Negative US media coverage

Quite a bit is being said and claimed about political media bias in the US, and negative bias against President Donald Trump.

A new Harvard study calculated that no less than 80 percent of the media’s coverage of President Trump during his first 100 days was unfavorable.

The Trump administration is “setting a new standard for unfavorable press coverage of a president,” according to a new study by professor of government and the press Thomas E. Patterson at the Harvard Kennedy School and Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

The Fox report has this graphic:

But the study doesn’t prove ‘media bias against Trump’, if found more negative than positive coverage.

Is this because much of the media is biased against Trump?

Or is Trump doing a lot of notable negative stuff, dumb stuff, genuinely concerning stuff,  and getting appropriate coverage.

Fox News at times looked like they were campaigning for trump during last year’s election. In that context 50/50 positive/negative might indicate even they have a lot to complain about Trump’s performance.

Should media try to aim for 50/50 positive/negative coverage regardless of the big news and regardless of the performance of the president? That would be a bit ridiculous.

Is Trump directly responsible for greater than normal negative coverage due to his at times absurd and at times provocative tweets?

There’s a contrast of headlines on this.

From Zerohedge: Harvard Study Reveals Huge Extent Of Anti-Trump Media Bias

A major new study out of Harvard University has revealed the true extent of the mainstream media’s bias against Donald Trump.

To Forbes: Trump’s Getting Killed In The Media, But Not Because Of Bias

If your favorite football team gets destroyed by another team, and the local newspaper writes a story about the game, is the resulting news story–which paints an ugly picture of your team’s performance–an example of the newspaper’s bias against your beloved team?

Of course not.

But that’s essentially what some conservative media believe when it comes to coverage of the Trump White House. In their view, since most coverage of Trump is negative, that proves the media is biased against the president.

“Harvard Study Reveals Huge Extent of Anti-Trump Media Bias” screams a headline by Heatstreet that was picked up by The Drudge Report Friday:

Academics at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy analyzed coverage from Trump’s first 100 days in office across 10 major TV and print outlets.

They found that the tone of some outlets was negative in as many as 98% of reports, significantly more hostile than the first 100 days of the three previous administrations.

Well, yes, the “tone” of stories about Donald Trump have tended to be fairly negative overall. But the negative tone is no more proof of bias than coverage of Trump’s presidency could be considered proof of bias in favor of the president.

Didn’t people during the campaign say that any coverage was good coverage for Trump?

But isn’t CNN, at the top of the list with 93% of its stories deemed negative, clearly biased? InfoWars sure thought so, calling the study proof of “overwhelming anti-Trump media bias,” while the American Thinker said the study’s results proved “a shocking level of media bias against President Trump…the extreme percentage of negative coverage of the president is absolutely breathtaking.”

But breathtakingly negative media coverage doesn’t equate to “a shocking level of media bias.” Remember, the study looked at tone. Here’s how the researchers defined it:

Tone is judged from the perspective of the actor. Negative stories include stories where the actor is criticized directly. An example is a headline story where Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer criticized Trump when the Labor Department’s April economic report showed that fewer jobs were created than had been predicted. Schumer was quoted as saying, in part: “Eleven weeks into his administration, we have seen nothing from President Trump on infrastructure, on trade, or on any other serious job-creating initiative.” Negative stories also consist of stories where an event, trend, or development reflects unfavorably on the actor. Examples are the 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.”

Is it bias to report that the president’s approval ratings are historically low, or that Trump’s efforts to enact his policies have been delayed and overwhelmed by constant questions about Russia, the firing of FBI Director James Comey and other self-inflicted wounds?

The Harvard report actually says:

“The fact that Trump has received more negative coverage than his predecessor is hardly surprising.

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.”

