A study from Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center provides overwhelming evidence that the mainstream media were instrumental in electing Donald Trump. The key takeaway:
“Donald Trump succeeded in shaping the election agenda. Coverage of Trump overwhelmingly outperformed coverage of Clinton. Clinton’s coverage was focused on scandals, while Trump’s coverage focused on his core issues.”
The chart below illustrates the staggeringly disproportionate focus on Hillary Clinton’s emails.
With few exceptions, mainstream reporters, editors, and pundits categorically refuse to accept responsibility for their hostile and lopsided coverage of Clinton, preferring to blame her for their faults. But charts don’t lie and this one, from Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, speaks volumes:
The mainstream media’s stubborn refusal to admit culpability in Trump’s election is curious, considering a number of prominent journalists are on record conceding broad-based antagonism toward Clinton in the press.
- As far back as 2014, Chuck Todd said, I don’t think the country has Clinton fatigue. I think the media has Clinton fatigue. You can sort of feel it.”
- In the summer of 2015, Jonathan Allen explained the Clinton Rules: “The Clinton rules are driven by reporters’ and editors’ desire to score the ultimate prize in contemporary journalism: the scoop that brings down Hillary Clinton and her family’s political empire.”
- In 2016, Mark Halperin admitted that “there’s a deep well of anti-Clinton sentiment in the press.”
How else to explain a headline like this?
Questioning the media is standard operating procedure in politics and because of that, reporters are inclined to attribute all criticism to partisanship. However, the profoundly unjust treatment of Clinton (including 600 consecutive days of email coverage) is unlike anything we’ve seen in U.S. politics, evidenced by the double standard in coverage of private emails used by senior Trump administration officials.
Clinton’s emails were “covered more than Watergate or any political scandal in U.S. history,”[email protected] on #TheBeat
In 2016, Paul Senatori, chief analytics officer of media research firm mediaQuant, told the Washington Post, “it’s amazing that Hillary Clinton has gotten more negative sentiment than Trump.” “Amazing” is an understatement.
Indignant denials notwithstanding, the conclusion is inescapable: The mainstream media tilted the playing field in favor of Donald Trump.
By any standard of fairness, that is a travesty.
UPDATE: A new Washington Post analysis provides further confirmation of the mainstream media’s abject failure in 2016.
BuzzFeed recently interviewed a number of the women who came forward with allegations about Trump, asking them about how they viewed that experience in light of the new revelations against film producer Harvey Weinstein. One woman said that she was glad Weinstein was fired from his production company, but was disappointed about how the allegations against Trump had been “brushed . . . under the rug.”
The last month of the 2016 — like so many periods over the last two years — was choked with new revelations and surprises. On the day the “Access Hollywood” tape was released — right after it was released, in fact — WikiLeaks also began to dump a set of emails stolen from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. Later in the month, then-FBI Director James B. Comey announced that his agency was investigating newly discovered emails from Clinton, a revelation that some have credited with dooming Clinton’s candidacy.
That was the main rug under which the allegations against Trump were swept: Stories about Clinton’s email server. Analysis of closed captioning from news programs over that period, compiled by the TV News Archive, makes that clear.
News programs covered the “Access Hollywood” tape heavily after its release and on an ongoing basis through the rest of the election. But discussion of Clinton and WikiLeaks was much heavier.
Columbia Journalism Review conducted an in-depth study of mainstream media coverage and found a clear bias against Hillary Clinton:
The research team [counted] sentences that appeared in mainstream media sources and classifying each as detailing one of several Clinton- or Trump-related issues. In particular, they classified each sentence as describing either a scandal (e.g., Clinton’s emails, Trump’s taxes) or a policy issue (Clinton and jobs, Trump and immigration). They found roughly four times as many Clinton-related sentences that described scandals as opposed to policies, whereas Trump-related sentences were one-and-a-half times as likely to be about policy as scandal.
Given the sheer number of scandals in which Trump was implicated—sexual assault; the Trump Foundation; Trump University; redlining in his real-estate developments; insulting a Gold Star family; numerous instances of racist, misogynist, and otherwise offensive speech—it is striking that the media devoted more attention to his policies than to his personal failings. Even more striking, the various Clinton-related email scandals—her use of a private email server while secretary of state, as well as the DNC and John Podesta hacks—accounted for more sentences than all of Trump’s scandals combined (65,000 vs. 40,000) and more than twice as many as were devoted to all of her policy positions.
And to this day, virtually no accountability:
Clinton did get a raw deal from the press, which largely ignored her on serious policy and allowed Trump to frame the coverage.
The campaign exposed the worst characteristics of the media — its addiction to the sensational, its propensity for overkill, and its profit-driven desire for clicks and ratings.
As a Tyndall Report study noted, the major TV networks gave 220 minutes to policy in 2008. In 2012, it was 114 minutes. In 2016, it was 32 minutes.
The email story, by contrast, got 100 minutes of airtime.
Given that this helped put a narcissistic reality TV star with no governing experience in the Oval Office, some soul-searching is in order.
Is that happening? There’s precious little evidence.