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Trump Coverage Should Reflect That He Is Historically Unpopular

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Trump Coverage Should Reflect That He Is Historically Unpopular

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers a speech during a campaign event at the Trump Soho Hotel in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., June 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters for America.

There are lots of ways the political press continues to normalize President-elect Donald Trump’s often radical behavior. From regurgitating his vague tweets as news while he refuses to grant press conferences, to shying away from calling the serial prevaricator a liar, journalists continue to play nice.

Here’s another way Trump’s getting the benefit of the doubt: He’s a wildly unpopular political figure, yet the press continues to gloss over that fact while granting him soft coverage.

In terms of polling data, there’s virtually no good news for Trump. The results generally point in the same direction: He’s widely disliked and inspires little confidence in his presidential abilities.

This stands in stark contrast with characteristically stronger bipartisan approval for presidents-elect in recent decades. For instance, in 2008, “50 percent of John McCain’s voters approved of Barack Obama’s handling of his presidential transition,” noted an NBC News report. And as NPR reported, “Even after a prolonged recount and Supreme Court decision, George W. Bush received 29 percent approval from Democrats in 2001.” This is 14 percentage points higher than the same Pew statistic for Trump.

Trump’s contrast with Obama in late 2008 is stunning: Obama entered 2009 with a 68 percent favorable rating. Today, Trump’s favorable rating stands at an anemic 43 percent. And if history is any indication, that rating is almost certain to go down once the new president takes office.

A plurality of Americans think he will be a “poor” or “terrible” president. His cabinet picks enjoy historically little support, and 54 percent of adults say they’re either “uncertain (25 percent) or pessimistic and worried (29 percent) about how Trump will perform during his presidency.” Meanwhile, 68 percent would describe the president-elect as “hard to like,” and less than half of Americans are confident in Trump’s ability to handle an international crisis.

Those numbers are off-the-charts awful for an American president-elect. On average, 71 percent of Americans were confident that Presidents Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton could handle an international crisis, when polled after each was newly elected. Today, just 46 percent are confident about Trump’s ability to handle such a crisis.

Modern American history hasn’t seen anything like this. So what explains the press’s passive, often genuflecting coverage of Trump since November?

“Watching the formation of Donald Trump’s presidency, the press coverage is disappointingly weak and thin,” John Dean recently wrote in Newsweek. “The news coverage of the transition of the most unqualified man ever elected to the White House is as weak and wishy-washy as it was at the outset of his campaign.”

And as Media Matters stressed last month:

In the weeks since Election Day, political journalism has largely fallen short both in style and substance. Journalists watching from the sidelines have been reduced to parroting Trump’s publicly available tweets — allowing him to drive the news cycle — and have bungled one of the most important roles the press plays during a transition period: the vetting of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet nominations and appointments.

If Trump had just posted a 49-state, Reagan-esque landslide victory, I could more readily understand why the press would be acquiescing so regularly. But Trump just made history by losing the popular tally by nearly three million votes and remains, without question, the least popular president-elect since modern-day polling was invented.

Yet members of the press seem unduly intimidated by his presence, and have even rewarded him with chatter of an invisible “mandate.” (He has none.) Noted John Nichols at The Nation, “It’s absurd to claim that [Trump’s] administration and this Congress enjoy enthusiastic popular support. They don’t.”

Yes, some news outlets have highlighted Trump’s miserable standing with the public, and what the political implication might be for him this year. “Trump will enter the White House as the least-popular incoming president in the modern era of public-opinion polling,” Politico announced in late December.

But those kinds of stories have made for spot coverage, passing reports here and there about Trump’s approval ratings. But why isn’t that the running narrative about Trump’s presidential transition? Where is the endless cable news hand-wringing about Trump standing poised to be a failed president even before he’s inaugurated? Or about the mountainous challenge he faces in trying to lead a country that largely does not support him or even find him likable?

Does anyone think that if Hillary Clinton had won in November while badly losing the popular vote to Trump, and then posted historically awful approval ratings during her transition, that story would not dominate Beltway coverage day after day, week after week?

And don’t forget the press’s entrenched fascination with Obama’s public approval during his presidency, particularly the desire to depict “collapsing” support when, in fact, Obama’s approval rating remained stubbornly stable for years.

