The events of January 6, 2021—also known as 1/6 or the Capitol Riot—has returned to news coverage in force in recent weeks as a bipartisan House panel undertakes a series of hearings to paint a more complete picture of the day.
For many Democrats, these hearings have reiterated the deeply disturbing nature of the events that took place that day and shed light on the complicity of former President Trump. Indeed, the hearings have featured testimony from numerous Republicans that implicate the former president. Many Republicans, on the other hand, see only political motives in a continued investigation. In a recent YouGov poll, for example, 74% of Republican respondents thought that left-wing protesters orchestrated January 6 to try to make Trump look bad, though there is no evidence to support this theory.
Amid this division, it’s useful to look at some prominent trends of media coverage of Jan. 6, including the amount of total coverage, which news outlets are publishing the most articles, who may be publishing the most opinionated or biased content, and which news sources are providing the best-researched stories. Below are The Factual’s findings based on analysis of nearly 20,000 news articles from January 6, 2021, to June 22, 2022. To learn more about our news-rating algorithm, see our How It Works page or sign up for our daily newsletter.
Our data offers a few clear takeaways from coverage of January 6:
Interest in coverage of January 6 is waning. News outlets are publishing less about January 6, which suggests less desire among their readership for that content.
Left-leaning outlets publish the most frequently about January 6. Left-leaning outlets, and outlets based in Washington, see the most value in publishing articles about January 6.
The most opinionated or leading coverage of January 6 comes from the extremes of the political spectrum. More centrist news sites generate higher-quality articles on average. Publishers classified as “Left” or “Right” generally use far more opinionated language when discussing January 6 than publishers with a more centrist bias.
- High-quality articles come from both sides of the political spectrum. The top 10 sources for coverage of January 6 show a balance of centrist and right- and left-leaning publishers.
Below, we explore each of these findings in greater detail.
1. How Much Coverage Has January 6 Received?
In total, The Factual analyzed 19,573 articles covering January 6. The vast majority of these articles fall in the first few months following the incident. For example, 85% of these stories were published before November 2021, with a peak of 1,301 on January 7, 2021. By contrast, roughly 13 articles have been published per day in 2022, with a peak of 171 articles on January 6, 2022.
Overall, this shows that news coverage has decreased significantly over time, which may signal declining interest among the general public. This trend is also evident in coverage of related hearings. The first such hearings, focusing on the Capitol Police, saw coverage peak at 135 articles published on July 27, 2021. By comparison, the latest round of hearings has received less coverage, thus far peaking at 63 articles published on June 9, 2022.
2. Who Has Published the Most Articles about January 6?
The Factual also used its data on publication totals to assess who publishes the most frequently about January 6. The data shows high publication totals particularly for left-leaning and Washington-focused publications.
Overall, the top 20 publishers of January 6 articles include 15 left-leaning publications and 5 right-leaning publications. Partially, this imbalance can be explained by the overall breakdown of the media landscape: there are more publishers that are classified as having a left-leaning bias. That said, the list includes several left-leaning news outlets that are commonly ridiculed for undue bias by conservatives, such as the Washington Post, CNN, and the New York Times.
Proximity also helps explain some of the outlets that appear on the list, such as the Washington Post, Raw Story, Washington Times, Washington Examiner, The Hill, and NPR, all of which are headquartered in Washington, DC. It’s no surprise that these outlets are among those that publish articles about January 6 most frequently.
3. Who Has the Most and Least Biased Coverage of January 6?
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 Factual’s 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.
We looked to see which news sources had the most opinionated coverage of January 6. A low Writing Tone score does not necessarily mean that an article is unreliable—instead it conveys that articles from a source are highly likely to include biased or highly opinionated language that in many cases is seeking to elicit an emotional response from the reader. These often have a different look and feel than “straight news” reporting that tries to neutrally convey information, and they may often fall under the category of opinion pieces.
It’s not surprising to see many publishers make this list that have a strong political bias. All but one source on the list fall firmly on the Left or Right, with the only exception being The Atlantic. It’s also apparent that the list features predominantly Left sources. In part, this may be because the subject of the hearings — an attempt to alter the legitimate attempts of a free and fair election — would have seen Democrats lose the White House. Evidently, January 6 not only drives continued coverage from left-leaning sources, but also articles with emotional and/or opinionated language.
By contrast, the least biased sources generally come from sources classified as having a Center bias. All but 3 of the top 10 are classified as Center, and ABC News and CNBC are both sources that can debatably be rated as Center. Notably, four of the sites are primarily concerned with U.S. military affairs. Like the U.S. military itself, these sources generally remain apolitical, a fact which is reflected in their news coverage.
4. Who Has the Most Factual Coverage of January 6?
Finally, we used the dataset to investigate which sources published the most reliable articles overall. The Factual’s algorithm looks at a combination of factors—writing tone, cited evidence, publisher history, and author expertise, expressed in what we call a “Factual Grade”—to assess the overall quality of articles. High-scoring articles tend to be well researched, written with minimal bias, and come from authors and publishers with a record of producing high-quality journalism.
The sources that make up the top 10 represent a cross-section of reliable news sites in the U.S. media ecosystem. At the top of the list are several Center sources, including Task and Purpose and Military.com, which capitalize on their high writing tone scores, as well as The Conversation—a routinely high-rated source. Otherwise, there’s a mix of left-leaning and right-leaning sources. This includes the national security-focused Lawfare blog, libertarian site Reason, the D.C.-focused Washington Examiner, and major news sites ABC News and CNBC.