly rated articles across the political spectrum, from highly credible liberal and conservative sources, helps counter the bias of any news source or story.

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Published by Phillip Meylan

Phillip is a writer, researcher, and editor. He is a contributor to FP Analytics, Foreign Policy's research and advisory division, and an adjuct fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. During Covid-19, he has spent time enjoying the great outdoors, reading, and watching soccer.