No Liberal Bias Here

The Washington Post displayed some rather curious editorial judgment in the composition of its front page today. Three stories were featured above the fold on page A01:

Guess which story gets the bigger headline, a large photograph, and takes up 3/4 of the coveted above the fold portion of the front page of the paper? If you guessed c), you are correct.

Why? Not only is the story not news–in the sense that it isn’t new–but surely it’s not the biggest story of the day when we’re in the middle of a war and only days away from the first presidential debate of the season. Indeed, the Wright-Ricks piece gets only part of the first sentence above the fold. Further, both a) and c) get their continuation page later in the paper (A30 and A28, respectively) than c) (A16).

Feature stories on major social issues deserve coverage in the paper, especially the Sunday edition. But they should be in a special features section, not taking up the most valuable real estate.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. carpeicthus says:

    A human interest piece getting big play on a Sunday? Holy crap, is grass green too?

  2. carpeicthus says:

    It’s also worth wondering about how much story placement matters when opinion leaders in particulr tend to get news online. I didn’t even realize the NYT’s shoddy piece on Kerry had gigantic above-the-fold coverage today until I happened to walk by it in the train station, and I’d read it hours earlier.

  3. bryan says:

    Not only that, but how many readers does WaPo have in Oklahoma, anyway?

  4. dw says:

    Well, apparently my long comment got eaten last night, so here’s the short version:

    1. Sand Springs is about as rural as, oh, Reston, Virginia. It’s a Tulsa suburb and has been since Avery Drive opened in the 20s. It may not have the money of Jenks or the population of Broken Arrow, but it’s a suburb, and to call it “rural” is disingenuous.

    2. And speaking of disingenuous, yesterday half the above the fold space of the Washington Times was taken up by an article on… the problems of student-athletes. Not on the debates. Not on the war (though there was an article on what happened in Pakistan next to it). Not on the evils of Kerry (or Bush). No, it was ON NCAA ATHLETES. And yet you’re not complaining about the WashTimes showing a lick of bias.

    You all forget that the Sunday paper is mostly features and opinion, not hard news. And these multi-part opinion pieces are on the front cover because THEY SELL PAPERS. You run a four-part article and start it on Sunday, people will buy Mon-Tue-Wed papers to read the rest of it. This is about MONEY, people, not about BIAS.

    Go over to the Newseum site some Sunday and look at all the covers of all the papers in this country. EVERY LAST ONE OF THEM will have a PROMINENT FEATURE ARTICLE taking up MOST OF THE SPACE ON THE PAGE. The only one that really fits the Joyner Standard of Quality (TM) was the Seattle Times’ new series on Bush, Kerry, and the environment.

    You are all so busy looking and complaining about bias that you ignore the basics of the newspaper business.

  5. James Joyner says:


    The Post isn’t a typical local paper that needs silly human interest stories on page 1 to sell papers. Indeed, I’ve never noticed it doing something quite like this before, although I’ll keep an eye out. WaPo is the only dead tree paper I take, so I didnt’ have any others to compare it to.

    Sure, there’s a lot of fluff in the Sunday edition. But they typically occupy the many, many insert sections, not A1.

  6. dw says:


    The WaPo is still a local paper. You can walk over to the newsstand here in Seattle and buy the NY Times and WSJ, but you can’t buy a WaPo. Despite its long-time aspriations to be a “national paper of record,” it is still, at best, a regional paper whose influence only comes from being the local paper inside the Beltway. The Washington Times has become the conservative paper of record, but even then you can’t buy a paper copy anywhere out west. The WaPo’s readership is almost entirely within an 80 mile radius of the Capitol. Its clout and capital can allow it to do stories like this (and do them in Okieland rather than rural Virginia without penalty of not doing a “local story”), but its readers are Beltway folks. If it were heavily read on the West Coast, I’d agree with you, but it’s simply not. Heck, you can’t even get the SF Chronicle or the LA Times in the Northwest, and they’re both “major national papers.”

    The Sunday paper is supposed to be about features and opinion, mainly because it’s the only time during the week that the average American has more than 15 minutes to read the paper (unless, like me, you’re at church all morning). And I wouldn’t call it ALL fluff. The nice thing about the Seattle Times is that they devote eight pages to opinion on Sunday (and the P-I chips in another four). You have 16 pages of arts and music. And there are two Sunday magazine sections. No paper could do that every day due to cost and the time it takes to put magazine sections and multi-part articles together.

    I strongly recommend that next Sunday you look at the Newseum’s online gallery of front pages around the country:

    If you did, you’d see that what the WaPo did is no different that what happens in every other Sunday paper, even the ones that “don’t need feature articles.”