‘Hyper-partisan’ politicians get four times the news coverage of bipartisan colleagues
The most partisan member of Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene, generated nearly 10 times as much press coverage in the 2022 election cycle as the least partisan member, Don Bacon, according to a new study of “hyper-partisan” politics.
Greene, a Republican representative from Georgia, appeared in 335 news items in major outlets around the 2022 midterms, according to the study, a joint effort of the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University and Starts With Us, a non-profit group that seeks to counter excessive partisanship in American politics.
Bacon, a Republican representative from Nebraska, appeared in 34 news items in the same span. Ironically, Bacon was locked in a closely watched contest for a critical House seat at the time, while Greene was sailing to easy reelection.
The study identified the seven most “hyper-partisan” members of Congress and the seven most bipartisan members, based on their promotion of bipartisanship and work across the aisle in 2021 and 2022. Then, researchers tallied each member’s press hits from October 8 to December 8, 2022, on the most popular news platforms, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today newspapers and the major broadcast and cable outlets.
In the two months studied, the seven most partisan politicians reaped more than four times the coverage of their least-partisan colleagues.
The report’s authors said their work illustrates how name-calling, partisan bickering and provocation dominate the political news cycle, to the exclusion of substantive coverage about the actual work of Congress.
The group launched a petition Sunday, challenging the news outlets to each interview at least one bipartisan politician on a constructive legislative issue by the end of April. The petition calls on each outlet to create a recurring column or segment on bipartisanship by Independence Day.
“How do we know that there’s not a market for bipartisan problem-solving when it’s not being covered?” said Tom Fishman, CEO of Starts With Us, which bills itself as a movement of 1.4 million Americans seeking to overcome the nation’s partisan divide.
The organization commissioned a YouGov survey last year that found 87 percent of Americans tired of partisan politics.
Other surveys have reached similar conclusions. Only two-fifths of Americans have a favorable opinion of either political party, a reflection of partisan fatigue. A majority of Republicans, and a large majority of Democrats, would rather see their elected representatives cooperate with the other party than resist political compromise. Rising numbers of Americans identify as politically independent, signaling their distaste for partisan rancor.
“I believe most Americans want their elected officials to work together to do what’s right for our country,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Florida Republican, cited in the report as one of the seven most collaborative members of Congress.
“They expect their leaders to have courage of conviction but have also grown weary of the grandstanding and petty bickering that too often characterizes contemporary politics. They want results.”
Fox News rose to dominate cable news largely by fomenting partisan anger among Republicans. Partisan sparring on both sides now dominates the broadcast news cycle, critics say, and it has spread to the world of print.
The New York Times, a publication sometimes accused of a liberal slant, covered Marjorie Taylor Greene 84 times in the two months considered in the study. The Times covered Rep. Matt Gaetz, a hyperpartisan Florida Republican, 15 times. Don Bacon, the bipartisan Republican, drew coverage only seven times. Bilirakis drew no coverage at all.
On the conservative wing, the Fox News website devoted 13 stories last fall to Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat and one of the seven hyperpartisan politicians identified in the study.
“These news outlets are holding up the boogeyman on the other side,” Fishman said. “They’re throwing meat to a base.”
Some of the effects measured in the study go beyond mere partisanship.
Greene, elected in 2020, has parlayed partisan politics into full-blown celebrity. She reaped more press clips last fall than the other six hyperpartisan politicians combined. Gaetz came in a very distant second, with 101 news items.
“If you go back to 2016, Donald Trump knew that all press was good press,” said Ariana Pekary, a former NPR and MSNBC journalist who is involved in the petition campaign. “The Marjorie Taylor Greenes of the world took that play and ran with it. And that’s what we’re seeing now.”
The Hill, not included in the study, has covered Greene 15 times this month, as of Friday. (This article makes 16.) Matt Gaetz figures in 10 articles. Don Bacon, oddly enough, outflanks them both, with 18 mentions.
Not all of the bipartisan problem-solvers in Congress are entirely ineffective at scoring press coverage. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a centrist Democrat in Virginia, landed 93 media hits in the study’s timeframe, the most by far among the collaborative members.
The study identified the seven most hyperpartisan politicians as Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) and Reps. Greene, Gaetz, Tlaib, Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Norma Torres (D-Calif.).
The seven most bipartisan lawmakers: Reps. Bilirakis, Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Ed Case (D-Hawaii), Bacon and Spanberger.
This story was updated at 9:29 a.m.
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