Whispers and Screams: The Partisan Nature of Editorial Pages

By Michael Tomasky

A paper by Michael Tomasky, spring 2003 fellow, examines the partisan intensity of the nation’s agenda-setting liberal and conservative editorial pages. This paper finds that while the pages are more or less equally partisan when it comes to supporting or opposing a given presidential administration’s policy pronouncements, the conservative pages are often far more partisan with regard to the intensity with which they criticize the other side. The paper also finds that conservative editorial pages are far less willing to criticize a Republican administration than liberal pages are willing to take issue with a Democratic administration. This paper looks at the editorial stances during the Clinton and Bush II administrations of The New York Times and The Washington Post (the liberal papers) and The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Times (the conservative papers), reviewing and scoring a total of 510 editorials covering a decade. The study identifies ten issue areas confronted by each administration that are “roughly comparable,” for example, the controversy surrounding Bill Clinton’s nomination of Zoe Baird to be attorney general, and the similar controversy surrounding George W. Bush’s nomination of Linda Chavez to be his labor secretary.

Download the paper (PDF).