Earlier this week, Donald Trump acknowledged that the first month of his administration may have had some bumps, especially on messaging. But was the first month only 3% positive? That’s how NBC, CBS, and Fox covered the past five weeks, according to a new report from a media analyst firm, and reported by the Washington Post. The analysis did not come from a partisan organization, but from overseas:
This is based on a new analysis by Media Tenor, an international, independent media research firm. Trained analysts examined 370 news stories about Donald Trump on the “NBC Nightly News,” “CBS Evening News” and Fox News “Special Report” between Jan. 20 and Feb. 17. …
Only 3 percent of the reports about Trump that aired on NBC and CBS were positive, while 43 percent were negative and 54 percent were neutral.
On “Special Report,” the Fox News program that most closely resembles the evening network news, 25 percent of the reports about Trump were negative, compared with 12 percent positive and the remainder neutral. In other words, even the conservative-leaning Fox News featured twice as much bad press as good press.
Interestingly, ABC got left out of the group, an exclusion that seems odd with the inclusion of Fox News Channel, a cable outlet rather than broadcast. In this case, Fox may have been seen as a kind of “control” group, or at least a conservative comparison to the so-called objective news outlets of the alphabet networks. Only in this case, Fox turns out to be somewhat more “fair and balanced,” which will come as no surprise to viewers of Bret Baier’s daily report. Their coverage of news from the Trump administration was only 2:1 negative, while NBC and CBS evening news coverage had a ratio of 14:1 negative.
The trio of academics point out that this stands in stark contrast to the coverage of Barack Obama’s first month, which was “much less negative.” They speculate that this might have something to do with Donald Trump’s war on the media, given his attacks on “fake news” and its purveyors being “enemies of the people,” plus Stephen Bannon’s observation that the media is an “opposition party.” That prompts a chicken-egg argument, however; did Trump’s attacks on the media prompt overwhelmingly negative coverage, or has overwhelmingly negative coverage prompt the attacks on the media?
Sean Spicer complained last month that it’s the latter:
White House press secretary Sean Spicer criticized the media last month for being too negative toward the administration. “The default narrative is always negative, and it’s demoralizing,” Spicer said. “When we’re right, say we’re right. When we’re wrong, say we’re wrong.”
Spending two days discussing whether Kellyanne Conway should have put her feet on the Oval Office couch, rather than focusing on the significance of Trump’s support for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), tends to support Spicer’s point. Granted, there has been plenty of opportunity for critical coverage, but there have also been more positive stories about the first month that should have resulted in 3% positive coverage. Neil Gorsuch’s appointment has been a big success, for instance, and the coordination between Congress and the White House to roll back Obama’s late-term regulations has produced the most significant use of the Congressional Review Act ever.
The takeaway from the lack of positive coverage is that even when the Trump administration succeeds, the networks take it negatively — because of their own political biases. That’s probably the source of the difference between the 2:1 ratio at Fox and the 14:1 ratio at NBC and CBS. Even where Trump’s critics and skeptics on the Right might want to point out errors and shortcomings, the issue of media bias and lack of credibility overshadows such discussions. The hysterical tone of coverage from traditional media outlets not only damages credibility, it damages accountability too.
At least the White House won’t have to worry about those ratios for this news cycle. As Poynter notes, the response from the media to Trump’s speech has been overwhelmingly positive:
If you were out last night, leading a normal life, here’s your CliffsNotes on the media consensus for President Trump big address to Congress:
“Good and polished speech…” “Trump’s best, albeit the bar is low…” “He became ‘presidential…” “Better tone…” “Heavy on nationalism…” “Softer edge for some sharp policies…” “…Will it last?”
Need any more?
The headline? “Trump’s big speech spawns marathon of media fawning.” Ahem. Poynter seems to have moved the goalposts on media fawning over presidents sometime in the past five weeks.