Reading the New York Times' front-page dispatches about the emerging Republican field of candidates this year, voters have learned Sen. Marco Rubio is "a charismatic young Republican senator from Miami," Sen. Ted Cruz was viewed by colleagues as "a brilliant and unusually ambitious upstart" who was “driven to advance and savvy in his tactics,” and that former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is "deeply religious," delivers a "a powerful message," "reads footnotes, emails frenetically and talks in full, wonky paragraphs" and is able to "showcase his social media savvy."
Times readers now also know that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is "is a gifted performer on many stages," and that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is "small-town minister's son who met his wife, a Milwaukee native, at a Wisconsin barbecue joint."
Just this week the Times front-page, still the most influential real estate in the news business, announced Walker really, really admires Ronald Reagan.
Republicans are already bashing the Times and complaining about how it covers candidates via the supposedly biased prism of the “liberal media,” a catcall game conservatives have played for decades. But the opposite seems to have taken place this year: Republican White House hopefuls have received better, more sympathetic press coverage than Hillary Clinton, whose page-one coverage to date is been almost devoid of positive Times treatments.
That's not to say the Times hasn't produced a handful of page-one pieces that raised doubts or uncomfortable questions about Republican players and their record, or that many of the pieces cited above don't include negative caveats. The newspaper, for instance, pointed out that a charter school in Miami that Bush championed was forced to close its doors in 2008, that some Republicans critics think Christie and his aides operate in a “bubble,” and that the Wisconsin State Supreme Court is currently considering whether to continue an investigation into alleged improper coordination from Walker's old recall campaign.
Nevertheless, since the beginning of the year, Republicans are routinely given positive characterizations and compliments, while presumptive Democratic favorite Clinton is often not -- and more often depicted on the Times' front page as either mired in setbacks, or certain to face daunting political challenges. (See here, here, and here.)
Clearly the controversy surrounding the email account Clinton used as secretary of state helped tilt the Times' coverage towards the negative recently. But that media-fueled firestorm alone doesn't fully explain the difference in tone and content.
The oddity? Recent polling suggests Clinton enjoys a sizable lead over all her possible Republican opponents, yet she's the one saddled with the bad press.
For instance, note what the Times did not put on its front page recently, the March 13 revelation that not only did Jeb Bush use a private email account to conduct government business the way Hillary did, and not only did he personally own the server for his emails the way Clinton did, but that when it came time to release emails from his governorship, Bush self-selected which ones were private and which one would be released, just like Clinton did. Perhaps even worse, Bush may have violated Florida state law by waiting seven years to release all of his emails.
But for the Times, as allegations swirled around Clinton on page one, the damning Bush disclosure was deemed to be page-14 news.
By contrast, this reverential lede appeared on the front page a few days later on March 18:
He arrived a few minutes early -- no entourage, just his wife and daughter -- and, sweating through a polo shirt in the hot morning sun, settled quietly into the 14th row at the Church of the Little Flower.
A bit of a murmur, and the occasional ''Morning, Governor,'' passed through the Spanish Renaissance-style church, with its manicured grounds and towering palms, as worshipers recognized their most famous neighbor, Jeb Bush. He held hands with the other worshipers during the Lord's Prayer, sang along to ''I Am the Bread of Life'' and knelt after receiving communion.
''It gives me a serenity, and allows me to think clearer,'' Mr. Bush said as he exited the tile-roof church here on a recent Sunday, exchanging greetings and, with the ease of a longtime politician, acquiescing to the occasional photo. ''It's made me a better person.''
If you're a presidential candidate, profiles in the New York Times don't come any more glowing than that.
Clinton has not yet received such an admiring and personal sketch on the Times' front page this year. By contrast, the paper did publish a long A1 piece on what type of role Bill Clinton might play in his wife's campaign. In it, the Times stressed Bill Clinton's “hearing has faded,” he carries a “frail frame” and Hillary Clinton's advisers are “grappling with how to deploy” him. Why? Because “If Mr. Clinton veers far off script with just one stunner of a comment, the campaign could stumble.” Boy, that doesn't sound good. Indeed, the Times stressed, “Mr. Clinton is never as enraged or unpredictable as when his wife comes under attack.”
Really? Note that Bill Clinton's wife recently came under weeks of unrelenting media attacks in the wake of the email kerfuffle. Did Bill Clinton uncork an “enraged or unpredictable” response? He did not. He remained virtually silent on the topic.
So much for that insight.
Note that the Times contrasting coverage seems to reflect a larger, national pattern with regards to Clinton. As U.C.L.A. professor of political science Lynn Vavreck recently noted, during the month of February, and before the controversy erupted over Hillary Clinton's email account, Clinton's news coverage was three times more negative, for example, than the coverage Republican Scott Walker received. “Among the set of current contenders, Mrs. Clinton's news coverage is the least positive,” Vavreck wrote.
There are some reasons why Clinton's coverage differs. First, she hasn't been engaged in as much retail politics. Unlike her possible Republican opponents who have been traveling to early caucus and primary states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, where they interact with votes and reporters, Clinton's public appearances have revolved more around events and speeches, which means journalists this year have had fewer portraits to paint of her as a candidate engaging with voters.
For instance, via the Times we learned that on the stump, Walker “proudly donned a hat given to him by a gun-rights group and, highlighting his frugality, bragged about the sweater he had bought at Kohl's for a dollar.”
Or this Times snapshot: “As Jeb Bush mingled with Hispanic workers on a company tour a few weeks ago on his first trip here as an all-but-declared candidate for president, he was able to guess the region in Colombia where one woman was born just from hearing her accent.”
To date this year, those kinds of warm-and-fuzzy sketches have not been drawn of Clinton by the Times.
Second, Clinton has been a player on the national political stage for more than two decades, which means the often feel-good “discovery” phase of her candidacy doesn't exist. That's where reporters and voters alike learn about an emerging candidate, such as the Times' front-page report about how Walker has a “classic Upper Midwest accent -- nasal and full of flat a's.”
Instead, Clinton is stuck in the more negative “scrutiny” phase, according to Vavreck, who noted, “Republican candidates will have periods of positive news coverage that she probably cannot.”
That's become clear from reading the New York Times.
The language in this post has been updated for clarity.