Carlson ran through the results of a search of “85 years” of Washington Post and New York Times content to reveal several examples of this supposed bias, starting with recent headlines involving Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and the Covington Catholic students.
But it was hardly a quantitative analysis. Which got me thinking: What if it were? Do Republicans really “pounce” more than Democrats, in the news media’s telling?
I’ll confess at the top that I expected at least marginally more examples of Republicans pouncing — if for no other reason than that most journalists do come from more left-leaning backgrounds. Even if it were subconscious and not malicious, it’s possible that over time, this framing would dog one party more than the other, and the GOP seemed the more likely of the two.
But that’s not what happened. In fact, if anything, it appears it’s Democrats who have done more pouncing.
First, let’s drill down on Carlson’s method. He looked at several examples of Republicans pouncing in The Post and the Times in recent years — and then proclaimed that it even stretched back to FDR’s time, by finding this 1933 Times headline: “Revived Republicans Pounce on Democrats."
But when I looked through Post and Times archives along with Lexis Nexis, I found the same number of Times headlines featuring Democrats pouncing (12) as Republicans (12). The Post, meanwhile, was also about even between Democrats pouncing (17) and Republicans (16). (The actual headlines are at the bottom of this post, for those who want to check my work. I include in this analysis references to “GOP” and “conservatives” pouncing, along with “Dems” and “liberals.")
What’s more, this is almost a completely 21st-century phenomenon. The 1933 headline that Carlson alleged proved the media has been doing this for 85 years? The archives record only two other Post or Times headlines featuring Republicans pouncing for the next 77 years.
Looking at headlines, of course, tells only part of the tale. So I did a Nexis search of the text of both publications, too. Turns out, they combine for 306 historical mentions of Democrats or liberals pouncing versus 267 for Republicans or conservatives.
And even if we expand this outside the narrow two-publication sample used by Carlson, it holds true there, too. A Nexis search of U.S. newspapers and wire services since 2010 finds 1,732 hits on the left pouncing against 1,427 hits for the right. In headlines, the left also pounces more (79) than Republicans (68).
Update: Wall Street Journal columnist James Freeman has also run some numbers on this in another archive, Factiva. He finds: “The archive goes back decades. A search for 'Republicans pounce’ conducted via Factiva returned 245 entries. But no fewer than 311 stories popped up when this column entered the search term, 'Democrats pounce.””
Now for the caveats. There are many ways to test this, and these are just a few. These examples don’t include cable news, for one, where “pouncing” is an attractive construct for segments and chyrons. They also don’t include similar verbs, like “seize,” that could speak to a similar framing. Wire service stories can appear in multiple newspapers, leading to repeat hits (which I did my best to control for). The data aren’t qualitative, and maybe the “pounce” frame is used more when Democrats have particularly problematic stories. They also don’t include every single possible formulation involving pouncing, though they do include the most prevalent and obvious ones.
If there are better ways to test this, I’m all ears. But if this were really a matter of widespread media bias, you’d expect it to show up in these data. And, indeed, this is the sample and word that Carlson himself chose.
Whatever you think about the utility of the “pounce” framing — and that is a valid debate — it appears to be pretty bipartisan in its implementation.
“Republicans pounce” or some variant (16)
- Feb. 1, 2019: As Democrats talk liberal positions, GOP pounces
- Jan. 22, 2019: A viral story spread. The mainstream media rushed to keep up. The Trump Internet pounced.
