The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Study: 91 percent of recent network Trump coverage has been negative

President Trump speaks at the 9/11 observance at the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial in Arlington on Sept. 11. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The mainstream-media critics over at the Media Research Center have been evaluating “evaluative” statements about President Trump on the three main nightly newscasts — ABC’s “World News Tonight,” “CBS Evening News” and “NBC Nightly News.” Over the summer — June, July and August — 91 percent of such statements have been negative, as opposed to 9 percent positive, the organization has determined. “Analyzing the networks’ spin makes it clear that the goal of all of this heavy coverage is not to promote the President, but to punish him,” write Rich Noyes and Mike Ciandella in a posting on NewsBusters, the very prolific blog of the MRC.

For the sake of comparison, Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center earlier this year found that negative Trump coverage swamped positive Trump coverage over his first 100 days in office. See the chart below, but beware: Those red and green bars don’t include a significant portion of the coverage that Shorenstein categorized as “neutral.”

In their nightly newscasts over the summer, the MRC found, the big three networks covered the Russia investigation with 415 minutes (94 percent negative); the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare with 176 minutes (97 percent negative); the North Korean nuclear saber-rattling with 136 minutes (86 percent negative); and Trump’s reaction to the violence in Charlottesville with 97 minutes (97 percent negative). “All Presidents deserve critical news coverage from time to time, but the relentlessly hostile coverage Trump has seen thus far is as much a reflection of the media’s ideological bias as anything else,” conclude Noyes and Ciandella.

Perhaps it’s as much a reflection of reality as anything else. Take Obamacare: Here, the president promised to do away with his predecessor’s signature domestic program and has failed to deliver. Meanwhile, his administration has proceeded to undercut the existing system. Just what would positive coverage look like? And on the mid-August Charlottesville rallying with neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan groups: One day, Trump was citing problems with “both sides”; then, in prepared remarks, he called out neo-Nazis; then he returned to his both-sides line of analysis. How to engineer a positive spin on that progression?

Another finding in the MRC analysis relates to volume. Whereas the networks devoted just 10 percent of their airtime to President Barack Obama in 2015 and 2016, according to the MRC, they’re bingeing on Trump. More than a third of their airtime over the summer hovered over Trump, and more in the preceding months. Again, there’s a reality-based explanation here. Trump appears to relish creating news, which he frequently does on his Twitter account and elsewhere. Remember his explanation as to why he announced the pardoning of former Maricopa County, Ariz., sheriff Joe Arpaio just as Hurricane Harvey bore down on Texas? “In the middle of a hurricane, even though it was a Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they were normally,” said the president.