Criminal Justice

Case Study in New York Times Bias, Coakley/Brown Edition


On the lower two-thirds of page A22 today, The New York Times runs side-by-side Liz Robbins-authored articles of the same length, space, design, and sidebar-box analysis (the latter by Katharine Q. Seelye). On the left, the story is about Martha Coakley. On the right, Scott Brown. The exercise practically screams out for a bias-detection exercise, and oh my word does The Times deliver the goods.

First, a headline comparison:

After Career as Their Advocate, Coakley May Face Voters' Wrath


Riding Wave of Disaffection, Brown Pushes for an Upset

Coakley: Advocate! Brown: Wave-rider! Voters: Wrathful!

The ledes:

Even during a fierce campaign for Senate, Martha Coakley speaks with quiet fervor, a serious woman who has been arguing issues since she was a standout on her Western Massachusetts high school debate team.


Scott Brown, the Republican candidate for Senate, has run an aggressive, surprising campaign in Massachusetts, injecting fear into the Democratic machine over what was expected to be an easy victory.

Coakley: Serious, quietly fervent standout on the issues! Brown: Aggressive, surprising fear-injector!

And paragraph two:

Ms. Coakley, the state's attorney general, gained international recognition as a methodical county prosecutor during the 1997 trial of Louise Woodward, a British au pair convicted of killing a baby boy in her care. Her composed television appearances helped her become the first woman elected district attorney in Middlesex County, the state's most populous, a year later. In 2006, just as easily, she swept the race for attorney general. Since then, she has won settlements from Boston's Big Dig contractors and from Wall Street firms that engaged in deceptive practices.


A charismatic and conservative voice, Mr. Brown has capitalized on voters' disaffection with the status quo, lashing out against high taxes and government spending. Campaigning as vigorously as he trains for triathalons, Mr. Brown and his physique caused a stir when Cosmopolitan, on its Web site, reprised a 1982 centerfold that featured him nearly naked as America's Sexiest Man.

Coakley: Methodical, internationally recognized scourge of baby-killers, Big Dig contractors and Wall Streetsters! Brown: Charismatic, conservative, opportunistic, vigorous, sexy, lasher-outer!

To be sure: The Times is accurately, and some would say appropriately, reflecting (refracting?) the broad sentiments of its core audience, one of the reasons why the paper has been successful for so long in a uniquely competitive newspaper market. To be a jerk: I'm not sure the Gray Lady's self-mythology allows for such acknowledgements.  

Reason's coverage of Martha Coakley here. And watch Reason's resident Mass native Michael C. Moynihan get interviewed, shaky-cam style, by Robert Stacy McCain at a Boston rally yesterday, talking about the strange appearance of Hayek and Rand in the Bay State.

NEXT: Sexy Journalism

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  1. That piece of shit Jim Lehrer showed the Cosmo pic on his piece about Brown and Coakley last Friday. Funny that he never mentioned the curling iron racist cop or Coakley keeping the innocent in prison. My take was that he was trying to shock prudish conservatives into not voting for Brown. The smile on Jim’s face after the picture was shown told me all I need to know about Jim’s editorial control of the News hour. What a pathetic little man.

    1. Jim was looking at the naked picture when he was smiling. I don’t think he was thinking what you thought. Ole Jim still has a few secrets.

      1. I think that was a thrill I felt moving up my leg, but it’s been so, so long…

  2. Not to mention their nonexistent Joe Kennedy article. That counts as bias too, doesn’t it?

    1. Proof that Kennedy is taking votes from Coakley instead of Brown. If it were the other way around, the NYT would be shining a light on his campaign, instead of pretending it didn’t exist.

  3. Good to know that in the minds of Democrats appearing in Cosmo is worse than paling around with known terrorists like Bill Ayers. Way to keep your priorities straight.

  4. Welch, your comments are gold dude. Loved the way the boiled down descriptions read.

  5. Wait a second, Coakley’s dirty mitts were on that Louise Woodward nonsense, too?

    This bitch just gets worse and worse.

    I think in the future I will just check the resume of anyone seeking elective office, and if they were ever a prosecutor of any kind I’ll save myself some time and just assume that they’re dirtbags.