- Nov. 9, 2018: After Trump and Scott cry 'fraud,' critics pounce on Broward County's troubled election history
- Aug. 10, 2016: Trump pounces on Clinton over emails, accusing her of ‘pay for play’
- July 6, 2016: While Clinton tries to change the subject, Republicans pounce on email criticism
- May 1, 2016: Trump pounces on Heidi Cruz's 'immigrant' flub
- Nov. 6, 2015: Trump pounces on Carson's West Point 'lie'
- May 14, 2015: Jeb Bush stumbles on Iraq, and conservatives pounce
- March 3, 2015: Jeb Bush pounces on Hillary Clinton's e-mail woes — but he's not perfect either
- Feb. 5, 2015: Critics pounce after Obama talks Crusades, slavery at prayer breakfast
- July 4, 2013: Conservatives pounce on decision to put off law's employer requirement
- May 7, 2013: As Obama pivots to health care and jobs, McConnell pounces
- Nov. 1, 2012: Romney pounces on Obama's 'Secretary of Business' idea
- Oct. 2, 2012: Biden gaffes, Romney pounces
- Aug. 5, 2010: GOP gets ready to pounce
- July 30, 1992: Malek Target Of Worried Republicans; Lawmakers Pounce On Campaign Chief
“Democrats pounce” or some variant (17)
- Aug. 23, 2018: As critics pounce on his indictment, Duncan Hunter remains the likely victor in November in a strongly Republican House district
- Aug. 1, 2018: Critics pounce on Trump's assertion that you need an ID to buy groceries
- July 23, 2018: Comey cautions Democrats against 'socialist left.' Democrats pounce
- June 8, 2018: 'You've handed us an issue': Democrats pounce on Trump administration's health-care move
- May 16, 2018: Democrats pounce on Trump for ZTE reversal
- Oct. 4, 2016: Democrats pounce on Trump's comments about the military and PTSD
- June 1, 2016: Trump campaign defends Trump University in new video as Clinton pounces
- March 7, 2016: Democrats pounce on water crisis, each other
- Nov. 22, 2015: Democrats pounce as Rubio calls for more focus on national security, 'not just for political advantage'
- Aug. 13, 2015: House Dems pounce on intel assessment of Iran deal
- June 3, 2015: Clinton rivals pounce as her ratings fall
- Oct. 24, 2012: Mourdock apologizes for ‘misinterpretation’ of rape comments, Obama campaign pounces
- Aug. 13, 2012: Democrats pounce, painting Paul Ryan as out of step
- May 31, 2008: Democrats Pounce on McCain's Iraq Blunder
- April 13, 2008: ‘Bitter’ Is a Hard Pill For Obama to Swallow; He Stands by Sentiment as Clinton Pounces
- Nov. 1, 2007: Clinton Regroups As Rivals Pounce
- March 29, 2006: A Party Waiting to Pounce
New York Times
“Republicans pounce” or some variant (12)
- Feb. 11, 2019: Ocasio-Cortez Team Flubs a Green New Deal Summary, and Republicans Pounce
- Aug. 27, 2018: Vatican Power Struggle Bursts Into Open as Conservatives Pounce
- Aug. 16, 2018: Mocking Trump, Cuomo Says America 'Was Never That Great,' and Trump Pounces
- Feb. 2, 2017: Matthew McConaughey Lectures Hollywood on Trump, and Breitbart Pounces
- Sept. 10, 2016: Hillary Clinton Calls Many Trump Backers ‘Deplorables,’ and G.O.P. Pounces
- Nov. 8, 2015: Ben Carson Defends His Biography as Donald Trump Pounces
- April 28, 2012: Opponents Pounce as Obama Trumpets the Killing of Bin Laden
- Feb. 15, 2012: The Obama Campaign Tweets, and Republicans Pounce
- Nov. 14, 2011: A Finger Slips, and the Bachmann Camp Pounces
- May 19, 2011: Republicans Pounce on Obama’s Mideast Speech
- Jan. 28, 2000: Before a Word Is Uttered, G.O.P. Pounces on Clinton Speech as a Spendthrift Blueprint
- Jan. 14, 1933: Revived Republicans Pounce on Democrats
“Democrats pounce” or some variant (12)
- Sept. 4, 2018: House in Reach, Democrats Prepare to Pounce With Subpoenas
- Aug. 14, 2018: Wanted: ‘Sheriff of Wall Street.’ Letitia James Says No Thanks, and Her Rivals Pounce.
- July 3, 2017: ‘That’s Him’: Christie Goes to the Shore, and the Critics Pounce
- May 6, 2017: Democrats Pounce, Seeing Path to Retake House
- Dec. 30, 2014: Democrats Pounce After Scalise Revelation
- Sept. 27, 2012: Incumbent Pounces In Missouri Senate Race
- March 29, 2012: After Santorum Jokes About Pink Bowling Ball, Critics Pounce
- April 15, 2011: Democrats Pounce on Chris Christie’s blunt words
- Aug. 23, 2009: N.J. Democrats Pounce After Christie’s Misstep
- March 18, 2008: McCain Missteps on Iraq; Democrats Pounce
- March 29, 2006: Democrats Pounce on Bush
- Jan. 20, 1992: Struggling to Be Heard, Kerrey Pounces on Clinton