Study: Networks Spent 91 Percent of Summer Airtime Bashing Trump
Mainstream media's White House coverage becomes even more negative over three-month span
President Donald Trump was subjected to a blistering summer of evening news coverage that proved to be 91 percent negative, according to a study released Tuesday by the Media Research Center (MRC).
MRC researchers analyzed every mention of Trump and his administration on ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News shows every day since Trump’s inauguration on January 20. During the months of June, July and August, Trump received overwhelmingly hostile coverage, as 91 percent of the 1,567 evaluative statements made about the president and his administration were negative. Only 195 of the statements were positive.
"This is ABC, CBS, NBC — they're the elite media headquartered in New York City, and they don't like Donald Trump," Rich Noyes, MRC's research director and a co-author of the report, told LifeZette. "If the press were to step out of the political playing field and back into the umpire role, I think people would have a lot more respect for their opinions."
The 91 percent negative treatment the three networks' evening programs allotted Trump rose from the 89 percent negative coverage he received during the first 80 days of his administration, MRC found. Noyes pointed out that the 91 percent negative coverage mirrored the 91 percent negative treatment MRC found that Trump received during the course of his 2016 presidential campaign.
"I think, you know, if you go back to the campaign, they were stridently negative in their coverage of him as a candidate," he said.
But over the summer, Noyes noted, "if you look at the coverage, it was a hyper-reaction to virtually everything he did as president," which reporters regarded "as scandalous" and "highly controversial." Thus, journalists sought out sources and pundits who were "appalled" by Trump's actions and gave them prominent airtime.
In their methodology, the MRC researchers sought "to isolate the networks' own slant, not the back-and-forth of partisan politics" and "soundbites which merely showcased the traditional party line" of Republicans supporting Trump and Democrats criticizing him.
"This is really more journalism, reporters, average citizens, experts, the talking heads like that are trying to sort of impart a spin," Noyes said. "And story after story, event after event, something happens and they flock to the people who have something critical to say about it."
In their overall coverage of the Trump administration, the three news networks gravitated toward four main topics: allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 campaign, unsuccessful efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare, escalating global tensions with a nuclear North Korea, and the president's response to a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12.
Approximately 94 percent of the 415 minutes spent on Russia-centric stories were negative, MRC found.
"There were some real developments that happened in June, July and August in that," Noyes said of the Russia-related coverage. "But the amount of coverage it got, about a quarter of all of the coverage was just so extraordinary. I mean, it was a lot of speculation, it was taking little developments and building them up, and it was extremely negative."
Roughly 97 percent of the 176 minutes spent discussing the Senate's summer failure to follow the House's lead in approving a health care bill were negative.
"The coverage there was dominated by people who didn't like the bill, average citizens who thought they were going to be shortchanged by it. There was no sense of support anywhere for that bill," Noyes said. "It was nothing close to the debate that we had over Obamacare eight years ago when the coverage was filled with people who thought they might be beneficiaries of it."
"And what was buried was any sense that this would be bad for businesses, bad for taxpayers, create an unsustainable entitlement for the economy. All the bad news was put aside then to trumpet the good," he continued, noting that it's a "night and day" difference in coverage "between these two presidents."
Meanwhile, approximately 86 percent of the 136 minutes allotted to discussing Trump's response to North Korea's threats was derisive. And although Charlottesville only occurred midway through August, its position as the fourth most negatively discussed topic — with 97 percent of its 97 minutes of collective airtime clocking in as negative — was enough to showcase the media's sweeping disdain for how Trump handled the controversy.
"The media I think here are regarding themselves as the opposition party. Under President Obama, I think reporters got comfortable seeing their job as explaining what the Obama administration was doing. They didn't have that belligerent, hostile approach that needed to counter and confront and fact-check and debunk everything the Obama administration was doing," Noyes said.
As for the 9 percent positive coverage Trump and his administration received throughout the summer, Noyes noted that it most often resulted from reporters taking the time to track down Trump supporters who live "outside the Beltway" and asking them, "Are you still supporting him?"
"And they'd all say yes," he said. "It wasn't reporters doing it themselves. It was going out and sort of testing the pulse of the people now and then. But again, very little of that. If they had done that as much as they'd done people who were discontented, you'd have something approaching balance. But there was not balance."
Although ABC, CBS and NBC showed little love for Trump in their evening programs throughout the summer, Noyes said he believes it didn't affect the people's perception of the president "that much," even though his poll numbers slipped "a little bit" from where they resided in January.
"My guess is the people who have been enthusiastic about Trump through all of this take ABC, CBS and NBC being so negative as sort of a sign or certification that he's doing a good job. We're such a polarized country," Noyes said. "If they were to give him balanced coverage, I think it would be better for the media."
Trump has railed repeatedly against the "fake news" he says the mainstream media outlets spout against him, and he often calls out specific outlets for their general coverage or individual stories.
"The way [the media are] reacting seems to confirm [Trump's] charge," Noyes said. "You know, the correct response to being called 'fake news' is to be the most responsible, professional, objective reporters you can be."
"We've seen that a lot of these TV journalists are thin-skinned and get their backs up when they get called names, and it sort of lures them into being much more confrontational and hostile than they might otherwise be," he added. "But they reacted to his hostility with their own hostility. And I think what that does is, it degrades them as objective professionals and sort of cements the charge that they really are just partisans out there being the opposition."
Going forward through the rest of 2017, Noyes and MRC don't expect the mainstream media outlets to change much in how they cover the president and his administration.
"The press might change its stripes if the president moves in a more democratic direction," Noyes said, noting that Trump received an unusual amount of positive coverage over the last week after he bucked his own party and made a deal with the Democrats to raise the debt ceiling.
"But I think, you know, that would just reinforce once again the idea that they're liberals looking for their preferred policy outcomes rather than journalists trying to objectively cover the world if something like that could make them turn, change the way they are covering this president," he concluded.