Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Donald Trump and Mainstream Media Bias

Here's a quote from a U.S. President:

"Also, never forget.  The press is the enemy.  The press is the enemy.  The press is the enemy."

Donald Trump has successfully accomplished one thing since he took over the Oval Office in January 2017, he has dominated the 24 hour news cycle, particularly in the United States.  A report from Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy has analyzed the news coverage of Donald Trump's first 100 days in office, and provides us with an analysis of the coverage and its level of positivity/negativity as well as a comparison to the coverage received by his predecessors.  The analysis is based on newscasts on CBS, NBC, CNN and Fox News, news reports in the print editions of The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and coverage in three European news outlets including BBC in the United Kingdom, ARD in Germany and Financial Times in the United Kingdom.  Let's look at some of the highlights of this report. 

In Donald Trump's first 100 days in the Oval Office, he was the topic of a record-breaking 41 percent of all news stories, three times the usual amount of coverage received by a U.S. President.  Donald Trump did most of the talking on his own behalf, appearing as the featured speaker in 65 percent of stories that covered him followed by 11 percent who were administration officials, 6 percent who were Democrats, 4 percent who were Republicans, 3 percent who were protestors, 1 percent who were the FBI and 10 percent who were "others".   All totalled, Republicans inside and outside the administration accounted for 80 percent of what newsmakers said about Donald Trump's presidency.

Here is a pie chart showing the topics covered by the American media when discussing the Trump presidency:

The print media focussed more on the immigration issue while television news focussed more on the health care issue.  Fox News was an outlier in that it gave less than half of the coverage of the Russia election interference story than its six U.S. media peers.

Here is a pie chart showing the topics covered by the European media when discussing the Trump presidency:

Not unexpectedly, Europe's media gave more coverage to international trade, military and foreign policy issues than their American counterparts.  Additionally, Europe's media was more likely to focus on the issue of Trump's fitness for office with the fitness issue garnering 20 percent of total Trump coverage for Germany's ARD, the nation's main pubic broadcaster in January 2017, dropping to 18 percent in February and 10 percent in March and April, well above the 3 percent coverage that the fitness issues received in the U.S. media.  Note that most of this "fitness for office" coverage was negative.

Let's look at the tone of the media coverage of Donald Trump's first 100 days in office.  Here is a graphic showing the tone (positive vs. negative) for the first 100 days in office for the past four U.S. presidents:

As you can clearly see, the coverage for Trump's first 100 days set a new standard for negativity.  In all of the weeks during the first 100 days, no week saw the negative coverage drop below 70 percent, hitting a high of 90 percent in March as you can see on this graphic which plots positive coverage (in green) vs. negative coverage (in red):

The least negative week (70 percent negative) took place when Donald Trump ordered a cruise missile strike against a Syrian airbase in retaliation for the alleged use of nerve gas on Syrian civilians and the most negative weeks took place when federal judges struck down his executive order banning Muslim immigrants from several nations and when the House of Representatives was unable to muster the votes needed to pass a repeal of Obamacare.

In closing, let's look at a graphic which shows the positive and negative bias of Trump news coverage for each of the American and European media outlets used in the study:

It is interesting to see that even Fox, the media bastion of American conservatism, had slightly more negative coverage than positive coverage (52 percent vs. 48 percent) of the Trump Administration's first months in office.  Fox was most positive on Trump's handling of the economy (57 percent vs. 44 percent for all other outlets), his fitness for office (67 percent vs. 15 percent for all other outlets), international  trade (80 percent vs. 12 percent for all other outlets) and the terrorist threat (81 percent vs. 25 percent for all other outlets).  

Even by the standards of today's presidentially critical press, Donald Trump has broken new ground.  What is particularly interesting is that the coverage of the Trump presidency is overwhelmingly negative even though he is talking on his own behalf nearly two-thirds of the time.  The level of negativity appears to lend credence to Trump's claim that the media are aiming to destroy his presidency before it has really taken hold and that much of the mainstream media is "fake news" as shown on this tweet from February 2017:

The analysis also shows one key problem with the media coverage of the early days of the Trump presidency; there is little news coverage of most of his executive orders with all executive orders other than the immigration orders receiving less than 1 percent of total Trump media coverage.  This tells us that the mainstream media has chosen to focus on a handful of issues while ignoring other important developments that may show the Trump presidency in a different light.

Here is a closing paragraph from the report:

"Journalists would also do well to spend less time in Washington and more time in places where policy intersects with people's lives.  If they had done so during the presidential campaign, they would not have missed the story that keyed Trump's victory - the fading of the American Dream for millions of ordinary people.  Nor do all such narratives have to be a tale of woe.  America at the moment is a divided society in some respects, but it's not a broken society and the divisions in Washington are deeper than those beyond the Beltway."

Apparently, despite the lessons taught by the Clinton loss in 2016, journalists are a slow-to-learn bunch.  As a group, they also seem to have forgotten that the opposition to the ruling party should not solely come from the press, rather, it should come from the government's elected political opponents, a group that received only 6 percent of the mainstream media's airtime.  This is most definitely not how a democracy should function.

By the way, while it may have sounded like a Trumpism, the opening anti-press quote was actually from President Richard Milhous Nixon.

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