Here is the Shorenstein report: News Coverage of Donald Trump’s First 100 Days

Findings include:

  • President Trump dominated media coverage in the outlets and programs analyzed, with Trump being the topic of 41 percent of all news stories—three times the amount of coverage received by previous presidents. He was also the featured speaker in nearly two-thirds of his coverage.
  • Republican voices accounted for 80 percent of what newsmakers said about the Trump presidency, compared to only 6 percent for Democrats and 3 percent for those involved in anti-Trump protests.
  • European reporters were more likely than American journalists to directly question Trump’s fitness for office.
  • Trump has received unsparing coverage for most weeks of his presidency, without a single major topic where Trump’s coverage, on balance, was more positive than negative, setting a new standard for unfavorable press coverage of a president.
  • Fox was the only news outlet in the study that came close to giving Trump positive coverage overall, however, there was variation in the tone of Fox’s coverage depending on the topic.



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  1. PDB

     /  20th May 2017

    Talk about cherry-picking one comment in the study summary that was very critical of the MSM (and this from the liberal Harvard).

    ““The press should also start doing what it hasn’t done well for a long time—focus on policy effects. Journalists’ focus on the Washington power game—who’s up and who’s down, who’s getting the better of whom—can be a fascinating story but at the end of the day, it’s food for political junkies. It’s remote enough from the lives of most Americans to convince them that the political system doesn’t speak for them, or to them.

    A broadening of the scope of political coverage would require journalists to spend less time peering at the White House. Our analysis of news coverage of Trump’s first 100 days found that, except for his court-challenged immigration orders, the press paid only minimal attention to Trump’s executive orders. He issued a large number of them, covering everything from financial regulation to climate change. Collectively, these orders, immigration aside, accounted for less than 1 percent of Trump’s coverage, and rarely did a news report track an executive order into the agencies to see how it was being handled.

    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. Nor do all such narratives have to be a tale of woe. America at the moment is a divided society in some respects, but it’s not a broken society and the divisions in Washington are deeper than those beyond the Beltway.”

    You also seem confused as to the more unbiased/serious fox news programmes and the evening fox news opinion shows (Hannity etc) which weren’t part of this study.

    No one is suggesting it should be 50/50 negative/positive coverage but when it 90+% negative on almost any topic to do with the administration you can’t say there is no media bias.

    • “when it 90+% negative on almost any topic to do with the administration”

      Except that isn’t the case.

      First, here’s a chart showing how positive-vs.-negative coverage of Trump has compared to the last three presidents.

      Sources: Stephen J. Farnsworth and S. Robert Lichter, The Mediated President (2006), p. 37 for Clinton and Bush; Center for Media & Public Affairs for Obama; Media Tenor for Trump. Percentages exclude news reports that were neutral in tone, which accounted for about a third of the reports.

      It’s important to note that caption: “Percentages exclude news reports that were neutral in tone, which accounted for about a third of the reports.” So it’s not quite true that 80 percent of all Trump coverage is negative — just that 80 percent of coverage that tilts positive or negative is negative.

      In short, there just wasn’t much positive to focus on.

      Such is the case with Trump. There haven’t been many big successes to speak of in his first 100 days, and from there, his penchant for controversy and the objective disorder in his administration tend to more than fill the vacuum.

      Notably, Harvard defines negative coverage as “stories where the actor is criticized directly” and “stories where an event, trend, or development reflects unfavorably on the actor.” When you do controversial things — which polls show a huge amount of things Trump does are — you get criticized by certain people. And when you promise to accomplish amazing things and the results contradict all that you promised, it’s difficult to cover that as a win.

      • PDB

         /  20th May 2017

        “Percentages exclude news reports that were neutral in tone, which accounted for about a third of the reports.” So it’s not quite true that 80 percent of all Trump coverage is negative — just that 80 percent of coverage that tilts positive or negative is negative.”

        Still doesn’t change the massive bias – so where it was say 90% negative the actual figures would be roughly 33% neutral, 60% negative and only 7% positive.