  6. The problem is. Everyone you pointed out is exactly correct …

    Coakley was an advocate for the people, it’s called a prosecutor. Scott Brown’s campaign is aggressive and he is striking fear into Democrats.

    Coakley is methodological and serious. Brown is a populist, anti-status quo guy – no one would describe Brown as “methodological.” And Coakley has nothing so interesting such as a stupid cover. If she had posed nearly naked for Vanity Fair, you’d be sure if would be in the article.

    Apparently accurate reporting is not tantamount to bias. Of the examples you gave, not a single thing there contradicts the facts.

    1. “Methodological”? 😉

    2. Brown is very methodical. He has run a textbook positive campaign. He was 20+ points down just a few weeks ago. From the very beginning he has run a solid, very traditional campaign. He is really just the sort of “honorable loser” (a Republican who runs a quiet up beat campaign that never goes for the throat and losses) that the media usually loves. I guarantee you, if he were 15 points down, the NYT would be writing about what a good campaign and reasonable guy he is and how he was drug down by his association with the evil Republicans. Brown could have ran one hell of a negative campaign against Coakley. But he hasn’t.

      She in contrast has in the last couple of weeks gone very negative and personal after him.

    3. except that poor louise may not have killed the child and no one raped any one at fells acre…

    4. Coakley was an advocate for the people, it’s called a prosecutor.

      LOL. Coakley could not care less about the the people or justice as evidenced by her case history. Being district attorney was simply a way to advance her political career.

    5. It would also be accurate to have a headline for Coakley that reads, “After Running an Incompetent Campaign, Coakley Hopes Being the Democrat Is Enough” or “After a Career Spent Throwing People in Prison, Coakley Hopes Voters Show Her Mercy”.

      Since no headline can cover every last fact about a candidate, the editor has to pick one. That act of choice can be examined for bias.

      Obama lied about not raising taxes on anyone who makes less than $250,000. There’s no room for dispute on that fact. But if a paper for the next three years refused to cover any news item concerning Obama without using headlines that were variations of “Known Liar Obama Speaks to UN” or “Known Liar Obama Visits Vet Hospital” or “Known Liar Obama To Give State of Union Address Tonight”, you might decide that the editor of that paper was showing bias.

      1. “After a Career Spent Throwing Probably Innocent People in Prison…”

        1. …Probably Innocent…

          That’s why criminal prosecutions are held to a “beyond a reasonable doubt standard.

      2. One small point (from a confirmed Obama-despiser):

        You can make a statement of present intention (“I will not think of pink elephants tomorrow!”) intending it to be true at the time you make it, but then act just as you said you wouldn’t the next day (“Ooo, look, pink elephants!”) for reasons that you failed to anticipate, without transforming your first statement into a lie.

        It’s a lie if you knew when you made the first statement that you’d be thinking of pink elephants the next day – but until we prove that part, we really can’t say there’s no room to dispute that he lied.

    6. She methodologically and seriously fought to keep the innocent Amiraults in prison.

      1. Ok… People. Stop using “methodological” when you mean “methodical”.

        Not the same thing.

        1. Look at the huge brain on you!

          Seano, they were mocking a previous poster, I believe Ted.

    7. “Coakley was an advocate for the people, it’s called a prosecutor.”

      The interest of the people is justice. The interest of the prosecutor is to gain convictions, whether or not those convictions align with justice. So despite “the people” being in the caption of a criminal case, I don’t believe prosecutors are advocates for the people. In fact, most states have an office of the public counsel that is technically the advocate of the people, not the prosecutor.

    8. You can tell the truth, and still be biased.

      For example, is a group “pro-life” or “anti-aborition”

      Both are accurate, but word choice and sentence strucutre can influence the reader. This is NOT on accident.

    9. Ted, allow me to expose the bias in a way you can understand.

      “Facts” can in fact be facts, but be framed through the tools of word selection and spurious causation.

      Look at the reference to Coakley’s “composed television appearances,” as compared to Brown’s “lashing out.”

      In Coakley’s case, it was her “composed television appearances” which got her elected. NOT her qualifications, NOT her positions, NOT her ability to raise money as a candidate, and certainly NOT at all related to being a Democrat in Massachusetts (no spell check required.) What the author has done here is spin Coakley’s rather uninspiring Dead Fish personality as a bonus – like calling it “gravitas.”

