This comes as no surprise to us, but it’s still good to have confirming statistics.
A new report from Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy found that U.S. and European news coverage of President Trump’s first 100 days in office was overwhelmingly negative.
The report is based on an analysis of news reports in the print editions of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, the main newscasts of CBS, CNN, Fox News, and NBC, and three European news outlets (The UK’s Financial Times and BBC, and Germany’s ARD).
The report defines “negative” tone of coverage as stories/reports in which:
- Trump is criticized directly.
- An event, trend, or development reflects unfavorably on Trump, e.g., stories that appeared under the headlines “President Trump’s approval rating hits a new low” and “GOP withdraws embattled health care bill, handing major setback to Trump, Ryan.”
Here are the report’s findings:
(1) The media are obsessed with President Trump: Trump was the topic of 41% of all news stories—three times the amount of coverage received by previous presidents.
(2) On almost every major Trump topic, the media’s coverage was overwhelmingly more negative than positive.
(4) The liberal MSM were overwhelmingly negative, with CNN and NBC leading the way with a stunning 93% of their coverage of Trump being negative. Even the Wall Street Journal was more negative (70%) than positive. Although Fox was the only news outlet in the study that came close to giving Trump positive coverage overall, a majority (52%) of the network’s reporting on Trump still was negative.
(5) European reporters were even more negative than U.S. reporters.
The Harvard report concludes:
Trump’s coverage during his first 100 days was negative even by the standards of today’s hyper-critical press. Studies of earlier presidents found nothing comparable to the level of unfavorable coverage afforded Trump. […]
Have the mainstream media covered Trump in a fair and balanced way? […] The early days of his presidency have been marked by far more missteps and miss-hits, often self-inflicted, than any presidency in memory, perhaps ever. […]
Nevertheless, the sheer level of negative coverage gives weight to Trump’s contention, one shared by his core constituency, that the media are hell bent on destroying his presidency. […]
At the same time, the news media need to give Trump credit when his actions warrant it. The public’s low level of confidence in the press is the result of several factors, one of which is a belief that journalists are biased. That perception weakens the press’s watchdog role. One of the more remarkable features of news coverage of Trump’s first 100 days is that it has changed few minds about the president, for better or worse. The nation’s watchdog has lost much of its bite and won’t regain it until the public perceives it as an impartial broker, applying the same reporting standards to both parties. […]
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. […]
Never have journalists fixated on a single newsmaker for as long as they have on Trump. If he sees journalists as his main opponents, one reason is that between Trump and themselves there’s not much air time for everyone else. Journalists need to resist even the smallest temptation to see themselves as opponents of government. It’s the competition between the party in power and the opposing party, and not between government and the press, that’s at the core of the democratic process.
Will journalists heed the report’s counsel?
I doubt it.