Study covers media outlet coverage of Trump’s first 100 days
Pew Research Center has released an extensive report on the media coverage of President Trump’s first 100 days. There are a lot of interesting tidbits throughout, but the overriding conclusion is the right-leaning outlets were more neutral in their coverage than left-leaning or “mixed” outlets.
Further, Pew found that right-leaning outlets were more likely to present negative Trump stories than left-leaning outlets were likely to present positive Trump stories.
Pew provides an overview of its selection of news outlets for this study:
For this study, researchers categorized 24 news outlets into three groups by the political makeup of their audiences: Outlets whose audience – as measured using Pew Research Center surveys – consists of two-thirds more members who are right of center politically than left, two-thirds who are more left of center than right, and outlets with a more evenly distributed audience base.
. . . . Researchers selected outlets for inclusion in the study based on audience reach. For all online outlets, researchers selected sites with at least 20 million average unique monthly visitors during November and December of 2016 and at least 15 million from the first quarter of 2017, according to comScore data. From that list, researchers excluded sites that did not largely focus on political or general news. For newspaper websites, five top tier newspapers – based on total circulation according to the Alliance for Audited Media – that offer daily coverage of national affairs and met the same website traffic thresholds were included.
For cable, four evening programs from each of the three networks (CNN, Fox News and MSNBC) were selected. Broadcast television includes the nightly news from all three networks plus PBS. Within radio, researchers selected the top two talk radio shows by ratings, according to Talkers.com, as well as the morning and afternoon news programs from NPR. Websites for TV and radio outlets were also included if they met the same threshold as digital-native outlets. The volume of content sampled for each outlet was based on factors such as audience reach and the amount of news content produced on a daily basis.
You can read the details of Pew’s methodology here.
Following is the Pew breakdown and overview of each of the top three cable news outlets used in the study: Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC.
Fox News was more apt than other outlets appealing to a right-leaning audience to cover immigration, cite Trump/ administration sources and members of Congress, but less likely to be driven by the news media.
. . . . CNN coverage focused more on U.S.-Russia relations and the president’s political skills, cited fewer experts and interest groups than other outlets with a mixed audience, and was more often triggered by Trump/administration.
. . . . MSNBC’s coverage was considerably more negative, less likely to cite experts and interest groups, and focused more on U.S.-Russia relations and Trump’s political skills than other outlets with left-leaning audience.
Study: Fox IJR Hannity Breitbart more likely to have negative story about Trump than NYT Vox Politico, WP, et al to have positive one. pic.twitter.com/ek86psyGAA
— Byron York (@ByronYork) October 4, 2017
Pew found that media coverage of Trump’s first 100 days was significantly more negative than that of previous presidents.
Compared with the first 60 days of the Clinton, Bush and Obama presidencies, news outlets’ evaluations of Trump’s start in office were far more negative and less positive. About six-in-ten news stories about Trump’s first 60 days (62%) carried an overall negative assessment of his words or actions. That is about three times more negative than for Obama (20%) and roughly twice that of Bush and Clinton (28% each).
Coverage was also far less positive, with just 5% of stories conveying an overall positive assessment of the president and the administration. This is in sharp contrast to Obama’s first days in 2009, when 42% of the stories offered an overall positive assessment. While the difference is less pronounced, coverage of Bush’s and Clinton’s early days was still at least four times as positive as Trump’s (22% and 27%, respectively).
Both Clinton and Bush received more balanced shares of positive and negative coverage (between 22% and 28%), while 44% and 49% of stories respectively had neither a positive nor negative overall assessment.
While it’s not surprising to see that Pew found coverage of President Trump’s first 100 days to be more negative than that of previous presidents, their findings also reveal a shift in focus from previous presidents to Trump.
Instead of focusing mainly on a given president’s policy agenda and ideology as has been done in the past, coverage of Trump was focused on his leadership and character.
Another major difference between the coverage of Trump’s first days in office and that of his last three predecessors is in the way journalists framed the coverage of the day’s events – whether more around leadership and character or the policy agenda and ideology of the president and new administration.
In previous years, the leadership and character frame never comprised more than half of overall coverage. In 2017, however, nearly seven-in-ten stories (69%) employed this lens. Coverage focusing on ideology and agenda, on the other hand, dropped from 50% in 2009 (a level lower than previous years) to about a third (31%) in 2017.
Another interesting point blows up the leftist talking point that the NRA is some kind of right-wing puppet master. Right-leaning outlets didn’t cite the NRA that much at all (5%); by contrast, left-leaning and “mixed” outlets quoted the NRA, one of their favorite boogeymen, much more often (16%).
Outlets with a right-leaning audience were roughly one-fourth as likely as outlets with a left-leaning audience to cite at least one outside expert in their stories (5% compared with 22%) and about one-third as likely to do so as outlets with a more mixed audience (16%).
Similarly, statements from issue groups such as the Sierra Club, National Rifle Association or U.S. Travel Association appeared in just 5% of stories from outlets with a right-leaning audience, compared with 16% of those with a left-leaning and 14% of those with a more mixed audience.
This makes sense because Pew plays a bit fast and loose with the term “expert,” including representatives from “interest or issue groups.” This speaks well, I think, of right-leaning outlets. Some random guy who says he’s with Black Lives Matter or who heads up the local chapter of the “I hate Donald Trump” club are not issue “experts” in the usually-accepted sense of the word.
Pew also found that right-leaning outlets were far less likely to include the Democrat point of view on a given topic.
Additionally, coverage from outlets appealing to a right-leaning audience was half as likely as coverage from the other two groups to cite both a Democratic and Republican Congress member in the same story – 7%, versus 14% among outlets with left-leaning and 15% among outlets with a more mixed audience.
One area where outlets with a more mixed audience differed from the others was in the use of journalists as sources. While members of the news media were cited in about four-in-ten stories from both outlets with a right- and left-leaning audience (41% and 39%, respectively), they appeared in just a quarter of stories from outlets with a more mixed audience. This is in sync with the lower tendency of this group to produce stories that stemmed from a journalist’s own statement, action or investigative reporting.
Playing into this result, however, is the fact that most Democrats and left-leaning groups simply refuse to appear on Fox News or to be interviewed by other right-leaning media outlets. Fox anchors and right-leaning news outlets are constantly saying, “we invited left-wing so-and-so to appear on this program/respond to this story, but . . . “.
Pew notes that the reporters at left-leaning outlets were far more likely to editorialize and refute statements made by the president.
Overall, the reporter or anchor directly refuted something President Trump or his administration said in one-in-ten stories studied. But this was about seven times as likely to occur in coverage from outlets appealing to a left-leaning audience (15%) than a right-leaning audience (2%). This occurred in stories from outlets with a more mixed audience 10% of the time.
Looking more deeply into the outlet groups where this was more common (outlets with a left-leaning or more mixed audience), refutations were most likely to appear around the topic of the president’s political skills (27% and 25% of stories, respectively) than any of the other five prominent topics.
For example, in a CNN piece reviewing the president’s first week in office, the reporter stated that Trump “vowed to pursue a ‘major investigation’ into the massive voter fraud conspiracy he’s peddled as a means of explaining away his loss in the presidential popular vote – even though there is, again, no evidence anything of the sort occurred.”
Additionally, for both of these outlet groups – those with a left-leaning audience and those with a more mixed audience – stories with a refutation were more likely to be negative in tone than those without a refutation.
Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.