Press Release  ·  November 14, 2019

BREAKING: Investigation finds bias in MSNBC’s Democratic primary coverage


A new report released November 14 by In These Times magazine's Leonard C. Goodman Center for Investigative Reporting found that MSNBC's top pundits give Joe Biden an outsize amount of coverage in relation to his polling numbers, and that Bernie Sanders receives the least and most negative coverage of the leading 2020 candidates.

Reporter Branko Marcetic analyzed MSNBC’s August and September coverage of the Democratic presidential contest’s top candidates—Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren—on 6 flagship primetime shows: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, All In with Chris Hayes, The Beat with Ari Melber, Hardball with Chris Matthews, The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell and The Rachel Maddow Show.

Key findings:

+ MSNBC talked about Biden twice as often as Warren and three times as often as Sanders. By number of episodes, 64% of the 240 episodes discussed Biden, 43% discussed Warren and 36% discussed Sanders. A quarter of the episodes only discussed Biden, compared to 5% and 1% that mentioned only Warren or Sanders, respectively.

+ The skew toward Biden coverage held true even in August, before the Ukraine story broke.
+ The most Biden-friendly shows were those hosted by Lawrence O’Donnell, Matthews and Williams.

+ Of the three candidates, Sanders was least likely to be mentioned positively (12.9% of his mentions, compared to 30.6% of Warren’s and 23.3% of Biden’s) and most likely to be mentioned negatively (20.7%, compared to 7.9% of Warren’s mentions and 11.3% of Biden’s). The remaining mentions of the candidates were neutral.
+ 87% of Sanders’ negative mentions came from just two programs: Matthews’ Hardball and Williams’ 11th Hour.

Read more:

MSNBC is positioned to have an outsized influence on the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. After Fox News, MSNBC is the most-watched cable news network, beating out CNN. According to the Norman Lear Center, liberals watch MSNBC at (respectively) three and 10 times the rate of more moderate and conservative viewers.

The full tallies and coding of MSNBC’s electoral coverage are available here and here.

Branko Marcetic is an investigative fellow with In These Times’ The Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting. He writes about politics, history and media for The Guardian, In These Times and Jacobin, among other outlets. Marcetic is available for interview.

Contact: Jessica Stites, Executive Editor <>