      Meanwhile, Brown doesn’t get credit for a damned thing, but instead has merelt “capitalized on voters’ disaffection with the status quo.” As though nothing else he has done or contributed might have mattered.

      Here — let me use a sports analogy (and since you might be a Coakley supporter, I will steer clear of Red Sox and Yankee references.)

      MY quarterback went 6-11 for 56 yards and no interceptions, and will be lauded for managing the game and not turning the ball over.

      YOUR quarterback went 23-35 for 224 yards, but it will have come at the expense of a more sensible running game, and doesn’t really count because none of your throws were down the field and the stars on the opposing defense were hurt in practice.

      The bias isn’t in the “truth.” It’s in the selection of what you include/exclude, and the implication of a causation where there is no supporting evidence.

    10. Curt Schilling would agree…in a methodilodgical kind of way.

    11. Coakley is not the prosecutor, she is the persecutor. She deserves to be in prison. An immoral prosecutor is the most dangerous official of all.

    12. Coakley…mag cover…nude…ugh!

    13. Nobody disputes that the NYT usually gets the facts right. The point is that they are very selective about which facts they present and that the tone of their writing is biased. This is elementary stuff taught early in High School.

    14. Churchill is a drunk.
      Hitler is a vegetarian.

  7. Does anyone think that this is a little bit of male-female bias? How many times in a high-profile case have we heard, “she has a reputation as a tough prosecutor” (in this instance “methodological”). It seems that every female DA gets described that way. That’s how Marcia Clark was described prior to the OJ trial.

    1. Only if the female is a Democrat, and only because any criticism of female Democrats = sexism, according to the Politically-Correct Field Manual.

  8. Surprise! It’s me!

    1. It’s the angry white male, Stupid!

  9. What’s most reprehensible in the Times’ “Advocate” piece is that they make no mention of Coakley’s role as “advocate” of hysteria and injustice in the horrifying persecution of the Amirault family, the twentieth century’s answer to the Salem witch trials. Dorothy Rabinowitz has ugly details in the WSJ here.

  10. Sorry, I didn’t get the link to work. Here’s the whole thing. I hope it gets through.…..57862.html

    1. Those cases are the dog that didn’t bark in this election. The MSM outside of the WSJ haven’t touched it. If it had been Brown who had been involved, something tells me it would have been a bigger issue in the MSM.

  11. More people read the Nutrition Information pamphlets at McDonald’s than read the New York Times these days.

    1. Oooh, I love those! They make me all tingly and moist…

      1. Just like the Egg McMuffins they’re talking about.

        1. I like to stick one down my pants on my way to work…

          1. I’ve got a Big Mac in mine…

  12. If she had posed nearly naked for Vanity Fair, you’d be sure if would be in the article.

    And _that_ should surely be the mental image of the day

    Marcia Coakley nearly naked in Vanity Fair

  13. Dude this makes sense to me seriously.


  14. The discussion of bias in NYC newspapers is bias. I rarely hear anyone complain about the bias from the NY Post. Which is just as, if not more bias than the NY Times.

    1. I don’t think that is true. People confuse “conservative editorial page” with “conservative bias”. The NYP’s news articles are not particularly biased. They are really more tabloid than anything else.

      1. …complain about bias from NY Post.

        They’re too gobsmacked by the Post’s headlines

        Problem for the Times is that they take themselves seriously as newsgatherers.

        1. The classic headline!

          The writers at the post take themselves seriously as newsgatherers too. No doubt about it. Dispite The Onion like headlines, the NY Post, doesn’t consider themselves a joke newspaper.

      2. “”The NYP’s news articles are not particularly biased.””

        When the bias of a paper lines up with the bias of the reader, the reader doesn’t notice the bias.

        1. True, but John is right that they are pretty much just a tabloid – and everyone knows it.

      3. Wrong!! The post regularly positions pseudo editorial commentary next to its news articles without identifying it as such.

    2. I rarely hear anyone complain about the bias from the NY Post.

      Probably because no one takes it seriously. The NYT considers itself the paper of record, which is a pretty exacting standard given its mediocrity.

