Analyzing News Coverage of Merrick Garland’s Nomination


(image from NPR)


With the help of a nifty tool piece of software that performs topic modeling, I distilled some of the major themes that appeared in national and local news covering the Garland nomination in print and online (this include several articles from some of the most widely read papers, e.g. New York Times and Washington Post). The Topic Modeling Tool provides a user defined number of topics that these articles discussed (I chose seven) and creates these topics from terms that arise both within and between documents. The final product is a set of seven lists of terms that help define the articles (as you will see most of the terms provide relevant information but occasionally they do not). Each topic is then given a ranking of articles based on the frequency with which the topic appears in each article. Each article is also given a rank of topics based on how often the topic appears in the article. I also provide a title for each topic that (hopefully) helps group the terms. This may all make more sense with the end-product below.


1. Confirmation: senate, republicans, nominee, nomination, election, mcconnell, senators, democrats, house, people
2. Political/Democrat: Obama, republican, white, political, confirmation, democratic, nominee, Wednesday, Clinton, liberal


3. National: president, court, garland, vote, scalia, majority, sen, American, Washington, chief
4. History/Heroism: garland, federal, oklahoma city, government, work, Wednesday, bombing, public, man
5. Case-Law: case, gun, cases, rights, school, attorney general, investigation, important, kennedy
6. Rule of Law: judge, court, law, justice, Obama, high, justices, Harvard, office
7. Court of Appeals: supreme court, justice, appeals, years, confirmed, time, conservative, circuit, made


There are a few instances where the theme in a topic may be somewhat unclear.  Under Confirmation “mcconnell” refers to the Senate Majority Leader who has said the senate will not consider the Garland nomination.  Under the Case-Law topic, “kennedy” came up discussing Justice Kennedy and how Garland may shift the ideological balance of the Court.  Under National, “chief” refers to Garland’s work as Chief Judge on the D.C. Circuit. In Rule of Law, “Harvard” describes the law school Garland attended.

Based on these seven topics, the articles are then each ranked. I only identify the article by the publication in which it appeared. If I used several articles from a paper then they are each given a different ID (e.g. New York Times 1, New York Times 2, etc.). Each article is also divided by the topics to give the percentage of each topic that makes up the article (out of 100%), so for instance Article 1 might be 25% Topic 1, 15% Topic 2, etc. Below I show the top-five articles that fit into each topic based on the articles with the largest percent of each topic constituting them.
1) Denver Post
2) NY Newsday 2
4) Washington Post 2
5) Spokesman Review
1) Reuters
2) Washington Post 5
3) Washington Post 1
4) Los Angeles Times 2
5) Philadelphia Inquirer 2
1) NY Newsday 4
2) NY Times 2
3) Boston Herald 2
4) Kansas City Sun
5) Lincoln Journal Star
1) Washington Post 3
2) USA Today 2
3) LA Times 1
5) NY Post
1) Slate
2) Politico
3) Boulder Daily-Camera
4) Fox-News 1
5) U.S. News & World Report
Rule of Law
1) New Yorker
2) The Atlantic
3) ABC News
4) New York Times 3
5) New York Post
Court of Appeals
1) Huffington Post 2
2) Mother Jones
3) Christian Science Monitor
4) New York Times 4
5) DNA Info (Chicago)
These topics present ways to group the articles and a means to understand the angles and points of view shared across news sources covering the nomination. They do not provide the entire spectrum of issues covered in the articles, but they do provide a way to easily pick out themes from the articles. To finish, below I provide a list of all of the publications I used for this analysis (I only list a publication source once if it appears multiple times in the analysis). E-mail me if you are interested in more information about the articles within a topic or about the topics within an article.
ABC News
Atlanta Journal Constitution
Baltimore Sun
Bloomberg Politics
Boston Herald
Boulder Daily Camera
Buffalo News
Charlotte Observer
Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Tribune
Christian Science Monitor
Daily Caller
Dayton Daily News
Denver Post
Detroit Free Press
DNA Info
Economist Blog
Five Thirty Eight
Fox News
Huffington Post
Investor Business Daily
Kansas City Sun
Los Angeles Times
Lincoln Journal Star
Marin Independent Journal
Massachusetts Post-Gazette
Miami Herald
Minnesota Star Tribune
New York Daily News
New York Newsday
New Yorker
New York Times
Philadelphia Inquirer
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Sacramento Bee
Salt Lake City Desert Morning News
San Francisco Chronicle
San Jose Mercury News
Spokesman Review (WA)
The Atlantic
USA Today
U.S. News & World Report
Washington Post

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