The American Spectator is a conservative magazine and website that grew in prominence in the 1990s publishing “political scandal” articles related to figures such as former President Bill Clinton and Clarence Thomas accuser Anita Hill. Internal strife, including debates about financial transparency, saw the magazine nearly collapse before being rebuilt over the 2000s and 2010s. Today, the publication hosts conservative thinkers, respected and controversial alike, but is also the subject of considerable scrutiny. So, how reliable are news articles from the American Spectator? 

How Factual Is the American Spectator? 

The Factual’s news rating algorithm analyzes more than 10,000 articles a day along four metrics: author expertise, publication history, writing tone, and cited sources and quotes. (See our How It Works page to learn more.) For this study, we analyzed 1,000 articles each from 245 major news sources.

Over a dataset of 1,000 articles, the American Spectator scored an average Factual Grade of 50.7%. This is well below the 61.9% average for all 245 news sources that we analyzed and places the American Spectator in the 11th percentile of our dataset. 

Several factors contribute to these very low scores. Articles from the American Spectator often fail to incorporate ample links to external sources to support their articles, or only link to a very limited range of sources. Author expertise scores for the site are generally low, which suggests that contributors do not regularly write for the site, do not cover the same topics consistently, or routinely write articles that have scored poorly according to The Factual. Finally, articles tend to be highly opinionated, suggesting they intend to elicit an emotional response rather than neutrally convey information.

Like any news source, scores for articles from the American Spectator varied widely based on factors like author expertise and cited evidence. For example, some scored above 80%, while many others scored below 50%

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How Opinionated Is the American Spectator?

The Factual 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.

The American Spectator had an average Writing Tone score of 0.29, placing it in the 11th percentile in our dataset along this metric. This indicates that articles from the site use highly opinionated language, including emotionally loaded wording and headlines.

What Is the American Spectator’s Political Bias?

The Factual classifies news sites by political bias as either Left, Moderate Left, Center, Moderate Right, or Right. This classification is derived from third-party assessments from media bias organizations such as AllSides and Media Bias/Fact Check. Based on this data, The Factual assigns the American Spectator a “Right” bias. 

AllSides classifies the American Spectator as “Right” due to independent research and 16,699 community ratings. AllSides does not offer additional detail to explain this rating, perhaps because the classification is uncontroversial. For example, the site’s “About” page says that it favors “traditional American values, such as economic freedom, individual liberty, self-sufficiency, and limited government” and serves as “an outlet for a host of both young and established conservative writers and thinkers.”

Media Bias/Fact Check (MBFC) also rates the American Spectator as “Right,” noting “story selection and editorial positions that consistently favor the right.” Furthermore, they warn about the site’s reputation for failed fact checks, poor sourcing of information, and lack of transparency regarding its funding. MBFC notes that the site very rarely supplies any sources with its articles and that “story selection always favors the right and denigrates the left.” MBFC also warns that the American Spectator regularly publishes articles that strongly contradict the scientific consensus on climate change.

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Who Owns the American Spectator?

The American Spectator is owned by the nonprofit American Spectator Foundation. Though the publication is partially supported through advertising, subscriptions, and donations, the foundation is not transparent about its funding.

Why Does It Matter?

News articles always have some bias because all authors have some frame of reference within which they describe a story. Political bias ratings are helpful in understanding this framing. However, it can be more beneficial to know how factual an article is based on quantifiable metrics that can be seen across the media ecosystem, such as cited evidence, author expertise, and writing tone. This is what The Factual ascertains. 

Reading several, highly rated articles from across the political spectrum helps counter the bias of any news source or story. To have the day’s most factual news stories delivered to your inbox every morning, subscribe to our daily newsletter.

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.