        It’s clear where you look at the Russia topic where 86% of coverage on Trump is negative even though to date we still have zero evidence of Trump himself being linked to Russia. Again this study isn’t talking about news opinion/entertainment shows/articles but supposedly fair and balanced general news shows and newspapers.

        • Of course coverage related to possible Russian interference in the US election will be mostly negative. You don’t expect US media to be positive about their country’s biggest adversary interfering in their democratic processes do you?

          • PDB

             /  20th May 2017

            Too much to expect news agencies to suggest that until there is concrete evidence of any wrongdoing then we can’t assume guilt of any party? At worst this should be neutrally reported upon with that being the case, the bulk of the negative coverage (we see it daily) on this topic is already suggesting Trump is guilty of colluding with Russia. To say otherwise is being dishonest.

            • “the bulk of the negative coverage (we see it daily) on this topic is already suggesting Trump is guilty of colluding with Russia”

              Can you show where any of those media in the survey have suggested Trump is guilty of colluding with Russia?

            • PDB

               /  20th May 2017

              Note I said ‘suggesting’ PG, not outright saying so but posting enough negative stories (after all the survey shows this) on the Russia subject to put in people’s minds that Trump is guilty without any evidence. Talk of impeachment is the latest buzzword with no reason to be even discussing the subject.

              Death by a thousand media cuts.

            • So where have they suggested it. Links?

              ” Talk of impeachment is the latest buzzword with no reason to be even discussing the subject.”

              So if say a Democrat politician suggests impeachment the media should ignore that and instead cover Trump’s tweets?

            • PDB

               /  20th May 2017

              From the ‘Russia dossier – golden showers’ story (remember that? What happened to that narrative then?) all the way to Comey’s supposed memo that Trump asked him to shut down the Flynn investigation based on anonymous sources the MSM has been relentless in the suggestion that Trump is a Putin puppet. Trump is a lot of things but there is zero proof he is tied up with Russia.

              Trumps tweets?: Trump is an idiot, idiots infest Twitter.

              Democrats calling for impeachment should be dismissed quickly as the US is miles from that happening considering no crime has taken place. Instead the MSM is painting impeachment as a distinct possibility by giving it airtime.

            • “the MSM is painting impeachment as a distinct possibility”

              Can you show here those media in the survey have done that?

              Do you think any parallels between Trump and Nixon should be ignored by the media?

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  20th May 2017


              Google returns 236,000 hits for Trump impeachment from WaPo

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  20th May 2017

              Oops, cut/paste fail.
              trump impeachment

              14,100 results at WaPo

            • That doesn’t tell us much though, does it. Nothing about whether they are reporting it, promoting it, it is mentioned in comments or whatever.

            • PDB

               /  20th May 2017

              CNN for instance is discussing impeachment on a regular basis even though they also acknowledge that the US is a long way from it (so why continue to talk about it?). It’s sort of like when people say “I’m not racist, but……

              Latest examples;

              4 hours ago:
              7 hours ago:

              The Trump and Nixon comparisons are just a beat up in another effort to taint Trump as corrupt with no evidence he is – Nixon WAS corrupt.

              Good look at similarities/differences here:

            • PDB

               /  20th May 2017

              CNN not biased surely?

              “Just over a week after his “eye roll” at Kellyanne Conway went viral, the CNN anchor again sent Twitter into a frenzy with his blunt assertion to a Trump stalwart.

              “If [Mr Trump] took a dump on his desk, you would defend it,” Cooper told political commentator Jeffrey Lord during an interview.”


    • Why did you stop after the second last paragraph? Here is the final paragraph:

      The lesson of the 2016 election has been taken to heart by many journalists. Since Trump’s inauguration, the press has been paying more attention to Main Street. But judging from the extent to which Trump’s voice has dominated coverage of his presidency, the balance is still off. More voices need to be aired.

      Trump might be good for ratings but he’s not the only voice worth hearing. 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.

      When spokespersons for the opposing party get a mere 6 percent of the airtime, something’s amiss.

