NYT vs. WSJ - Editorial Face-Off on Bill Clinton

By Toosi, Nahal | The Masthead, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

NYT vs. WSJ - Editorial Face-Off on Bill Clinton


Toosi, Nahal, The Masthead


I spent most of my senior year in college thinking about Monica, Bill, Ken, The New Times, and The Wall Street Journal. And that was months after the impeachment/trial hoopla, not to mention Lewinsky's appearance on Saturday Night Live. As a senior vying for some legacy at my university; I chose to study the Lewinsky affair for my undergraduate honors thesis. Unlike the majority of media scholars who prefer researching news coverage, I analyzed editorials written about the scandal.

I had no earlier research model to emulate, so developing and carrying out the methodology proved arduous. Luckily, I studied the works of two of the most informed editorial boards in the world.

My research had two levels: First, I compared the opinions of editorials in the Times and the Journal to one another; second, I very generally compared the papers' editorial musings on President Clinton to public opinion poll data.

Using Lexis-Nexis and looking at every month from January 1998 through February 1999, I found a total of 177 editorials dealing with the scandal in the two papers -- 102 from the Times and 75 from the Journal. I looked in depth at 91 of those editorials, but don't laugh, because I had to analyze every independent clause (and its dependents) in each editorial, thus, 3,009 units of analysis. Among the findings:

* Both editorial boards gave the scandal exceptional prominence on their pages, and about 80% of the time the scandal-related pieces led all other editorials. The Journal spent more energy on the topic by devoting to it a higher percentage of commentary (13%) than the Times (7%). The difference was significant, especially considering that the Times publishes more often and writes more editorials.

* The Times devoted about a quarter of its commentary to stating direct opinions or commands, while the Journal devoted only 15% of its ink to opinions/commands. Along with being more opinionated, the Times also used more analytical writing than the Journal (56% to 46% of evaluated clauses were categorized as "analytical/predictive").

Meanwhile, the Journal used quotes from outside sources three times as often as the Times (18% to 6%), relying on other people's opinions to convey its own, something I consider a rather weak tool.

Just from reading the editorials, though, I have to admit I'd take a Journal editorial over one from the Times any day. They're simply more creative, while the Times' editorials tend to be rather dry. (Was that the sound of a job opportunity flushing down the toilet? Forgive me, Howell Raines!)

* To their credit, both papers overwhelmingly -- about 80% of the time -- framed the matter as a legal issue, not a sexual one.

* The Times criticized Clinton in 17% of its clauses, beating the Journal's 13%. Considering how passionately the Journal dislikes our president, its shortfall here proved surprising. I have to agree with one of my advisors, professor Chuck Stone, who said the Times apparently had more to prove when the man it endorsed turned out to be slimier than originally anticipated. …

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