Nate Silver Rips Dana Milbank Data on Biden-Trump Media Bias

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Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for AWXII

Pollster and founder of FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver, tore into the data used by Dana Milbank in his recent Washington Post column, which accused the media of treating President Joe Biden the same or worse than Donald Trump.

“To this good thread explaining why the ‘sentiment analysis’ cited in the WaPo article this weekend is complete crap,” Silver wrote on Twitter.

Milbank joined Brianna Keilar on CNN Monday to discuss his column. During the conversation, Milbank argued that the media data amounted to “a tremendous indictment of the whole industry” and suggested news producers need to do some “soul searching.”

Silver, who famously predicted the outcome of the 2012 presidential election, dug into the data Milbank used and explained his gripes with it and the methodology used.

“These are the articles the algorithm found, out of more than 40K stories, were the most favorable toward Biden. It’s just totally random,” Silver wrote. “Lots of stories about the stock market. Many have nothing to do with Biden at all (“Haiti President Assassinated At Home, Wife Wounded”).”

He continued, “Here are the articles that the algorithm deems *least* favorable to Biden, by contrast. These are a little bit more on the mark, but still, mediocre at best.”

Silver then noted how articles on his website, FiveThirtyEight, were categorized. He focused on a story critical of Trump, alleging Trump is a threat to democracy. The algorithm marked the story as “neutral,” which confounded Silver.

“Designing good algorithms is hard, but this is an especially bad one,” he concluded. “And as a news consumer, you should be extremely wary of statistical methodologies you don’t understand but that confirm your priors.”

Milbank explained how the algorithm created the data set in his original column:

Artificial intelligence can now measure negativity with precision. At my request, Forge.ai, a data analytics unit of the information company FiscalNote, combed through more than 200,000 articles — tens of millions of words — from 65 news websites (newspapers, network and cable news, political publications, news wires and more) to do a “sentiment analysis” of coverage. Using algorithms that give weight to certain adjectives based on their placement in the story, it rated the coverage Biden received in the first 11 months of 2021 and the coverage President Donald Trump got in the first 11 months of 2020.

Milbank said the data “confirmed my fear: My colleagues in the media are serving as accessories to the murder of democracy.”

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