NYT’s “Momentucratic” Coverage?

What's (not) on A1

Perusing the front-page of The New York Times this morning, one thing jumped out at me: the absence of a story on Barack Obama’s Mississippi win.

Granted, yesterday was a major news day, with the ongoing Spitzer fallout, the resignation of the commander of US forces in the middle east after he had clashed with the White House, and the worrying discovery that one in four American teenage girls has a sex infection. It’s also worth noting that the primary didn’t go entirely unmentioned on A1: a wider-angle look at the shape of the ongoing primary contest by Patrick Healy, referred to it in passing.

Still, given the closeness of the race, editors might have made room on the front-page for Jeff Zeleny’s stand-alone report. Mississippi was the last contest before Pennsylvania in late April, and Obama’s win there, combined with his victory last week in Wyoming, means that he has now all but canceled out the delegate gains Hillary Clinton made in her much-ballyhooed Ohio, Texas, and Rhode Island victories last week.

Indeed, whether or not one agrees with the Times’ decision, could it signal that the paper, consciously or not, is taking a particular direction in regard to a question that has quietly vexed the news media since it became clear that the Democratic race would extend past Super Tuesday: whether to cover the contest as a mathematical race for delegates (Slate’s Tim Noah has dubbed those who take this view “Arithmecrats”) or as a battle over momentum among voters and party insiders (Noah’s “Momentucrats”)?

By downplaying Obama’s win, despite the fact that it helped him make up the pledged delegates he lost last Tuesday, the Times suggested it now hews closer to the latter view. And the case is bolstered by the fact that the one campaign story the Times did squeeze onto A1—Healy’s “Clawing for Edge, Democrats in a Fight Over Defining ‘Winner’”—falls clearly into the momentum camp.

That’s not unreasonable: it’s becoming clear that Obama’s lead in pledged delegates is all but insurmountable, so Clinton’s only real shot is to convince super-delegates that she has the wind at her back.

But it’s worth noting that The Washington Post, for its part, kept one foot in the Arithmecrats camp, putting the story of Obama’s Mississippi win on page A1.

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Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.