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.

What Is The Factual and How Does It Score Articles?  
The Factual identifies the most informative and least opinionated articles from thousands of sources across the political spectrum. It does this by using a consistent and transparent rating algorithm to evaluate articles based on their sources, writing tone, author expertise, and publishing site, ultimately producing a grade between 0 and 100 for each article. The Factual uses this data to explore trends across the media ecosystem as well as to inform our daily newsletter. To learn more about how we score articles, visit our How It Works page.

How Factual Is CNN?

Over a dataset of 1,000 articles, CNN scored an average Factual Grade of 53.3%. This is well below the average of 61.9% for all 240 news sources that we analyzed, placing CNN in the 15th percentile.

The site’s tendency to exclusively use internal links helps explain these low scores. This means that articles from CNN routinely score poorly in terms of cited evidence. Additionally, many articles use opinionated language or headlines.

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Like any news source, scores for articles from CNN varied widely depending on the cited evidence and writing tone. For example, some scored 75% or higher, while others scored below 50%.

The Factual also measures how opinionated an article is using a sophisticated natural language processing algorithm, producing a score we call the Writing Tone. For this metric, the algorithm looks for signs of subjective commentary (e.g., first person pronouns, unnecessary adverbs), as well as the emotional nature of selected words, and sees how prevalent they are for a given length of text. Text which is less opinionated gets higher ratings, with “0” being the most opinionated and “1” being the most neutral.

CNN had an average score of 0.62, placing it in the 51st percentile in our dataset. This suggests that articles from the site are moderately opinionated on average.

What Is CNN's Political Bias?

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; 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.

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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.

This article was updated on December 11, 2021 to reflect a new dataset.

Published by Phillip Meylan

Phillip is a writer, researcher, and editor. At The Factual, he leads research efforts that utilize the company's ever growing data on the media ecosystem. He is also a contributor to FP Analytics, Foreign Policy's research and advisory division, and an adjunct fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.