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 Does The Factual Rate News Sources? 

The Factual analyzes more than 10,000 news stories every day to help readers find the most informative, least-biased articles. Our news-rating algorithm scores each article along four metrics: (1) cited sources and quotes, (2) publication history, (3) writing tone, and (4) author expertise. These scores combine in a weighted average we call a Factual Grade, which ranges from 0–100%. (See our How It Works page to learn more about our algorithm.)

For this study, we analyzed ~1,000 articles each from 240 news sources. The average Factual Grade for the entire dataset was 62.5%. Based on these averages, we can compare the performance of news sites across the media ecosystem. The entire dataset can be explored in greater detail here.

How Factual Is the Wall Street Journal?

WSJ scored an average Factual Grade of 62.9%, placing the paper in the 44th percentile of our dataset. Given the news agency’s high reputation, this moderate 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.) Additionally, many articles from the site lacked an assigned author, leading to lower overall author expertise scores.

Like any news source, scores for articles from WSJ varied widely based on factors like author expertise and cited evidence. For example, some scored above 80%, while others scored below 60%.

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How Opinionated Is the Wall Street Journal?

One of the metrics The Factual uses is the Writing Tone, which measures how opinionated the writing is in an article. For this metric, the algorithm looks for signs of subjective commentary (e.g., first person pronouns and unnecessary adverbs), as well as the emotional nature of selected words, and sees how prevalent they are for a given length of text. More neutral text receives higher ratings, with “0” being the most opinionated and “1” being the most neutral.

The Wall Street Journal scored an average Writing Tone score of 0.73, placing it in the 82nd percentile of our dataset for this metric. This suggests that articles from the publication tend to be largely neutral in tone. This can be seen through headlines such as “The Supreme Court Leak on Roe v. Wade” and “Apple Employees at Maryland Store Vote to Unionize.”

How Biased Is the Wall Street Journal?

The Factual classifies news sites by political bias as either Left, Moderate Left, Center, Moderate Right, or Right. This classification comes from third-party assessments from media bias organizations such as AllSides and Media Bias/Fact Check (MBFC). Based on this data, The Factual assigns Wall Street Journal 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 the Wall Street Journal?

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.

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How to Mitigate Bias

News articles are bound to have 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.

Article updated on September 22, 2022 to reflect new data.

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.