Responding to a tweet related to my post on the built-in bias of Rhode Island’s ruling elite (for lack of a better term), Providence Journal journalist Mike Stanton highlighted one front page from his paper’s coverage of the Republican National Convention. His meaning is that my suggestion that the paper is offering daily full-page, front-page advertisements for the Hillary Clinton campaign is off-base, because the paper did the same for Donald Trump. He responded with only question marks when I suggested that the contrast proved my point, so here’s a side-by-side comparison by way of an explanation..
In essence, I’m highlighting the difference between coverage and advertising. Putting somebody’s face on the front of the newspaper isn’t necessarily an act of promoting that person; in fact, it can be the reverse.
First Day Coverage
The differences in layout are minimal, here. The Democrats get the decorative flag banner and a little more space on the cover.
The Providence Journal opens the comparison with a jaw dropper: “Division amid calls for unity” versus “COMING TOGETHER” (caps in original). The Republican version shows the candidate over the sub-head, “Missing party stars, rules fight mar opening day.” The Democrat version shows the old socialist who unexpectedly gave Hillary Clinton a run for her money in the primaries and the progressive hero whom many in the party’s base would have preferred, without any sub-head conveying the very real tensions that the Democrats experienced. Additionally, the paper’s coverage of the Democrats is paired with a negative insinuation about the Republican candidate’s connections with the leader of Russia.
Second Day Coverage
The bias amps up for day 2 coverage. The Republicans get the standard front-page layout (now with the flag decoration), while for the Democrats the Providence Journal swept away the advertising bar at the top of the paper as well as the column of other stories on the left-hand side. (Reminder: Americans read from left to right and top to bottom.) The GOP picture is of a dark hall, while the Democrats get two pictures, one of the candidate and another of her husband, both with pleasing expressions.
I mean, come on. The big, bold headline for Trump is a cut at his status as a reality show star, with an undercurrent of disbelief: “REALITY!” Meanwhile, the bold Clinton text focuses on her nomination as an historic event, even going so far as to utilize the neologism preferred by her supporters: “MAKING HERSTORY.”
For Trump’s spouse, readers are treated to evidence that her speech contained plagiarized (if banal) text, while for Clinton’s spouse (whose philandering was one of the major stories of his own presidency), the focus is his “love story”: “I met a girl (at Yale law school in 1971)… We’ve been walking and talking and laughing together ever since.”
By way of another poke at Trump, the Providence Journal even added to its coverage of his nomination an article with the headline: “Why doesn’t his messy private life bother voters?” It’s almost difficult to believe that the newspaper’s editors didn’t have this exact juxtaposition of the sweet domesticated Clintons and the suspicious Trump planned out in advance.
Third Day Coverage
For day 3, the Republicans are squeezed into the left sidebar of the front page, while the Democrats once again get the top-and-left-most treatment.
The two stories on the Republican convention on the front page are both arguably negative. The first puts front-and-center the primary runner up’s incomplete endorsement of his party’s candidate. The second elevates the local Democrat chair’s offense on behalf of Rhode Island at statements made by the local Republican chair. As a bonus, note that the top story — about a criminal investigation of a local politician — doesn’t get around to mentioning that he’s a Democrat until deep into the text, on page A6.
Ah, but the Democrats: “‘HAVE HOPE’.” The big picture of Clinton and President Obama looks like a still from a love song in a Broadway musical, and the highlighted text insists she “treats everybody with respect” and “never, ever quits.” The large sub-head tells us to “Reject cynicsm, reject fear, elect Hillary Clinton.”
The bonus stories, in this case, include another reference to Trump and Russia (which is proving the distraction of choice among partisan Democrats, pointing away from the sticky story of their inability to keep emails safe, whether internal or officially classified). Then we get a front-page column from one of the paper’s progressive columnists playing up another partisan talking point — namely, that Clinton must always weather a storm of conspiracy theories. (That’s not intended to be compared, I suspect, with the conspiracy theory that Donald Trump is coordinating with a Russian autocrat to sabotage his political opposition.)
Fourth Day Coverage
This is the cover that Stanton sent along to me, and it’s obvious why he chose it among the four. The headline has no insinuations; it’s just the candidate’s name. And one of the pictures includes his slogan. Note the big picture, though — the candidate with his hands up as if to say either “hey, don’t blame me” or “hands up, don’t shoot.”
In keeping with Democrats’ and the news media’s much-repeated language, the sub-heads emphasize Trump’s “dire picture,” evokes “crime and violence,” and manages to bring images of “death, destruction, and weakness” to mind. Much of this, to be sure, is straight reporting of Trump’s message, but at best, that only illustrates how the paper actually reported on Trump while promoting Clinton’s own messaging, often without even the cover of quotation marks. As if to emphasize the slant, the front page goes back to the well of Cruz-driven division.
We’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see whether the Providence Journal grants Hillary Clinton a complete collection of unadulterated front-page promotion, but I know which way I’d bet.