From a Boston University dorm room to a defender and publisher of libertarian philosophy, Reason proposes solutions to partisan politics. Its journalism has supplied principled arguments on a range of issues based on its core tenet: “Free minds, free markets.” Depending on who you ask, this reliance either powers transparent journalism or is ideological to a fault. Against this backdrop, The Factual asked two questions: how factual is Reason Magazine, and how biased is it?

How Factual Is Reason Magazine?

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

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.) 

Reason scored an average Factual Grade of 69.0% across 5,901 articles. This is above the 62.0% average for articles across the entire dataset, placing Reason in the 78th percentile. Reason’s principled approach to journalism partially explains these reliable scores, which include extensive supporting evidence from a wide array of sources. Moreover, Reason dedicates journalists to specific topics, leading to high scores for author expertise. 

As rated by The Factual’s credibility algorithm, scores vary widely, demonstrating how measurements of author expertise, writing tone, and provided evidence change markedly by article. For instance, some articles from Reason scored 90% or above, while others scored below 50%.

How Biased Is Reason?

While Reason positions itself outside of the left-right political spectrum, assessments from media bias organizations indicate that Reason has a “Moderate Right” bias.

AllSides gives Reason a “Lean Right” bias based on independent study, editorial review, and 15,288 community ratings. AllSides ultimately assigns a right-leaning classification because “coverage generally reflects perspectives favoring small government, deregulation of private business, and individual liberty.”

Data from an AllSides survey supports this observation. On average, respondents viewed Reason as “Right,” although Center and Right respondents viewed it as “Lean Right.” The majority of left-leaning respondents categorized Reason as “Right” or “Lean Right.”

Media Bias/Fact Check (MBFC) corroborates this classification, rating Reason as having “Right-Center” bias. This is due to the publication’s tendency to “utilize loaded words to favor conservative causes” throughout its headlines and articles. Examples include: “Journalist Butchery of School Board Protests Upending Politics in Virginia and Elsewhere” or “Jobs Killing Climate Corps Is Not The Way To Solve Climate Change.” As a result, it sometimes blurs the line between opinion and journalism. MBFC does note, however, that Reason has not failed any fact checks in the last five years, demonstrating the publication’s commitment to factual information.

Looking more broadly, Reason’s coverage of climate change is worthy of review. MBFC elaborates, “when it comes to low regulations, Reason Magazine resists taking action on climate change. Although they do not deny climate change is occurring and influenced by humans, they minimize the impact in favor of fewer regulations.”

In the past, the Reason Foundation was the recipient of grant money from the Koch brothers, famous climate change skeptics, amounting to $1.7 million between 1997 and 2008. David Koch was a trustee of the Reason Foundation for 36 years and served on the board of directors. The space for climate change skepticism is demonstrated by articles such as “Climate Scientists Manipulated Temperature Data to Fool Politicians and Public” and publishing articles from commentators such as John Stossel, who has made claims perceived to challenge the scientific consensus on climate change. 

Who Owns Reason?

Reason Magazine is published and owned by the Reason Foundation, an American libertarian think tank founded in 1978. As a nonprofit, it relies on publication revenues and donations; according to data from the IRS, it raised $42,592,101 in 2018. Additionally, a 2018 report by PR Watch found that 22.4% of this total revenue, or $9.5 million, came from eight right-wing groups. Its largest donors are Searle Freedom Trust and two Charles Kock nonprofits. Many members of its leadership hold similar positions at conservative think tanks, businesses, and nonprofits, which reinforces perceptions of its right-leaning orientation. 

How to Mitigate Bias

Of course, having an overall conservative bias does not disqualify Reason from producing factual news. 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 framing bias of any news source or story. Bias is a part of the human condition and any journalism ethics class teaches students to be mindful of this in every interaction and article.

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Published by Zain Bali

Zain is a researcher, writer, and marketer at The Factual. He is interested in policy, mass media, and politics. Before joining The Factual, he earned a B.S. in public health from Ohio State University. He has worked as a social media manager for a healthcare advocacy group and food science researcher.