      1. Some people do take it serious, but other than that, I agree.

    3. “Headless Body in Topless Bar” was full of anti-progressive stereotyping.

      She’s a sexworker, you NY post writers, not a “skank.”

      1. I think that headline was from the ’70s, thus preceding the term “sexworker.”

      2. No, of course not! She isn’t a skank or a slut or a whore. No. She is a worker. An industrious laborer giving her best to the economy.


    4. Ok, sure… But having lived in New York, I can tell you straight out that no one uses the NY Post for anything but subway litter.

      1. Why would people pay for subway litter?

        I’ve lived in NYC for almost 20 years, there are plenty of people that get their serious news from the NY Post.

        What newspaper doesn’t become subway litter?

        1. People PAY for the NY Post? I’ve only ever seen it given away on the corners of train stations… At least, it looked like they were giving it away.

          Regardles Vic, I was being hyperbolic. Of anyone, you think I’m not aware that if people weren’t actually buying the damn thing it would be out of business? Of course I am. But I’m sorry, the NY Post even *looks* like a tabloid! And I’ve never known a serious reader. Yes that’s anecdotal, but please, peruse this… and tell me how exactly it doesn’t seem like a tabloid? The headline up right now is “GREAT SCOTT!”, and the print version has more TMZ style pictures than US magazine.

      2. My point being, if it was just subway litter, they would have went out of business long ago. People do pay for and read it, dispite it being called a tabloid. It’s nothing like a tabloid though, you won’t find an article about Bat Boy in the Post.

        Between 2001 – 2007, there were tons of articles supporting the Bush admin. They keep supporting Bush after the real conservatives abandoned him. Is that what you mean by tabloid?

        Yeah, yeah, I know they call it a tabloid, but it’s nothing like the tabloids, execpt for an occasional headline.

    5. Ah, yes, a return to “but they do it too!” defense. Of course, the difference is that Vic preens and takes the NYT seriously while few take the Post seriously unless it’s backed up elsewhere.

  15. I always vote for the sexy lasher-outer over the methodical, internationally recognized scourge of baby-killers. I don’t think lasher-outers get enough representation in the senate.

  16. no one would describe Brown as “methodological.”

    Nobody with a rudimentary command of the English language would call *anybody* “methodological” for crying out loud.

    1. If being methodical is good, and being logical is good, then being methodological must be double-plus good!

      Jeebus. “Newspaper of record” my pimply white ass.

      1. Double Plus Good!

        Somebody who reads!

        1. I noticed that, too.

  17. Got to love no mention of Brown being a Defense lawyer in JAG. Does the NY Times hate Defense lawyers now?

  18. The only surprising thing about this article is to learn NYT is still in business. This rag-sheet is in a triple loop spiral from which it’s going to be impossible to recover.

  19. People, Fox News has essentially been campaigning for Brown…the bias pales in comparison to the NYT bias.

    1. The straight news parts or the opinion parts? It seems like every time people accuse Fox of bias, they point to Beck or Hannity or O’Reilly or some other opinion person there. They’re commentary, not straight news. When people complain about Times bias, they mean in the news items, not (generally) what’s on the editorial page.

    2. So you’re saying that the NYT is even more biased than Fox News. Alright then.

  20. Wow! PEOPLE ARE UNHAPPY WITH THE DEMOCRATS. Guess “It’s all Bush’s fault” isn’t playing in Peoria, or Boston for that matter, any longer.

    1. Bush’s fault only goes so far.

      But when Nat Hanoff of the Village Voice runs a front page article titled George W. Obama, the jig is up.

  21. Were the two pieces accurate? It is Massachusetts that is being discussed, a leftist paradise some have called it. Is it bad taste to be shocked at the prospect of a republican winning this seat? Disaffection with the status quo, voters upset, etc, comparable terms have been used by this website to describe voters being disillusioned with Obama, or as a reason for swelling tea party support. Would it be an upset if he won? Of course it would be. As a Republican, wouldn’t you want to run a daring/agressive race in a supposedly safe liberal state? Would you try harder to be noticed?

