The New York Times management probably thinks the paper got a lot of progressive street cred by coming out in favor of the total legalization of marijuana. The Times has published a series of very long editorials that take apart every aspect of the subject and conclude that legalization is the right thing to do. I concur with the Times and am pleased it has come out so aggressively on this relatively minor social issue.
But that doesn’t change my mind about the electoral politics the Times news department subtle favors in its news coverage. First of all, just because you support legalization of pot doesn’t mean you’re a progressive. Progressives do not have ownership of the legalize pot issue—libertarians are also in favor allowing recreational use of the devil weed.
More to the point, while the Times editorial page has been smoking, the news room has a chronic case of Tea Party conservatism when it comes to election coverage. The coverage of the primary results in Kansas and Michigan provides an excellent example of the way the Times has been reporting primaries since 2010: The article titled “Senator Beats Tea Party Challenger in Kansas” reports the results of three Kansas and two Michigan primaries—but only on the Republican side. The story follows the Times overarching narrative of the 2014 election, which is the same narrative the newspaper—and the rest of the mass media—foisted on the American public in 2010. The story is the bitter and dramatic battle for the soul of the Republican Party between ultra-rightwing Tea Partiers and the merely conservative traditional Republicans.
But what about the Democrats?
There is no national narrative about the Democratic Party, except an occasional mention of a candidate running away from Obamacare. No coverage of the races in which progressive candidates are facing centrist Democrats. In fact, no coverage of Democratic primaries at all!
It’s not just the New York Times, of course. A Google search comparing coverage of the Republican and Democratic primaries in Kansas and Michigan shows a decided bias in covering the doctrinal disputes between factions of the Republican Party, while ignoring anything that has to do with Democratic primaries or the Democrat’s process of selecting candidates:
- Inputting “Chad Taylor,” who won the Democratic primary for U.S. Senator from Kansas, reveals 16,000 stories on Google News; do the same for the Republican nominee Pat Roberts (the incumbent) and it’s 30,300 stories.
- In Michigan’s 11th district, a Google News search of Democratic nominee Bobby McKenzie yields 1,570 stories; a search for the Republican nominee Dave Trott yields 3,790, more than twice as many.
I searched Google News for all five races covered in the Times article and in each case there were many more stories in the national news about the Republican winning than about the Democrat (although in two of the cases, the Democrat ran unopposed). Even more revealing is the fact that a majority of the stories I read focus on the Republican race, only mentioning the Democrat as the candidate whom the Republican will have to face in November.
Just as in 2010, casual perusers of newspapers and the Internet might come to the conclusion that no Democrats are running for any office come November. They certainly will learn a lot about the nuances that distinguish the hard right from the very hard right while culling almost nothing about what issues divide and unite the Democrats—who, BTW, are the larger party in terms of membership and total votes cast for both the presidential and Congressional races in 2012.
It’s as if the mass media are collectively writing the story of the election from the point of view of the Republican Party. Even though the New York Times and the rest of the national mainstream media will endorse Democrats, their news coverage in fact endorses the Republic Party by focusing primary election coverage almost exclusively on Republican races; providing extensive coverage of the Republican’s extreme element while ignoring the far left of the Democratic Party; and framing most national and international issues from the Republican playbook.