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CJR: Warped Front Pages


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It has seemed to me for a while now that we need a thread about both the failure of media/journalists to investigate and report on the corruption in US politics or at least to gloss over it and not ask politicians the hard questions and hold them accountable for their lies and non-answers, but also for those instances when real journalism and/or freedom of the press is under attack.


We'll start here:


Warped Front Pages


Researchers examine the self-serving fiction of ‘objective’ political news


even years ago, in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, media analysts rushed to explain Donald Trump’s victory. Misinformation was to blame, the theory went, fueled by Russian agents and carried on social networks. But as researchers, we wondered if fascination and fear over “fake news” had led people to underestimate the influence of traditional journalism outlets. After all, mainstream news organizations remain an important part of the media ecosystem—they’re widely read and watched; they help set the agenda, including on social networks. We decided to look at what had been featured on the printed front page of the New York Times in the three months leading up to Election Day. Of a hundred and fifty articles that discussed the campaign, only a handful mentioned policy; the vast majority covered horse race politics or personal scandals. Most strikingly, the Times ran ten front-page stories about Hillary Clinton’s email server. “If voters had wanted to educate themselves on issues,” we concluded, “they would not have learned much from reading the Times.” 


We didn’t suggest that the election coverage in the Times was any worse than what appeared in other major outlets, “so much as it was typical of a broader failure of mainstream journalism.” But we did expect, or at least hope, that in the years that followed, the Times would conduct a critical review of its editorial policies. Was an overwhelming focus on the election as a sporting contest the best way to serve readers? Was obsessive attention to Clinton’s email server really justified in light of the innumerable personal, ethical, and ultimately criminal failings of Trump? It seemed that editors had a responsibility to rethink both the volume of attention paid to certain subjects as well as their framing.


After the 2022 midterms, we checked back in, this time examining the printed front page of the Times and the Washington Post from September 1, 2022, through Election Day that November. As before, we figured the front page mattered disproportionately, in part because articles placed there represent selections that publishers believe are most important to readers—and also because, according to Nielsen data we analyzed, 32 percent of Web-browsing sessions around that period starting at the Times homepage did not lead to other sections or articles; people often stick to what they’re shown first. We added the Post this time around for comparison, to get a sense of whether the Times really was anomalous. 


It wasn’t. We found that the Times and the Post shared significant overlap in their domestic politics coverage, offering little insight into policy. Both emphasized the horse race and campaign palace intrigue, stories that functioned more to entertain readers than to educate them on essential differences between political parties. The main point of contrast we found between the two papers was that, while the Post delved more into topics Democrats generally want to discuss—affirmative action, police reform, LGBTQ rights—the Times tended to focus on subjects important to Republicans—China, immigration, and crime. 


By the numbers, of four hundred and eight articles on the front page of the Times during the period we analyzed, about half—two hundred nineteen—were about domestic politics. A generous interpretation found that just ten of those stories explained domestic public policy in any detail; only one front-page article in the lead-up to the midterms really leaned into discussion about a policy matter in Congress: Republican efforts to shrink Social Security. Of three hundred and ninety-three front-page articles in the Post, two hundred fifteen were about domestic politics; our research found only four stories that discussed any form of policy. The Post had no front-page stories in the months ahead of the midterms on policies that candidates aimed to bring to the fore or legislation they intended to pursue. Instead, articles speculated about candidates and discussed where voter bases were leaning. (All of the data and analysis supporting this piece can be found here.)


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Ummm…. We all know that the Washington Post is a liberal newspaper, and so is the NewYork Times.  Not sure why the author of this article tries to suggest that the times is a conservative/Republican newspaper. I like to know how many stories on the front page of the Times and the Post leading up to the 2020 presidential election related to something negative about Donald Trump. That doesn’t necessarily make them liberal newspapers, but that’s not focusing on policy issues either.

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