Reprinted with permission from Media Matters for America.
Recent media analyses have argued that President Donald Trump has received lots of negative news coverage since being sworn into office. But before his supporters inevitably seize on the findings to bash journalists as biased and unfair, there’s important context to keep mind: Based on the fawning over Trump’s address to Congress last week, the press is desperate to tell positive Trump stories — but the administration’s first weeks have created nonstop tumult.
Media coverage of Trump since the election has been flawed in several important ways, but journalists shouldn’t be blamed for reporting on all the self-inflicted wounds Trump and his White House team have caused, because news coverage doesn’t exist in a vacuum. News coverage revolves around … news.
So in that sense, the heavy dose of negative coverage is deserved. And I don’t mean that in a partisan sense (i.e. I disagree with Trump so the press should treat him poorly). I mean that in a journalistic sense: Trump’s presidency is, without qualification, a chaotic mess, so his press coverage ought to reflect that. In this case, “negative” coverage could just be journalists chronicling the confusion Trump has initiated in recent weeks. (Historians and veteran Washington correspondents recently confirmed to Media Matters that Trump’s first month was more “chaotic” than other presidential first months in history.)
And here’s what completely punctures the right-wing claim that the Beltway press is somehow out to get Trump: Last week, when the president gave a supposedly “normal” speech to Congress and embraced a more “presidential” tone, the pundit class instantly draped him in praise.
Rushing past the substance of the speech, which was built on a foundation of exaggerations and obvious falsehoods, the chattering class went ga-ga over Trump. The swooning fawn-fest for the deeply unpopular president was telling because it signaled the pundit class’s eagerness to boost and praise Trump — if only he would give them more chances.
By wrapping his agenda in radical initiatives, lashing out wildly at his enemies, and generally conducting himself like an adolescent, Trump has provided pundits with scant opportunities to praise him, or to portray him as presidential. The fawning, low-bar coverage of his speech to Congress proved that if given a chance to swoon over Trump, journalists will gladly do so.
As for the analysis of his negative press coverage to date, it’s not surprising.
Writing in The Washington Post, university professors Stephen Farnsworth and S. Robert Lichter – along with Roland Schatz, president of the media research firm Media Tenor – recently explained that based on Media Tenor’s analysis of a few hundred stories on Trump from NBC Nightly News, CBS Evening News, and Fox News’ Special Report, the new president has received far more negative coverage than positive coverage
Just 3 percent of the reports on NBC and CBS were deemed to be positive, while 43 percent were negative and 54 percent were neutral. (Note: On Fox’s Special Report, 12 percent of the Trump reports were positive, compared to 25 percent negative and 63 percent neutral.)
Meanwhile, the conservative Washington Times reported on a study by the pro-Republican Newsbusters, which found that the ABC, CBS, and NBC evening newscasts had produced overwhelmingly negative (88 percent) coverage for Trump.
The Newsbusters study essentially proves my point. For example, the report criticizes CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley for beginning the February 6 newscast by announcing, “It has been a busy day for presidential statements divorced from reality.”
Left unsaid by Newsbusters was the fact that Pelley’s “divorced from reality” comment came while he was reporting on a statement Trump made that was in fact divorced from reality — namely, his completely baseless claim on February 6 that the media intentionally covers up and fails to report on terror attacks.
Nonetheless, I have little doubt Trump has received some “negative” network news coverage this year. Conservatives would have you think that’s due to media bias – that the press is just being mean to Trump.
From National Review:
Normally, the election of a new president is a moment when everyone takes a deep breath, partisan passions subside a little, and the incoming president enjoys at least a few weeks to implement his stated promises. In this case, no such luck.
Even the authors writing in the Post suggested that an explanation for what they called the “unusual” amount of harsh coverage could be Trump’s frequent attacks on the news media as an “enemy” of the people.
But what they glossed over when trying to explain Trump’s “unusual” coverage was Trump’s own extremist behavior. The authors stressed that President Barack Obama “received much less negative coverage than Trump has received at the start of their respective presidencies.”
But here’s the thing. During his first weeks in office, Obama did not issue an unconstitutional travel ban for seven Muslim-majority countries, fire the acting attorney general, assail a department store chain after it stopped selling his daughter’s products, insist millions of illegal votes were cast in the general election, obsess over the size of his inauguration crowd, conduct foreign policy via tweets, give a political operative a full seat on the National Security Council, accuse his Oval Office predecessor of wiretapping him, fire his national security adviser after he lied about contacts with Russian officials, sign an executive order to build a $20 billion wall along the Mexican border, spend most of his weekends at a Florida resort, or hold one of the most bizarre, off-the-wall press conferences in White House history.
You get the idea.
IMAGE: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a rally with supporters in Council Bluffs, Iowa, U.S. September 28, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst