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.