The Liberal Bias of the Washington Post’s Style Section

Lifting headlines to point out "liberal bias" at a newspaper is tricky at best, disingenuous at worst.

In a favorite pastime of media critics everywhere, the National Review’s Byron York and Nathan Goulding have taken a couple of easy swipes at the Washington Post in recent days for what they consider evidence of the paper’s in-house bias.

But in a peculiar twist, York and Goulding lay their well-worn charge of liberal bias at the foot of the paper’s Style section, proving that no member of the press can escape their rigorous and damning critique.

York kicked it off on Friday, noting that over the previous two days the Style section had published three stories with the following headlines:

Pride of Baltimore: Nancy Pelosi Learned Her Politics At the Elbow of Her Father the Mayor

Muted Tones of Quiet Authority: A Look Suited to the Speaker

Power Cleaning: As Democrats Take Over the House, Republicans’ Perks May Go Out the Window

For his coup de grace, York then fired up the Internets and dug into the Style section’s archives to produce the following headlines that ran after the 1994 election, in which the Republicans won control of Congress:

The Day After: Sifting Through the Wreckage

How the Gingrich Stole Christmas

To this, Goulding adds that the headlines are a sure example of media bias, since the Post was mean to Newt Gingrich 12 years ago, and now fawns over Pelosi’s suits.

It’s the height of laziness to make one’s case for media bias through headlines alone, but if you’re going to go that route wouldn’t it make more sense to consider the headlines in, say, the Post’s online “News” or “In Congress” sections? (It is the Style section we’re talking about here, after all.) And if you do, you’ll find that over the past several days, the paper has published some pretty middle-of-the-road headlines, such as:

Reid, Pelosi Expected to Keep Tight Rein in Both Chambers

Democrats Find Lessons in GOP Reign: New Majority Is Mindful Of Rivals’ Mistakes, Successes

Political Outlook Blurry: As Both Parties Face Unresolved Questions and Internal Disputes, the 2008 Campaign Looks to Be a Crucial One

How Many Wins Make Up a ‘Wave’?: Political Scientists Debate the Scope of Democrats’ Victory

Now, there’s only so much one can glean from a headline, as any reporter who has had an editor stick a clunker on top of his or her piece can attest. So what’s the point of us firing back at the NRO duo with more headlines? In part to show that the proof is in the actual content of the piece, and not in the often stilted, and occasionally misleading, few words that precede it. It’s also to show that while the Post has run a few stories that are at least superficially favorable to Pelosi in the Style section, the headlines in the actual hard news section of the paper look pretty fair and balanced to us.

But then again, those are just the headlines. What lies below is much more complicated.

But if York and Goulding want to feel better about the prospect of breaking the Liberal Media chokehold on the news, they might want to check out this week’s Time magazine, which is stuffed with cautionary tales for the Democrats, like Mike Allen’s “The Honeymoon Is Over”; Karen Tumulty’s “After the Triumph, the Tribulations”; and Perry Bacon, Jr.’s ” Behind the Democrats’ Leadership Battle”.

See boys? When you don’t cherry-pick your “facts,” the media is a varied — and wonderful — beast.

Correction: This post initially held that Rich Lowry wrote the original NRO post, when it was actually Byron York.

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.