The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) is a great example of how political bias can vary within a news source. While WSJ’s news reporting is regarded as factual and centrist, its Opinion section has a reputation for a conservative skew. This leads us to ask two important questions: how factual is WSJ and how biased is it?

How Factual Is WSJ?

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

The Wall Street Journal scored an average Factual Grade of 61.9% across 12,132 articles. This is just below the 62.0% average for all articles in the dataset, placing the newspaper in the 31st percentile. 

Given the news agency’s high reputation, this score may seem surprising. However, many WSJ articles fail to link to external evidence. Citing a diverse range of sources is a key part of The Factual’s algorithm, so websites that link only to internal content often score less well. (The Factual could not score some articles due to WSJ’s paywall, but our data is a representative sample.) 

Article scores, as rated by The Factual’s algorithm, show how author expertise, writing tone, and provided evidence vary widely, even within a single source. For instance, some articles from WSJ scored 85% or more, while others scored below 50%. 

Articles that are informative, relatively objective, and written by a topical expert receive high scores. A low grade means many of these factors were not present or could not be verified. Low-scoring articles may still have merit, but readers should know to treat them with greater scrutiny. To learn more, visit our How It Works page.

How Biased Is WSJ?

As a whole, media bias organizations assign WSJ a “Moderate Right” bias. 

AllSides helps illustrate how media sources can contain different levels of bias. They rate the news section of WSJ as “Center,” based on a June 2021 survey of nearly 1,200 voters, as well as over 46,755 community ratings . However, they rate WSJ’s Opinion section as “Lean Right” and previously as “Far Right” prior to September 2018. 

Despite this bias, the AllSides review notes that WSJ’s Opinion section “does not outright ignore Left voices and perspectives, as many extremely biased outlets do” and is “Lean Right biased, but independent in thought.”

Meanwhile, Media Bias/Fact Check (MBFC) scores WSJ as “Right Center.” This is due to “low biased news reporting combined with a strong right biased editorial stance.” They also rate WSJ as “Mostly Factual” because of “anti-climate, anti-science stances, and occasional misleading editorials.” Through the MBFC site, 37% of community votes assign a “Least Biased” (Center) rating and 36% assign a “Right Center” rating.

Recent criticism of the newspaper often focuses on climate or politics. One vein centers on climate change skepticism. WSJ is notorious for publishing Opinion pieces that contradict scientific consensus on man-made climate change. Examples include articles with false statements, such as regarding sea level rise and the rate of ice melt. WSJ also has an unflattering record of scepticism historically. WSJ authors famously published contrarian — and ultimately erroneous — standpoints on issues such as second-hand smoke, ozone depletion, and acid rain.

Politics is also a point of contention. In 2017, then editor-in-chief Gerard Baker received criticism, including from within the paper, for asking writers to avoid using the term “majority-Muslim” in describing countries subjected to a Trump administration executive order on travel and immigration. Likewise, a group of WSJ staff demanded reforms at the paper to “encourage more muscular reporting about race and social inequities” and reduce reliance on “business leaders and government officials,” following the George Floyd protests. It’s worth noting that the newspaper has made some efforts to address these and other concerns.

Who Owns WSJ?

The family of Rupert Murdoch owns WSJ through the media company News Corp. The company owns British tabloids such as The Sun and The Times, and the Murdoch family also owns Fox News. Connections between Rupert Murdoch and former president Trump provide ammunition for those concerned about right-leaning bias at the paper. However, on the whole, WSJ maintains a strong reputation for journalistic standards and editorial independence.

How to Mitigate Bias

The complex picture of bias at the WSJ shows the challenges to of today’s news environment. When the line between news and opinion is easily blurred, it’s critical to know when bias is an issue. That said, all news articles have some bias because all authors have some frame of reference within which they describe a story. 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 helps measure. Reading several highly rated articles across the political spectrum, including from highly objective 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.