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A New York Times vs. Wall Street Journal Editorial Smackdown

“…if you’re somebody who only reads the editorial page of The New York Times, try glancing at the page of The Wall Street Journal once in a while.  If you’re a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website.  It may make your blood boil; your mind may not be changed.  But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship.”

The above statement is from President Barack Obama as part of his 2010 commencement speech at University of Michigan.

I’ve made the same suggestion to my students for years; who knows, perhaps I was sub-consciously inspired from hearing the President’s words.

So I decided to just see what kind of differences I might find. At first I just tried looking back at recent editorials from both newspapers, hoping to find a day where perhaps each paper featured an editorial on the same topic. Except for coverage of Donald Trump, that was hard to do, and I thought it best to skip the Donald, since each paper has taken heat from him during the primaries.

Finally the thought occurred to me was to search for topics that I just assumed would have the two papers presenting opposing points of view. I also limited my searches to just those editorial pieces that were written by the editorial boards of the two papers, and not columnists or guest authors.

After some consideration, I decided to take a look at what the two papers have written about the minimum wage issue. While there have been several editorials in both papers about the issue, I am going to use samples from a few editorials to highlight some of the differences.

As you may have already guessed, the New York Times is going to be more likely to provide arguments in favor of raising the minimum wage while the Wall Street Journal is more likely to provide arguments against the minimum wage. I realize that is oversimplifying things, but like I said, I doubt if many would argue the presence of such biases/opinions.

I think I only need one editorial from the New York Times, published February 8, 2014, The Case for a Higher Minimum Wageto get the points across.

  • The political posturing over raising the minimum wage sometimes obscures the huge and growing number of low-wage workers it would affect.
  • None of that, however, has softened the hearts of opponents, including congressional Republicans and low-wage employers, notably restaurant owners and executives.
  • Decades of research, facts and evidence show that increasing the minimum wage is vital to the economic security of tens of millions of Americans, and would be good for the weak economy.
  • The minimum wage is specifically intended to take aim at the inherent imbalance in power between employers and low-wage workers that can push wages down to poverty levels.
  • Other programs, including food stamps, Medicaid and the earned-income tax credit, also increase the meager resources of low-wage workers, but they do not provide bargaining power to claim a better wage. In fact, they can drive wages down.
  • impersonal market forces are not the only, or even the primary, reason for widespread wage stagnation. Flawed policies and changing corporate norms are also to blame, because they have allowed the benefits of productivity gains to flow increasingly to profits, shareholder returns and executive pay, instead of workers’ wages.
  • a recent comprehensive study, which found that minimum wage increases resulted in “strong earnings effects” — that is, higher pay — “and no employment effects” — that is, zero job loss.
  • Evidence, however, does not stop conservatives from making the argument that by raising the cost of labor, a higher minimum wage will hurt businesses, leading them to cut jobs and harming the low-wage workers it is intended to help. Alternatively, they argue it will hurt consumers by pushing up prices precipitously.
  • The real argument against it is political, not economic. (Increases in the minimum wage) also would help the economy by supporting consumer spending that in turn supports job growth.

And now here are some excerpts from a few WSJ editorial:

October 22, 2014 Wall Street Journal editorial on the minimum wage issue, Minimum Wage Backfire:

  • The McDonald’s earnings report on Tuesday gave a hint at how the fast-food chain really plans to respond to its wage and profit pressure—automate.
  • As many contributors to these pages have warned, forcing businesses to pay people out of proportion to the profits they generate will provide those businesses with a greater incentive to replace employees with machines.
  • Across all industries, about two-thirds of minimum-wage workers who stay employed get a raise in the first year.
  • Harder to understand is how so many of our media brethren have been persuaded that suddenly it’s the job of America’s burger joints to provide everyone with good pay and benefits.
  • The result of their agitation will be more jobs for machines and fewer for the least skilled workers.

August 25, 2015 editorial, More Minimum-Wage Backfires:

  • The campaign for higher minimum wages continues to inflict damage on business employees and owners. About the only ones not feeling the pain are the labor unions that back this movement.
  • Wal-Mart announced last week that second quarter operating income was down 10% compared to the same period last year, even as revenue was slightly higher.
  • In conference calls with securities analysts and reporters, company officials made clear that wage hikes are among the factors exerting a negative impact on Wal-Mart’s profits.
  • But don’t expect pity from the leaders of organized labor, who are busy making sure they don’t have to play by the rules they’re demanding for everyone else.
  • Too many of our media brethren continue to portray mandated wage hikes as a gift to workers, but it’s increasingly clear that such laws threaten the jobs of unskilled workers in order to benefit a special interest.

December 5, 2013, The War of the Wages:

  • Democrats are even proposing to more than triple the wage floor for the nation’s three million or so workers who receive tips as part of their pay.
  • This could hammer the job market for waiters, waitresses, bartenders, bus boys and valets.
  • Our readers are familiar with the mountains of evidence that minimum wages lead to fewer workers hired.
  • Economist David Neumark, an expert on minimum-wage economic studies, says that an economic rule-of-thumb is that every 10% increase in the minimum wage reduces teen employment by about 1% to 3%.
  • Liberals must care deeply about inequality because their policies do so much to increase it.

So I think that’s enough evidence that the two papers come out on different sides of the issue, with each side even referencing research studies that support their arguments. Conformation bias is alive and well!

Each side also uses terms such as liberal or conservative, and not in a flattering way, to describe those opposed to their viewpoint.

So while I certainly have my thoughts on the minimum wage (I think it should be increased in annual increments (perhaps over a period of 10 years) until it gets to the point where the minimum wage is in line with what it should be today if wages had simply kept pace with what the real wages were from some arbitrary starting point, say 1960. This would give employers time to plan for such increases while also giving workers hope for the future), but that is not the point of this post.

The point is that I think it is quite helpful to be aware of both sides of an issue, and not just automatically take the same side each time, and the Times and Journal allow a reader to do so.

I am a huge fan of the Wall Street Journal (I tweet out my favorite stories each day), but I would consider myself a liberal. My news and opinion sources tend to be the Journal, The Times, and the Huffington Post, and I think that enables me to be aware of what the arguments are on either side of an issue, which helps me make a more informed decision for myself on the issue.

Given that you can access much, if not most of this content online for free, to me there’s little excuse for not taking the time to become more well-rounded in our opinions.

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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