There’s a glaring Trump transition story hiding in plain sight: He’s historically unpopular. The press ought to start telling that tale on a daily basis.

IMAGE: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers a speech during a campaign event at the Trump Soho Hotel in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., June 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar



  1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth January 3, 2017

    Let’s just ignore the tweets for now, and announce a moratorium on paying attention to Trump. Let the inauguration proceed with minimum, if any, coverage. Besides, too many spotlight will give him melanoma, and we wouldn’t want that to happen.

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    2. TZToronto January 4, 2017

      That’s one way to deal with the Trumpehfuhrer–ignore him. However, that’s not going to happen. The Orange One will be in the news constantly. Even now, when he has no real authority to do anything other than name appointees, he gets news coverage as though he were making national policy while the real President and his actions receive little notice from news media. No, it will be important for the news media to begin to critique what Trump says and does and how his actions are damaging to Americans and to the Republic. I think, though, that this will only happen when Trump tries to muzzle the news media and he becomes an existential threat to them. It makes me sick to watch the coverage of Trump since it attempts to portray his ascendancy to the Presidency as equivalent to the transitions we have historically witnessed. The fact that the emperor wears no clothes does not seem to have been noticed by the people who should be noticing. The one exception–and he’s not a journalist, although his mother was–is David Frum, the inventor of Dubya’s Axis of Evil. He has been consistently critical of Trump and Trump’s lack of Presidential qualities. Perhaps he’s trying to make amends for his role in the Bush White House. Other neo-conservative commentators have also criticized Trump on occasion, but Frum has been consistent on this. When neo-conservatives are criticizing a Republican president, we should know that there’s something very wrong here.

    3. Dan S January 4, 2017

      Kind of avoid Trump the way you see someone on the street ranting to no one in particular. You just quietly cross the street and avoid eye contact. Very sound advice regarding Trumps so called Inauguration and I’ll find something else to do that day than watch this horror show unfold on TV ????

      1. jvaljon1 January 4, 2017

        I’m still trying to find out who is the entertainment going to be at this inauguration. As I write (Jan 4) so far the Rockettes have been the latest exhibition players to turn down participation at the Inauguration. I personally think that Beyonce’s now-most-famous ‘kerfuffle’ during her New Year’s Eve special, might have in part been her response to having been invited to the, ummm…”Trump Inaugural”.

        Fact is, nobody likes Trump except this Congress, which famously just made –attempting to eliminate their own watchdog agency, the Office Of Congressional Ethics, as their Very First Move?? I mean, it’s cartoonish at best and anti-American at worst. So –

        Why would ANYONE AT ALL WANT TO ENTERTAIN AT THIS FAKE “INAUGURATION” – the day AFTER Congress was stopped from further selling out America by eliminating the office that kept its eyes on them? You talk entertainment? My amusement that day will be betting with my friends: “If”, (NOT “Who”) – will be the entertainment at the Trump Inaugural…..OH, it just came to me:

        Trump’s Partner in Infamy, Russian Communist (go ahead, tell me that Putin’s no Communist, LOL!) President Vladimir Putin, who gave Trump the American Presidency by way of Russia’s (and most other countries other than ours) superb hacking ability: will also provide the entertainment for the hall that Trump will be hiring for his supposed pomp-and-circumstance “inauguration” – the Bolshoi Ballet! Putin/Trump! LOLOLOL!!!!

      2. dpaano January 4, 2017

        I found it funny that a couple of the Rockettes refuse to perform at the inauguration as well as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir members! It’s pretty bad when you have to scrounge to find someone to perform at the inauguration!

      3. Dominick Vila January 4, 2017

        My yard needs attention, and my pooch loves to go for a walk. I just have to convince him to go for a longer walk than usual.

    4. Nativegrammy January 4, 2017

      After listening to the news this morning of Trump’s latest “brain fart” on Twitter that he prefers to believe that wretch, Julian Assange over our own Intelligence services about the Russian’s hacking and it could have bee a “14 year old boy” and suggesting the Intel community is “trying to get it’s stories together” thereby accusing them of being at the very least dishonest …… I am just speechless…….to say I am beyond hopeless, fearful, ridiculously concerned, depressed and beyond angry at the state of what is about to happen, frankly, any words seem meaningless at this point……this ignorant, lying man baby is just God Awful, at a minimum a traitor, unpatriotic ass of epic proportions. And he hasn’t even been inaugurated yet. This is going to be the longest 4 years of my life.

