March 17, 2016 Last Updated 10:28 am

Salon, others see New York Times edits to Bernie Sanders legislative record story as sign of bias

‘We thought the original version of the story didn’t grapple with the question of what his legislative record says about what kind of president he would be,” the NYT’s executive editor told the Post

An article in The New York Times on the legislative history of presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders has become “proof” of the bias of the newspaper against Sanders. The Times has already endorsed Hillary Clinton.

The article, which was published in the Tuesday, March 15th edition of the paper, originally had the headline Bernie Sanders Scored Victories for Years Via Legislative Side Doors, a headline that was later changed to Via Legislative Side Doors, Bernie Sanders Won Modest Victories, a far less flattering statement.

Comments were not allowed on the story, a practice not uncommon on some news stories, but rare on analysis or opinion articles (but not unheard of).

The article, Written by congressional reporter Jennifer Steinhauer, was then edited several times to change the content.


The Washington Post picked up on the story (see below) and later received a statement from Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet:

We thought the original version of the story didn’t grapple with the question of what his legislative record says about what kind of president he would be. It was a very good story, but it needed some context. That got added.

Many media outlets aren’t buying it.

The first notice of the article changes may have come from an anonymous writer on Medium who wrote an examination of the piece, and its edits under the headline Proof That The New York Times Isn’t Feeling the Bern.

Update: The NYT’s Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, who will soon be leaving to join The Washington Post, has weighed in on the controversy. She asked the reporter and got this interesting response:

Ms. Steinhauer, in a response to my email, suggested that I speak to editors because “it was an editing decision.”

Sullivan goes on to give the editor’s side of the story, and why the Times believes they need not place a note on the story to explain the edits, but Sullivan doesn’t agree.

“Given the level of revision, transparency with the readers required that they be given some kind of heads-up, and even an explanation.”

Then Sullivan goes on step future in an update published later:

The Sanders article was not a breaking news story, but rather a look back at his legislative record. Given its sensitivity and importance (it ended up on the front page on the morning of major primaries), why didn’t senior editors vet the story and make all the editing changes before it went online? Digital platforms, after all, are not a test run, and non-urgent stories don’t need to be pushed out as quickly as this one apparently was.

Some of the Coverage:

The Washington Post, Erik Wemple:, a media reporter’s dream site, tracks changes made to stories published by major media organizations. Its tracking system sure had its hands full with a story published yesterday by the New York Times on the legislative record of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi:

This stuff could have been written by the Clinton campaign. It’s stridently derisive, essentially saying there’s no evidence Bernie’s “small-ball” approach (I guess Republicans aren’t the only ones not above testicular innuendo) could ever succeed on the big stage.

Salon, Ben Norton:

A line describing Sanders’ legislative approach as “the liberal mirror image of the Tea Party Republicans who oppose large-scale legislation” was also edited and taken out of context, reducing Sanders’ record simply to “the liberal mirror image of the Tea Party Republicans.”

Moreover, the Times quietly added a phrase that implies Sanders only succeeds “at the margins,” and added a qualifier that weakens a line that calls the Vermont senator an “effective, albeit modest, legislator.”

  • david milfred 2 years ago

    are we becoming Stalinist Russia?