In the week after news broke of the Department of Justice's criminal investigation of former President Donald Trump’s role in the January 6 riot, the top five national newspapers quickly moved on from news: Only 3 newspapers put the story on their front pages, and only The New York Times followed up with another front-page story a couple of days later. This coverage is in stark contrast to the 46 front-page stories these papers printed over a 7-day period in 2016 about the investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server — a far less serious story.
The Washington Post reported on July 26 that the Justice Department is investigating Trump’s actions as part of a criminal probe into the Capitol insurrection, as the DOJ has already subpoenaed several people asking for their communications with Trump and has conducted hours of interviews with those involved. But the bombshell story did not elicit a strong news cycle.
According to a Media Matters review, The Washington Post and The New York Times featured the story above the fold on their July 27 front page. Although the Los Angeles Times mentioned the news below the fold on its front page, the full story appeared later on the seventh page. Meanwhile, USA Today and the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal made no mention of the breaking news. Only the New York Times had front page coverage of the story a second time, appearing on July 29.
This coverage pales in comparison to the days of front-page coverage of the FBI reopening its investigation into Clinton’s private email server on October 28, 2016 — just days before the presidential election. The Clinton news story was similar to the current Trump one — in both cases, the investigation into potential wrongdoing had been expanded. But from October 29 to November 4, 2016, the five top national newspapers published 46 front-page news stories that mentioned Clinton’s email server, with 14 such stories in the two days after the news was announced.
Media Matters searched articles in the Factiva databases for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times for the term “Trump” and any variation of any of the terms “DOJ,” “Department of Justice,” “Justice Department,” “January 6,” “prosecute,” “probe,” “investigate,” “riot,” “Capitol,” or “insurrection” in the headline or lead paragraph from July 26, 2022, through August 1, 2022.
We included articles, which we defined as instances when the Justice Department probe into Trump’s connection to the January 6 Capitol riot was mentioned in the headline or lead paragraph. We included articles in the news section of the paper; we excluded editorial, op-eds, and letters-to-the-editor. We considered an article on the front page if it appeared on page A1 or similar.