      1. dpaano January 4, 2017

        If we last that long……what scares me the most is that he’s been busy angering the North Korean president, who, by the way, has bombs that will reach the West Coast (California, for example)! I can fully see them lobbing a bomb in our direction just to show Trump that he isn’t the president that he thinks he is! He’s the “Great Divider” when it comes to foreign policy, and I can see in our future a major crisis in Israel, in China, and perhaps even in Korea! He has NO idea what he’s doing, which is shown daily by his inane tweets, and he is going to eventually put this nation in a major war!

        1. Nativegrammy January 4, 2017

          IT IS FRIGHTENING! I, for the first time in my life and I am over 70, feel our, as of 1/20/17, President is just as nuts, unstable, ignorant as any of the other nut cases on the planet, but worse Putin, the Iranians and the Chinese are far more sinister and calculating and certainly know far more about political power and strategy than Trump ever will, and the consequences will be profound! Profoundly BAD!!! Between Netanyahu and Trump, the Middle East is literally a power keg with a short fuse, and both of these horrible men each have a big ol’ match ready to lite it while playing “tough guys”. Just a nightmare I cannot wake up from.

          1. dpaano January 6, 2017

            Like you, I’m also over 70, and I’m frightened on a daily basis whenever I see what Trump is up to with his tweets. He suffers from ADHD in that he is quick to say things without thinking them through or checking with the proper individuals in our government. He’s not only narcissistic, but he’s impulsive, and that’s not a good thing for a president to be, especially in this day and age. He has already angered many foreign entities, and it isn’t going to turn out well for this country if he continues! I am not looking forward to the next 4 years and I can only hope that more level-minded Republican congressmen/women will see him for what he is and keep a tight leash on him!

      2. itsfun January 4, 2017

        Our intelligence services have not proved anything yet. I wonder why they rescheduled the briefing to Friday all of a sudden. Maybe they are trying to get their ducks in a row. Maybe they don’t have the evidence. If Russia hacked into the DNR or RNC sanctions are warranted. We need proof before sanctions though. The President-elect has not been inaugurated yet, but he has already saved jobs in Indiana, and after yesterday, 700 jobs in Michigan. Ask the people whose jobs were saved if President-elect Trump is unpatriotic. The people that get the 700 jobs created in Michigan will not call him a traitor or unpatriotic.

        1. Nativegrammy January 4, 2017

          For those who educate themselves the meeting with the intelligence services has always been set for Friday, Trump lied for affect and as usual his rubes buy his “conspiracies”……For any American even doubting what these the intel agencies do to keep this country safe in addition trying to inform an idiot who is purposely ignorant is obscene! He has bee offered proof of the Russian’s involvement in the hacking as well as what Russia has been doing around the world to other democracies, but still refused to accept the facts. Do you dare give President Obama credit for all the jobs that have been created since the crash in 2008, I doubt it. How about the over 1 million jobs saved when Pres. Obama supported the auto industry and all the related jobs to that industry, that Republicans including Trump said to let it go into bankruptcy……again I doubt it. The 700 jobs that he supposedly saved or better yet were bought and paid for by the taxpayers of Indiana with Pence’s involvement, is, I am certain a temporary delay of what Carrier will eventually do and move to Mexico as soon as whatever “agreement” or better yet bribe contrived by Pence and his state government for a disgusting attempt for a temporary propaganda moment. . Trump is an absolute embarrassment and dishonest lying charlatan. But you keep believing in your faux “savior” while having Fox phony news props up your faith in the Trumpster with outright lies, half truths, to gobble down and reinforce your twisted world view.

          1. itsfun January 4, 2017

            Glad you are certain what Carrier will do in the future. As long as you know so much, which stocks should I buy? You seem to think you are a expert on companies and their futures. Cities and states have for years and years given tax breaks to get companies to move to their cities and states. Its nothing new. How about the Ford announcement yesterday? Where did you come up with over 1 million jobs at GM? People like you called our intelligence agencies liars and incompetent about the WMD’s, but now all of a sudden when their best guess is something you believe, you praise them. You can believe in the proven liars Obama and Hillary and live in your little fantasy world if you want. President Trump get use to it.

