Harvard Study: Media Coverage of Trump’s First 100 Days Sets 'New Standard' In Negativity

Posted: May 19, 2017 12:00 PM

It’s no secret that the media are not President Trump’s loudest cheering section, but a new study released Thursday by Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy lends a certain amount of credence to President Trump’s recent claim that “No politician in history” has been “treated worse or more unfairly” by the media.

The report, based on an analysis of “news reports in the print editions of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post, the main newscasts of CBS, CNN, Fox News, and NBC, and three European news outlets (The UK’s Financial Times and BBC, and Germany’s ARD),” found that media coverage of Trump’s first 100 days “set a new standard for negativity” at 80 percent negative coverage.

Clinton received 60 percent negative coverage during his first 100 days, George W. Bush had 57 percent negative coverage, and Obama had just 41 percent negative coverage.

“Trump’s coverage was unsparing,” the report found. “In no week did the coverage drop below 70 percent negative and it reached 90 percent negative at its peak.”

The period when Trump received his most positive coverage was week 12 of his presidency, when he ordered a missile strike on a Syrian airbase in response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons on civilians. He had 70 percent negative coverage in that week and 30 percent positive.

The high level of negativity comes in unison from six outlets that Trump has called out in the past for frequent attacks.

“CNN and NBC’s coverage was the most unrelenting—negative stories about Trump outpaced positive ones by 13-to-1 on the two networks,” the study found. “Trump’s coverage on CBS also exceeded the 90 percent mark. Trump’s coverage exceeded the 80 percent level in The New York Times (87 percent negative) and The Washington Post (83 percent negative). The Wall Street Journal came in below that level (70 percent negative).”

“Fox was the only outlet where Trump’s overall coverage nearly crept into positive territory—52 percent of Fox’s reports with a clear tone were negative, while 48 percent were positive. Fox’s coverage was 34 percentage points less negative than the average for the other six outlets.”

“Studies of earlier presidents found nothing comparable to the level of unfavorable coverage afforded Trump,” the study’s authors noted, “Should it continue, it would exceed even that received by Bill Clinton. There was not a single quarter during any year of Clinton’s presidency where his positive coverage exceeded his negative coverage, a dubious record no president before or since has matched.”

“Trump can’t top that string of bad news but he could take it to a new level,” they add. “During his first 100 days, Clinton’s coverage was 3-to-2 negative over positive. Trump’s first 100 days were 4-to-1 negative over positive.”

The study’s authors concede that “the sheer level of negative coverage gives weight to Trump’s contention, one shared by his core constituency, that the media are hell bent on destroying his presidency.”

“The public’s low level of confidence in the press is the result of several factors, one of which is a belief that journalists are biased,” they conclude. “That perception weakens the press’s watchdog role. One of the more remarkable features of news coverage of Trump’s first 100 days is that it has changed few minds about the president, for better or worse. The nation’s watchdog has lost much of its bite and won’t regain it until the public perceives it as an impartial broker, applying the same reporting standards to both parties.”