      Trump and the Republicans dominated coverage, which was more negative than positive.

      They say the biggest bias was against the Democrat side of stories and Democrat stories.

      • PDB

         /  20th May 2017

        Last paragraph wasn’t particularly relevant to the point I was making but I posted the link to the full article in my post in the other thread. News outlets can simply not give Trump so much coverage if overexposure is a problem HOWEVER all the major US news outlets (including failing newspapers) have seen a large boost in readership/viewers since Trump became president hence they choose to continue to focus on him as it’s good for business.

        “They say the biggest bias was against the Democrat side of stories and Democrat stories.”

        Part of the reason so much focus is on Trump is because the democratic party is in disarray, essentially leaderless, in denial as to the real reasons Clinton lost to Trump, and lacking ideas. The MSM/democratic party are hardly wanting to focus on that.

        • PDB

           /  20th May 2017

          To add the last paragraph suggests that the opposition party is the MSM, not the democrats due to the problems they have which I outline above.

          • The Democrats can’t oppose if the media don’t give them coverage.

            There’s certainly serious issues with US media, but this study doesn’t say they are biased against Trump.

            • PDB

               /  20th May 2017

              We agree to disagree then. A simple look at the news shows/papers in this survey would prove bias is rife. If the main newscast at Fox news can be relatively even in their overall coverage of Trump there is no reason other news outlets could not be the same.

            • It doesn’t prove anything of the sort.

        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  20th May 2017

          Democrats have had plenty of coverage. But most were identified only as anonymous present and ex officials.

  2. Conspiratoor

     /  20th May 2017

    Okay, I know it’s boring but here’s some policy amongst the madness, ironically Trump quoting washington post

  3. duperez

     /  20th May 2017

    Someone chucking in a quirky perspective might ask what percentage of media coverage was positive and negative for Hitler in 1933-34. And in the end what it all meant. 🙃

  4. Alan Wilkinson

     /  20th May 2017

    When 40% of the population approve of the President and 80% of the media stories disapprove it is safe to conclude the media is highly biased. It is equally safe to conclude those who believe it is not biased are themselves biased. That means you, PG.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  20th May 2017

      Furthermore when a huge majority of MSM journalists are Democrats rather than Republicans extreme media political bias is hardly surprising.

    • “80% of the media stories disapprove”

      That’s not what the survey measured, simply whether it was a negative, positive or neutral story.

      If Trump sends a stupid tweet and that is reported verbatim without comment it is negative coverage of Trump, but that may have nothing to do with bias – and remember that Trump chooses to speak to the people via Twitter so can’t complain about his stupid tweets being published in stories.

      People who in general approve of Trump may at times disapprove of things he does or tweets.

      I haven’t said media coverage isn’t biased – there’s bias in a lot of media coverage in various ways. The survey found coverage quantity was substantially biased in favour of Trump for example.

      What I’m saying here is that the survey doesn’t claim it measures nor proves bias. Perhaps you’re biased if you can’t understand that.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  20th May 2017

        What I’m saying is that taken in conjunction with surveys of US public opinion it does prove bias.

        • What I’m saying is that the two don’t have anything to do with each other.

          And saying it a different way, it would be ludicrous to try to enforce a match of % approval of the president with % of favourable coverage of politics generally, or of the president, or of anything..

        • Gezza

           /  20th May 2017

          What has happened now is that the msm has gone into overdrive in publishing stories based on gossip, outrageous claims, & anonymous leaks, without any actual fact-checking & verified evidence – something the mainly right wing media & conspiracist media used to do. These leaks are just as damaging to the Obama administration as the Trump administration. Who the hell would trust American Intelligence with anything sensitive now? Who benefits most from this shambles?

        • I don’t think it does. The survey wasn’t designed to measure bias, and neither are approval polls.

          So I don’t know how putting two non-bias measuring percentages together proves bias.

          The survey suggested large quantity bias in favour of Trump and Republicans over Democrats.


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