These numbers are stunning, and really go to prove what a miracle it was that Trump actually won the election, given the insane amount of negative press he received. How the media portrayed Trump to the voters vs. how they portrayed Hillary (who was actually under investigation by the FBI during most of her campaign) is really quite astounding.
Read this report, and then decide whether or not we should believe sources like the Washington Post or the New York Times, as they try to convince us the Russians destroyed Hillary’s chances of becoming our next President…
A new report from Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy analyzes news coverage during the 2016 general election, and concludes that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump received coverage that was overwhelmingly negative in tone and extremely light on policy.
This is the final report of a multi-part research series analyzing news coverage of candidates and issues during the 2016 presidential election. The study tracks news coverage from the second week of August 2016 to the day before Election Day.
Negative coverage was the order of the day in the general election. Not a week passed where the nominees’ coverage reached into positive territory. It peaked at 81 percent negative in mid-October, but there was not a single week where it dropped below 64 percent negative.
The press’s negative bent is not confined to election politics (see Figure 4). In recent years, when immigration has been the subject of news stories, the ratio of negative stories to positive ones has been 5-to-1. In that same period, news reports featuring Muslims have been 6-to-1 negative. News stories about health care policy, most of which centered on the 2010 Affordable Care Act, have been 2-to-1 negative. Although the nation’s economy has steadily improved since the financial crisis of 2008, one would not know that from the tone of news coverage. Since 2010, news stories about the nation’s economy have been 2-to-1 negative over positive.
The real bias of the press is not that it’s liberal. Its bias is a decided preference for the negative. As scholar Michael Robinson noted, the news media seem to have taken some motherly advice and turned it upside down. “If you don’t have anything bad to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.” A New York Times columnist recently asserted that “the internet is distorting our collective grasp on the truth.” There’s a degree of accuracy in that claim but the problem goes beyond the internet and the talk shows. The mainstream press highlights what’s wrong with politics without also telling us what’s right.
It’s a version of politics that rewards a particular brand of politics. When everything and everybody is portrayed as deeply flawed, there’s no sense making distinctions on that score, which works to the advantage of those who are more deeply flawed. Civility and sound proposals are no longer the stuff of headlines, which instead give voice to those who are skilled in the art of destruction. The car wreck that was the 2016 election had many drivers. Journalists were not alone in the car, but their fingerprints were all over the wheel.
The research is confined to the election coverage in the print editions of five daily papers (the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and USA Today) and the main newscasts of five television networks (ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN’s The Situation Room, Fox’s Special Report, and NBC Nightly News). In the case of the newspapers, the analysis covers all sections except sports, obituaries, and letters to the editor. Op-eds and editorials are included, but letters from the public are not. For television, the analysis covers the full daily content of each network’s major newscast. Network talk shows are not included.
Trump’s general election news coverage fit the pattern of earlier stages of the campaign in several respects but not all. The major departure was that his general election coverage was overwhelmingly negative in tone. In our earlier reports, we documented the positive coverage Trump received during the nominating stage of the campaign, a pattern largely attributable to the press’s tendency to highlight the horserace in the pre-primary and primary periods. As Trump rose from single digits in the polls and then won key primaries, he got favorable press. It was a story of growing momentum, rising poll numbers, ever larger crowds, and electoral success. The fact that the horse race is the most heavily covered aspect of the nominating phase magnified Trump’s favorable coverage.
Trump’s general election coverage was a stark contrast. His coverage was negative from the start, and never came close to entering positive territory (see Figure 8). During his best weeks, the coverage ran 2-to-1 negative over positive. In his worst weeks, the ratio was more than 10-to-1. If there was a silver lining for Trump, it was that his two best weeks were the ones just preceding the November balloting.
Trump’s coverage was negative in all the news outlets in our study, even those that typically side with the Republican nominee (see Figure 9). Fox provided Trump his most favorable coverage, but it was still nearly 3-to-1 negative over positive. The Wall Street Journal was his next best outlet, but its coverage ran 4-to-1 negative. The most negative coverage was carried by CBS at 9-to-1, but Trump’s coverage was nearly as negative in most other outlets.
Compare to Hillary’s coverage:
To be sure, changes in journalism are not the only reason that campaigns have become more negative. The party polarization that has seeped into American politics during the past three decades has been accompanied by rising levels of partisan attack. But to claim that party polarization explains the media’s negative bent is to ignore the fact that the press’s negativity is not confined to party politics. There’s barely an aspect of public life that is not subject to intense criticism.
A healthy dose of negativity is unquestionably a good thing. There’s a lot of political puffery, ineptitude, and manipulation that needs to be exposed, and journalists would be shirking their duty if they failed to expose it. Yet an incessant stream of criticism has a corrosive effect. It needlessly erodes trust in political leaders and institutions and undermines confidence in government and policy.
Negative news has partisan consequences. Given that journalists bash both sides, it might be thought the impact would be neutral. It’s not. For one thing, indiscriminate criticism has the effect of blurring important distinctions. Were the allegations surrounding Clinton of the same order of magnitude as those surrounding Trump? It’s a question that journalists made no serious effort to answer during the 2016 campaign. They reported all the ugly stuff they could find, and left it to the voters to decide what to make of it. Large numbers of voters concluded that the candidates’ indiscretions were equally disqualifying and made their choice, not on the candidates’ fitness for office, but on less tangible criteria—in some cases out of a belief that wildly unrealistic promises could actually be kept.