Until last month the Washington Post‘s daily “morning headlines” email featured a lead section entitled “Today’s Highlights,” which would link several stories of the “front page” variety. On July 27, for example, the second story listed was captioned “Romney tries to defuse controversy after comments on London’s readiness.” There were also subsequent sections, entitled in order “Nation,” “Local,” and “Politics.” The lead story in the last section, on July 27, was “Public vs. private-sector pay debate goes on.” In short, big stories — especially those about the approaching elections — were at the top, “front page” stuff.
But something happened on the way to the conventions. In August the Post dispensed with the lead “Today’s Highlights” section, in favor of “Highlights” broken down into “Nation,” “Local,” and “Politics” sections. As I learned, this served the purposes of Post editors anxious to give us what they deemed the appropriate emphasis as stories about the conventions broke.
Take Ann Romney’s speech, hailed by many as a highlight of the GOP convention. It was number 13 in the Post’s headline rankings of August 29, when one had to scroll down into the “Politics” section to find it. The Post gave higher rankings to stories about EPA mileage standards, the discovery of a meth lab in Arlington, Virginia, and the news that someone hacked into Amnesty International’s computer system.
On the next day, August 30, Paul Ryan’s speech was story number 11 in the Post’s headline hit parade. The Republican vice-presidential nominee came in behind such urgent news as scientists questioning the longevity benefits of low-calorie diets and the competition for a replacement to the Humvee as an army tactical vehicle.
Finally, on August 31, Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech was headline number 11 in the Post‘s daily message. Although he may be our next president, Mr. Romney’s address was ranked below headlines about the West Nile virus, flooding in the wake of Hurricane Isaac, and the Justice Department’s closing of an investigation into CIA interrogations that occurred a decade ago.
Meanwhile, one of the speakers at the Republican convention was a former Congressman who had seconded President Obama’s nomination four years ago. That’s a pretty big deal it seems to me, even without knowing that Artur Davis is black. Likewise, a young conservative black woman, Mia Love, gave what others reported to be an excellent speech, which one might think relevant given the Democrats’ “war on women” narrative and their heavily race-based attacks aimed at Republican candidates. But neither Artur Davis nor Mia Love garnered a headline the Post‘s daily listing of significant news. Their stories don’t fit the Obama team’s narrative, so they were not news.
Did the Post accord the Democratic convention speakers treatment consistent with the “scroll way down” treatment given the Republicans? Well, not at all.
Thus, when Michelle Obama spoke one week after Ann Romney, she was headline number 1, leading off the “Nation” section. Was it that her talk concerned the nation, but somehow Mrs. Romney’s did not? Come now. There are messages to be promoted, and stories to be suppressed, and the Post makes it easy to sort out what its editors consider one and the other.
Thankfully the American people have other sources of news. And they are paying attention.