    Anyways, this article is really stretching to make a zealous case of press bias, it falls short. This piece, and the two about the libertarian candidate really make me wonder about the direction of this magazine. Well thanks for finally talking about the libertarian senate candidate i guess. You can vote for the third party candidate or not vote, but if you’re going to continue to play footsie with the Dems and Reps then you might want to be more honest to your audience.

  22. Oh, i almost forgot. This article is typical coming from the writer who keeps telling us that the Tea Party organizations aren’t republicans.

    1. Have you been to any of them? Cause they sure weren’t started by republicans, and the ones that have happened in Los Angeles are certainly not populated by republicans.

      Regardless, I think you’ve missed the point… Saying that someone is running an “aggressive”, “fear-inducing” campaign is usually taken as a negative, whereas being a “serious, methodical advocate” for the public is wonderful. It’s the descriptors that set the tone and frame the truth to be perceived one way or another – as was pointed out earlier.

      1. Injecting fear into the democratic machine is not a fear-inducing campaign, they don’t relate. Matt took a few sentences, and tries to twist them to sound the alarm call of liberal media yada yada. This is a perfect example of taking someones words out of context.

        No, a quick visit to a Tea Party website will rid you of the notion that they are independent.

      2. Exactly. And it’s a common media tactic to describe right-wingers and conservative or libertarian concerns in terms of “fear,” while never applying that term to the left.

        Thus when Gore says global warming will destroy the planet, or when Obama says we need this particular health care bill or people will die, they are never accused of “fear-mongering” by the mainstream media.

  23. Injecting fear into the democratic machine is not a fear-inducing campaign, they don’t relate.

    Um, what?

    Read that again. Because that sentence makes absolutely no sense. Injecting fear is not fear inducing?

    What are you smoking and how do I get some?

    1. Get your own,

      Injecting fear into the democratic machine, ok I’m scared this race isn’t a slam dunk for the guy I’m working for.

      Compared with,

      OMG if you don’t vote for me, my opponent will let all the little terrorists run wild on you.

      Get it, probably not, but be obtuse all you want. I know this magazine banks off it nowadays.

  24. Matt is wrong here. Aside from his analysis making no sense, I’d like to point to a sentence from elsewhere in the NYT about Patterson’s budget:

    “Facing a $7.4 billion deficit this year, the governor is presenting a relatively lean budget by the standards of a state government accustomed to unrestrained spending.”

    FWIW, I would call Albany’s spending “unrestrained.” I think it is. But is that an unbiased descriptor? Or do we only see bias when it favors the other side?

    LINK here –…

  25. I think Matt is trying the Tea Party strategy.

    1.) Swear up and down they aren’t affiliated with either major party.

    2.) Ramp up the chucks about Obama trying to cover up his socialist inner child.

    3.) Become indistinguishable from Republicans, or be overrun whichever floats your boat.

    4.) Profit

  26. Hats off to M. Moynihan for using “Tea Party” instead of the usual derogatory stuff from liberals.

    Go Scott!!!

  27. “Refract” is right; The NYT is seriously bending the truth,
    Coakley and the Dems are
    Bent out of shape (angry:)
    and Obama is bent, period.

  28. At the heart of every district attorney is the fascist.

  29. The NY Times is not a genuine news company, since it prints only the news they deem that’s “fit to print” and only if it fits their particular progressive political agenda. This would be exactly the same standard Axelrod applied to Fox News.

  30. Mickey Mouse would have won with a honest campaign run.

    People are fed-up with the DemocRATS and their pushing everything (like healthcare) down our throats…and Obama is no help…lame duck for sure.

  31. I can tell you when I knew Martha was in in big trouble. During the mayoral election she went in the tank and refused to investigate Menino’s chief of staff for deleting thousands of incriminating eMails from the City Hall computers. Then Menino supported Capuano in the primary. Turnout in the city of Boston was pretty weak yesterday and we all of us who are city residents know the Mayah could have changed that with a phone call. I know Menino was on TV blabbing about her yesterday but I didn’t see him at the Coakley thing last night. That he knew he could double cross her meant she didn’t really have any support that mattered to him.

  32. When the Congressional Budget Office scores a bill, its looks at the budgetary effects over the immediate ten year window. So on the health care bill, the headline cost of $849 billion covers the period between 2010 and 2019.

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