The Federalist’s Joy Pullman conducted an apples to apples comparison on nationwide newspaper coverage of the shooting of Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords and the shooting of Republican Rep. Steve Scalise, and the takeaway could not be more clear: the national media is far more interested in covering an attack on a Democrat than an attack on a Republican. In fact, to put a number on it, national newspapers are more than twice as interested in writing about a Democrat victim than a Republican victim.
Using the LexisNexis database of newspaper archives and Wayback Machine Internet archives, Pullman found that “in the week after each shooting incident, newspapers nationwide ran more than twice as many articles mentioning Rep. Gabrielle Giffords as they have Rep. Steve Scalise.”
Within the first three days of the shooting incidents, the Scalise shooting was covered slightly more than the Giffords shooting. In national newspapers, Giffords was mentioned 689 times in the first three days; Scalise was mentioned 745 times. Here’s a chart of the first three days of coverage provided by Pullman:
“Wait, a week though, and something dramatic happens,” Pullman writes. By the end of the first week, coverage of Giffords far outpaced coverage of Scalise, by a more than two to one ratio:
In the week after each shooting incident, newspapers nationwide ran more than twice as many articles mentioning Giffords as they have Scalise. Coverage from the “big four” was more disparate, with The New York Times mentioning Giffords three times as much as Scalise and Washington Post doubling its Giffords coverage despite the Scalise shooting being in the Post’s regional terroritory and easier to cover than a shooting all the way across the country. USA Today mentioned Giffords nearly four times as much as it did Scalise in the week following both shootings.
Here’s Pullman’s chart of the first full week of coverage:
Pullman also notes that it’s not just the number of times each figure was mentioned, but how much the publications featured their stories on each:
My colleague, Sean Davis, also took a look at big media sites’ placement of stories about both incidents. This is useful because, for one, Lexis doesn’t capture TV coverage or social media, and, two, mentions are only one dimension of media coverage; another is placement. You don’t even have to go to J-school to know that front-page, above-the-fold placement is the top spot. Here’s what Sean found.
What makes the coverage gap even more egregious is the political narrative surrounding both: the mainstream media generally depicted the shooting of Giffords as politically inspired, despite that premise proving to be false, while that same media has tried to soften, bury or sidestep the overtly political nature of the attack on the Republican congressional baseball team.
The Giffords attack on Jan. 8, 2011, was instantly framed as a politically motivated and specifically spurred on by extreme conservative speech, particularly a website owned by Sarah Palin’s PAC. That proved to be utterly false. “Although initial reports queried whether the shooter had political motives and prosecutors filed assassination charges against him, during the subsequent trial he was found to be, quite simply, a madman,” Pullman explains. Despite that politicized narrative being thorough debunked, the media continued to suggest that the tragic shooting was the fault of “toxic” political environment created by the right. And some on the left still have not let go of that false narrative. Within hours of the attack on Scalise, the New York Times‘ editors attempted to revive the mythic “Palin is to blame” explanation of Giffords’ shooting and were forced, after through public humiliation, to issue corrections to their dishonest op-ed.
The shooting of Scalise, however, is indisputably motivated by political animosity toward Republicans. The shooter, James T. Hodgkinson, was a Bernie Sanders’ campaign volunteer who openly displayed his hatred for Republicans and Donald Trump online, and mounting evidence shows that he had traveled to Washington D.C. with the express purpose of killing Republicans. Yet, the papers so quick to blame the right either now try to depoliticize the attack or spread the blame or, like the Times, suggest that the right is still the guilty party for having creating the toxicity infecting the radical left.