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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Are Politico’s headlines written by Republicans? –“We Report, You Decide.”

A recent headline in Politico may have caught your attention – “Obama, team lawyered up for inquiries.” Although a sub-head in smaller type clarifies that Obama and his team “don’t appear to be investigation targets” the use of the term “lawyered up” is so strongly associated with wise-guy mafia types and urban street criminals that it’s hard to avoid the connotations of guilt and criminality. After all, “lawyering up” is what Tony Soprano tells his wiseguys to do when they are arrested and what Detective Logan on Law and Order sneers as he leaves the interrogation room (“damn it, the little punk “lawyered up” before I could grill him”) . Professional journalists – particularly if they are the individuals whose specific task is to write all the headlines and are thus responsible for establishing a consistent tone – would generally tend to avoid a term like this when they are seeking to be objective.
Of course, this is just one headline, and might be no more than an exception, but it reminded me of something that had been lurking in the back of my mind – not about Obama per se, but about Politico’s headlines that dealt with Democrats and Republicans in the days immediately after the election. While Politico had a number of headlines that used terms reflecting the disaster the elections represented for the Republican party (“dire straits”, “train wreck” “chaos” “back to square one”) they also had a number of news headlines that seemed to be providing advice rather than reporting facts (e.g. “GOP challenge: recruit outside the box”, “GOP must tone down rhetoric to woo Latinos”) Democrats, in contrast, received no similar helpful recommendations.
Again, this hardly seemed a major issue. But it made me curious enough to do a little digging. Take a look at the following group of Politico headlines from the month of December with the words “Dems” or “Democrats” in them and contrast them with headlines using the words “Republicans” or “GOP”
(Note: I’ve left out the headlines that are indeed actually neutral or that attribute words to other people e.g. “Pelosi says XYZ”. This longer list is given down at the bottom of the post)
Here are the headlines that suggest some attitude about the Democrats:
Intraparty tensions could cleave Dems
Dems embrace dynasty politics
Dems rake cash from business
Dems should be nervous about next four years
Now democrats too, must own the war
Did Democrats peak too early?
Democrats smell blood in Florida
Dems scramble to replace Salazar
Now here are the headlines that suggest an attitude about Republicans:
GOP – don’t blame us, blame UAW
GOP 5.0 – what’s next for Lincoln’s party?
GOP hopes rise, Dems hit rough patch
GOP gushes over Blagojevich arrest
GOP hopes Holder makes Dems squirm
The great (GOP) Depression
It’s hard not to notice that every single headline that communicates an attitude about the Dems is essentially negative – either explicitly or through the use of negative terms like “smell blood”, “rake cash”, “embrace dynasty politics” and “scramble to replace”
The headlines about the Republicans, on the other hand, are, with one exception, either explicitly positive or make positive contrasts between them and the Democrats. Republicans are metaphorically identified with state of the art computer programs and the tradition of Abraham Lincoln, Democrats with money-grubbers “raking in cash” and sharks in a feeding frenzy.
I’ve put the entire list of Politico’s December headlines that mention either party at the bottom of this post so you can see that the remaining headlines about the two parties during the month are either neutral or quotations.
OK now, let’s be clear. Some newspapers — like the New York Post or Daily News — very overtly editorialize in their news headlines. It’s actually a major part of their appeal. But there is something a little disturbing about a more subtle partisan tilt being inserted into headlines that will sail by most people almost completely unnoticed. It imparts a subliminal bias into the reporting of which the reader is not consciously aware.
It would be nice if Politico would clarify their editorial policy regarding their headlines. But maybe they won’t. Who knows, they might even “lawyer up” in case the Dems start “smelling blood.” Apparently that’s the way those guys talk over there.


All December Politico headlines about Democrats
Intraparty tensions could cleave Dems
Dems embrace dynasty politics
Dems scramble to replace Salazar
GOP hopes rise, Dems hit rough patch
Dems rake cash from business
Dems should be nervous about next four years
Dems fight for seat at redistricting table
Now democrats too, must own the war
How democrats can swing 60 without 60
Did Democrats peak too early?
Dems close in on auto bailout agreement
Obama little help to Dems post-election
Dems eye one last house seat pick-up
GOP hopes Holder makes Dems squirm
Democrats smell blood in Florida
All December Politico Headlines about Republicans
GOP slams bush over bailout
McCain scolds GOP for wacking Obama
GOP starts campaign for senate election
GOP – don’t blame us, blame UAW
GOP 5.0 whets next for Lincoln’s party
GOP resume’s piling up on hill
The great (GOP) Depression
GOP hopes rise, Dems hit rough patch
GOP may seek bill Clinton’s testimony
GOP pressures Obama on Blagojevich
Senate GOP gives auto pushback
GOP gushes over Blagojevich arrest
Republicans could win Obama seat
GOP ranks seeking leadership posts
Boehner: future of GOP is Cao
Republicans worry auto bill is too weak
GOP calls for Rangel to step down
GOP hopes Holder makes Dems squirm
Cantor Promises more aggressive GOP

2 comments on “Are Politico’s headlines written by Republicans? –“We Report, You Decide.”

  1. ducdebrabant on

    I’m delighted that you’re tracking this. Interestingly, Taegan Goddard’s site linked to a piece on Politico called “What the Transition Knew,” substituting its own headline, which was far worse: “What Did Obama Know?” A couple of us complained about the sinister tone of that, since there was nothing at the end of the link to justify the “What did Nixon know and when did he know it?” tone of the headline. When Politico starts sounding like the Simpson parodies of Fox News’s little running banners (“Do Democrats Cause Cancer?”), or like the banners themselves, it’s time to seriously take stock.

    Reply

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