          2. Nativegrammy January 4, 2017

            You are hopeless. I have been told that by several here on TNM, and worse, and they are 100% correct. You buy all the Fox and right wing BS lies and propaganda!!! Good for you simpleton! Makes it easy in YOUR little fantasy world!!!!

          3. itsfun January 4, 2017

            You are the hopeless one. You buy into the BS of Obama and Hillary and their giveaway crap. You can’t carry on a conservation without your childish name calling. If you think for one second I worry about what you think and other left wingers think of me, you are crazy. Your bullying and other BS won’t work with me. As the election proved, we are sick of your politically correct BS and whining and crying when you don’t get your own way. Were you one of the sickies that rioted when Hillary got her fat ass beat? PRESIDENT TRUMP – GET USE TO IT.

          4. dpaano January 6, 2017

            Just another lazy troll, grammy, just block him as most of us have done. It’s a waste of valuable time trying to educate these trolls because they only want to believe what the GOP has brainwashed them to believe and to hell with facts!

          5. dpaano January 6, 2017

            It makes one wonder how much money Trump owes to Russian banks and why he’s afraid of the truth! His main problem is that he seems to think that the intelligence agencies are trying to invalidate his election, which they are not……they are only letting the powers that be know that we have a major problem…..one that will continue if we don’t nip it in the bud now! We will NEVER be able to believe our votes count if this continues…..not that we believe that now with all the gerrymandering, etc..

        2. Aaron_of_Portsmouth January 4, 2017

          Still the same trite tiresome refrain and myopia—JOBS! JOBS! JOBS!
          Do you ever get any brilliant insights, or is your mental decline in a terminal state??

          1. dpaano January 6, 2017

            Aaron: Most of these trolls are lazy. They don’t care about checking REAL facts and choose, instead, to believe conspiracy theories, lies, false news stories, vacuous headlines (without actually reading the articles), etc. If they weren’t so lazy, they would realize, as we do, that what is going on with our government now and for the next 4 years will NOT be good for this country!
            Charging tariffs for goods being shipped in from overseas will only raise the prices of those goods and U.S. consumers will suffer. Making the same products in the U.S. would also cause prices to go up because we don’t pay our workers pitiful wages like they do in China, Vietnam, India, etc. This is the ONLY reason that companies go overseas….because they can get their products made cheaper, but even if our government takes away some regulations, lowers taxes, etc., it won’t make the prices of these same products as low as what we pay for them now. We’re always going to pay more for products made in the U.S., and I’m willing to do that, but others might not be in the same position!

        3. KDJ54 January 4, 2017

          As for Trumps self-serving tweet about the Friday cancellation, regarding the intelligence briefing, they were ready and willing to meet with Trump and informed the press that that was the case. If you read something like the New York Times or some other credible news source you would have known that. Likewise, I find it completely absurd that Trump would take the word of Julian Assaunge over dedicated professionals who are trying to protect our country. I don’t always agree with what the CIA and other intelligence services do, but I understand their role in this world and what they do. The President-elect should also do the same. He does nothing but prove what the writer of this article has stated, he’s a vacuous, juvenile nincompoop. As for the jobs, 700 jobs is nothing, and most of that was going to stay in the United States anyway. Likewise with Ford. Donald Trump is a joke. He has to prove to us that he fit for office, and so far he’s falling woefully short of that goal.

          1. itsfun January 4, 2017

            I doubt if the people who have had their jobs saved or the people that will get one of the new 700 jobs at Ford think he is a joke. Are you talking about the same professionals that gave us WMD’s?

