Each week, Ad Fontes Media chooses a widely covered trending news topic to share insight into how our analysts rank news coverage for the Media Bias Chart®. This week we looked at coverage of the backlash from Republican presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis’ promise he would “start slitting throats on day one” when it comes to taking on the “deep state” if he were elected president.
For every Topic of the Week, we select six articles reporting on the same story from different outlets to show how each treated the subject differently. Once we choose a set of articles, pods of analysts with diverse political perspectives (one right leaning, one center, and one left leaning) read each article and use Ad Fontes Media’s content analysis methodology to determine its bias and reliability. These ratings inform the articles’ placement on that week’s special Media Bias Chart.
I want to pause here to take a moment to address the “deep state.” It is one of the terms that we hear bandied about in the media, but what is the deep state? Who makes it up? What is their agenda? For this, we turn to the greatest publicly available body of knowledge currently online: Wikipedia.
They report that the deep state is:
An American political conspiracy theory [that consists of] a clandestine network of members of the federal government (especially within the FBI and CIA), working in conjunction with high-level financial and industrial entities and leaders to exercise power alongside or within the elected United States government.
This is something that Ad Fontes recognizes as a “boogeyman,” a term that refers to people or groups that may or may not exist but whose names are invoked by politicians in order to incite fear, anger, or loathing among their constituents. These could be real people or groups that have committed bad acts and evolve into “boogeymen” when their names are used as abstractions of these acts. Examples include the Deep State, Big Pharma, “woke,” or the 1%.
To the articles! Our set of six hail from The Guardian, The Washington Examiner, Florida Phoenix, The Hill, Fox News, and Mother Jones. The outliers that we’re going to dive into are from the latter two sources.
The Mother Jones article titled “Ron DeSantis Wants to ‘Start Slitting Throats on Day One’,” with the subheading “Totally a normal thing to say at a barbecue,” rated a -15 for bias and a 31 for reliability, or strong left bias with a reliability score in the opinion and fair persuasion range. The key takeaway of the article is pretty apparent: “The promise to the slit throats of people who essentially don’t exist—that is, unless you’re a conspiracy-addled Republican… Or is this simply more evidence of the governor’s infamous lack of social skills?” Our analysts noted the language in the text revealed a fairly strong bias against DeSantis. Additional examples from the article include, “whatever the case, it’s safe to say that these remarks fall in line with DeSantis’ authoritarian approach to governing, using the state to punish his perceived enemies, from Disney to whatever new item he’s declared as ‘woke.’ As Harvard professor Steven Levitsky told my colleague Pema Levy, ‘That’s authoritarianism at its core. That’s what authoritarians do.’” This article does spend a lot of time rather gleefully smearing DeSantis’ lack of tact.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is the Fox News article “Ron DeSantis says he will ‘start slitting throats on day one’ in the executive branch,” with the subheading “DeSantis has waged a ruthless campaign against ‘woke’ policies and government overreach.” Our analysts gave this piece a 12 for bias and a 33 for reliability — on the border of skewed right and strong right bias and analysis/opinion for reliability. They recognized that the article was biased and supportive of DeSantis, with phrasing such as “the violent terminology echoes DeSantis’ own ruthless campaign against political opponents in Florida, where he advanced conservative policies at a relentless pace.” The consent for and support of DeSantis’ tactics to become a political powerhouse are phrased in a much different light than Mother Jones painted them.
I really like the articles that our analysts highlighted as the biased bookends for this week’s set since they so clearly follow the Republican and Democratic party lines for statements like these.
If you enjoyed this Topic of the Week, there are more for you to explore. Every week we divide these articles into two sets for educators: Starter for a less experienced or younger audience, and Advanced for a more experienced or older audience. If you’re interested in learning more about how we rate the news or our resources for educators, check out our website.
Also be sure to check in next week for another episode of Topic of the Week!
Sara Webb is a cybersecurity consultant and former high school librarian from Philadelphia, PA. She holds an M.S. in Informatics and an M. Ed in School Library and Information Technology, and has been a media literacy educator for over a decade. Sara started with Ad Fontes Media in July 2020 as a Media Analyst, and she currently continues in that role and as in-house Media Literacy Specialist. When not engrossed in media literacy projects, Sara can be found at the barn with her ex-racehorse Homer, or training her corgis for dog agility competitions.