There is no doubt that the vast majority of media coverage of Trump has been negative. That’s not merely my opinion, nor the opinion of most Americans, but has been confirmed in a study released in May.
According to this Shorenstein Center study, headed by Professor Thomas Patterson, 80% of the tone of coverage of President Trump in his first 100 days was negative, compared to 41% for Obama, and 57% for Bush. Furthermore, it should be noted that most major media outlets gave higher than 80% negative coverage, with CNN and NBC topping the chart at 93%. The overall average is only as low as 80% because of FOX News, which gave Trump only 52%, thus lowering the overall average significantly. And it should also be considered that FOX’s ratings have been declining in the last year
Is the media just doing their jobs?
It’s certainly possible that Trump is simply so bad, that the media is giving him such negative coverage simply because the news is really that negative. Trump has been President for seven months now, and I doubt that a further study on the tone of media coverage would reveal that the media is any less negative than they were during Trump’s first 100 days. So if the coverage is this negative, than in seven months, surely Trump should have done something, or a series of somethings, terrible enough to warrant such negative coverage.
The Media and Candidate Trump
First, let’s think back to media coverage of Trump during the Presidential race in 2016. During the Republican Primary, the media didn’t seem all that negative towards Trump. Mainstream media, such as NPR, sometimes highlighted how Trump was actually reaching out to LGBT persons, which was a daring and probably principled move for a Republican candidate.
Once it was down to Trump v. Clinton in the General Election, however, the tone became particularly negative towards Trump. With Trump struggling to gain support among women, the media just happened across an 11 year old audio recording of Trump making his infamous comments about his ability to grab certain women in their intimate areas because he’s “rich and famous”. These comments were disgusting, and the American people certainly had a right to know this about a candidate on the ballot for the highest office in the land.
But consider the timing! The first presidential debate was over. Trump was being criticized for having interrupted Hillary Clinton repeatedly during that debate, and accused of “manterrupting” and “mansplaining”. This may have been hurting him with women voters. So right before the second debate, this story about Trump making those comments, 11 years before, just happened to come out? Did Access Hollywood just happen across that story at that particular point in time? Right before the second debate? In a very narrow election? When Trump really needed to not lose women voters in droves?
Despite poll after poll showing that Trump was sure to lose, Trump actually won. The media was more than happy to report these polls, but in fairness to the media, most of these polls were not conducted by them, and they were pretty consistent.
The Media, President Trump, and Russiagate
Since the election, CNN in particular has focused heavily on the accusation that Russia hacked some aspect of the election in order to favor Trump. If it could be proven that Trump engaged in illegal – key word “illegal” – collusion with Russia during the election, that would certainly be grounds for impeachment. If Russia was indeed hacking the DNC (and RNC by the way), releasing both real and fake news, and trying to influence our election, wasn’t it just as much news, maybe more so, during the presidential race as it is now?
The Media Research Center has conducted a recent study of three major news networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) from May 17th – June 20th. The study shows that these three networks spent nearly half or more of their air time covering the Russiagate/Comey story. ABC was at the top of the list, with the program ABC World News Tonight having devoted 63% of its air time to Russiagate/Comey.
Is the story really that big? Maybe. However, we’ve heard something about possible Russia interference since the middle of last year. We’ve heard about possible collusion with Trump at least since the election. During all of this time, despite ongoing investigations by the FBI and CIA, we have yet to see any solid evidence of illegal activity.
There is some evidence that CNN is pushing this story just for ratings. Project Veritas managed to get CNN Sr. Producer John Bonifield on camera admitting that “it’s ratings”. He also admitted “it’s mostly bullshit right now”. It is true that this was a hidden camera, and Bonifield was asked leading questions. However, it does show that there has been pressure from the highest ranks at CNN to keep pushing the Russia story. If you are questioning the validity of this story, that’s fair. Project Veritas should be taken with a grain of salt. But USA Today did report shortly following this video that CNN did confirm that this is legitimate, but stood by Bonifield despite his comments.
Consider the timing
If the media really wants to take down Trump, how would they go about it? During the Presidential race, the best way would be to appeal to voters. Would the Russiagate story really have had any effect on the election had the mainstream media focused on that in October and November of 2016? Clinton’s base, it’s safe to say, is most concerned about this. But the fickle Berniebros, whom Clinton needed, were likely far less concerned about Russia. But women’s rights? Sexual assault? Of course! Either it’s an amazing coincidence that the media just happened across that Access Hollywood recording from 11 years before at that point in time, right before the second presidential debate; or, it was the perfect time to both cripple Trump’s reputation among women voters and demoralize Trump right before his second debate, knowing full well that Trump was already worried about how he was perceived by women following the first debate.
And Russia! For months and months we’ve been subjected to ad nauseum interviews with the media asking everybody who’s somebody what they think about the Russia probe, even though until a few weeks ago, there was zero evidence of collusion. Only now is there a shred of evidence, that being the revelation that Don Trump Jr. admitted to meeting with a Russian lawyer in the hopes of obtaining negative information on Hillary Clinton. With Trump 3 ½ years from his re-election bid (assuming he runs again), there’s not much point in influencing voters if you hope to take down Trump any time soon. The best bet at this point is to obstruct him from getting anything done, and take a long shot at impeachment.
It is possible that Russiagate just happens to be the news right now. Even though there’s a major healthcare bill working its way through Congress, even though ISIS is being driven out of Iraq, even though unemployment is historically low in the US right now, even though police shootings are still a major problem in the country, even though…I could go on…but maybe Russiagate really is more important that all of this. Or maybe, despite minimal to no evidence after all this time, maybe it’s just the perfect time to bog Trump down with scandal, hurting his ability to get anything passed through a Congress nearly as divisive and partisan as the Reconstruction era following the American Civil War, and constantly raising the possibility of impeachment.
Either the timing and relevance of these stories are an amazing coincidence, or many in the media really are trying to take down Trump.
Coincidence? Or is the media fiercely anti-Trump?
In a short email conversation, Professor Patterson (from the aforementioned study on negative coverage of Trump’s first 100 days) stated:
“The day journalists wake up thinking their job is to take down the president is the day that they lose their claim to the public trust. Journalists need to act as watchdogs on those in power but the same standards need to be applied to officials of both parties.”
Considering that media coverage of Bush was only a little more negative than Obama, I don’t suggest that the mainstream media is particularly partisan. I actually thought CNN’s coverage of the 2012 race between Obama and Romney was very fair, and I remember Anderson Cooper taking then DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Shultz to task for misquoting the LA Times and exaggerating Romney’s position on abortion.
It’s certainly possible, even very likely, that for whatever reason, that much of the mainstream media, particularly CNN, really doesn’t like Donald Trump. Whatever you might think of Trump, you should be far more concerned that the mainstream media would abuse their power and the public trust this way.