          2. KDJ54 January 4, 2017

            If you took the time to learn what is really going on, you would understand why it has nothing to do with Donald Trump. The plant in Michigan had already been scheduled to begin producing hybrid and electrified SUVs that will have a range of 300 miles. These are expensive vehicles which have a higher profit margin for Ford. Ford is taking advantage of government money which was given to them starting with the George W. Bush administration and continuing through the Obama administration to produce more vehicles which are electrified and/or hybrids. Since gas prices have been low and the economy is doing well, it makes sense for Ford to produce larger vehicles and to improve their profit margin. They make less money on small vehicles with out all the gadgets on them. Consequently, this is a financial move which Ford had already put into motion long before Donald Trump was elected. Big companies like Ford don’t make million dollar capital decisions based upon a whim and tweet. These wheels were put into motion long ago. Also, you may want to consider the implications of corporations doing business according to the whims and dictates of Donald Trump. It harkens back to the old Soviet five-year plans, and other aspects of a controlled economy, which were a disaster. So, be careful what you wish for. Also you may want to note that Idaho, the state I live in, it’s three largest trading partners are Canada, Mexico, and China. China has already threatened to ban export of goods from Republican-controlled states if Trump follows through with his tariff positions. Idaho currently exports 560,000,000 dollars worth of goods to China. Loss of that export would affect my state greatly with regard to employment, since it involves agricultural products and computer components. So once again, be careful what you wish for. We may save 300 jobs on one part of the economy and lose that many or more on the other side. International trade is complicated, and it can’t be reduced to 140 characters. Donald Trump needs to shut up and stop trying to micromanage the economy.

          3. itsfun January 4, 2017

            Did you take the time to listen to the CEO of Ford?

          4. Nativegrammy January 4, 2017

            KDJ54, Itsfun is a blathering idiot and will go on for days spouting all the right wing nonsense, insults and lies. As you can see it’s easy to get sucked in and still he persists in his completely ignorant diatribes.. He’s the kind Trump loves, woefully unintelligent and uniformed and an easy vessel to fill with lies and conspiracies that he spews here on the TNM with glee. Facts, those pesky things simply do not enter the hard and empty head of someone incapable of independent thought and is far more at peace being told the most outrageous lie or conspiracy that feeds his fears, prejudices, narrow and sickening “conservative mind set”, someone like a Donald J. Trump can think up from his own sick, twisted muddled mind….It is impossible to believe even when watching before ones own eyes and hearing it with ones own ears the aspersions be thrown around by Trump to all the intelligence agencies now he is threatening to “revamp the intel agencies”, gee I can’t imagine what could possibly go wrong there??!! NOT!! .It’s going to be a Hell of a ride for the next 4 years!

      3. Aaron_of_Portsmouth January 4, 2017

        Brain Fart is the perfect word for Trump’s mental exertions. The room must be wreaking from the odor.

        I too was appalled at Donald’s idiocy that he prefers the opinion of a criminal like Assange, over that of the Intelligence Department.

        I think Donald had an implant carefully inserted in his head by the KGB during one of Trump’s earlier visits to Russia back in the day.

        1. Nativegrammy January 4, 2017

          LOL, unfortunately I think Trumps love affair with Putin and for that matter all the despots he seems to be tickled with, is simply the age old, “You enrich me and I’ll take care of you.”. Have read a couple of very good books about Putin and articles as well, the man is beyond contempt, and dangerous as Hell to the world and the United States especially with Trump as president, (just got sick again, happens every time I face the reality of Trump presidency)and with Trump, am certain Putin sees a gold mine of potential damage that can be done and what he can get from it. There is SOOOOOO much to be “mined” with Trump and I can’t wait until Putin puts the screws to Trump, wonder what the man baby will have to say about Putin at that point???!!!

          1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth January 6, 2017

            Right you are. And I like the demotion of Trump, from man-child to man-baby. Quite appropriate.

  2. dpaano January 4, 2017

    That’s the problem with today’s journalists…..they have been intimidated by Trump’s administration to only report the positive things (if there are any) and to keep light when it comes to the negative things that Trump has done. It’s pretty sad when we can no longer trust our journalists, our newspapers, or even our network news stations to report the true news! They have done nothing but whitewashed Trump, allowing his followers to think that they have elected someone who is going to help them when, in actuality, he has NO plans of doing anything for the poor and middle class! He and his cronies are only in the game for the money they will make while he’s president! We are the losers in this game, trust me on that one! Those who voted for him will figure out the same thing as time goes on!

  3. Thomas Martin January 4, 2017

    The man is emotionally and socially inept. He has no intelligence when it comes to getting his mission accomplished – whatever that is. Tweet, tweet, tweet. Any moron can tweet.

  4. OriginalUpmuuchtoolate January 5, 2017

    Traitors typically are.

  5. Aaron_of_Portsmouth January 6, 2017

    Trump is washed up before he’s even sworn in. Oh, we’ll allow him to go through the formality of being an illegitimate President selected not by popular vote but by an antiquated artifice.
    Historically unpopular is too kind—-Rather, historically abnormal is a better description.


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