Accuracy in Media

On the day Donald Trump became president, the Washington Post ran a cartoon by Tom Toles in which Toles gave Trump what Herblock, the liberal Post cartoonist for the 40 years before Toles, had given Richard Nixon – a clean shave.

All that had come before was forgiven, the cartoonist was saying. Every president started with a clean shave.

It did not last long. According to a new report from, coverage of Trump’s first 60 days in office was more than twice as negative as that of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush in their respective first 60 days and more than three times as negative as that of Barack Obama.

In Clinton’s first 60 days in 1993, 28 percent of the stories were negative, 27 percent positive and 44 percent neither, according to the study.

In Bush’s first 60 days in 2001, 28 percent were negative, 22 percent positive and 49 percent neither. The press embraced Obama from his first day in office, and the results show it – 42 percent were positive, 20 percent negative and 38 percent neither.

But for Trump, 62 percent of the stories have been negative and just 5 percent positive with the rest neither. 

Stories were considered negative or positive only if two-thirds of the comments in those stories went one way or the other. The study analyzed more than 3,000 stories from 24 media outlets, including TV radio and the web – all of which ran in the first 100 days of the Trump administration.

Left-leaning and mixed-audience outlets were far more likely to quote members of Congress, to challenge the veracity of administration claims and to use friendly experts in their stories, the study found. They were five times more likely to produce negative stories than right-of-center publications, and more than half the news from conservative websites contained no discernible bias.

The mainstream media wrote more about Trump’s political skills than anything else – with 17 percent of all stories during the period dealing with this topic. Next on the list of frequent topics were immigration (14 percent), appointments and nominations (13 percent), U.S.-Russia relations (13 percent) and health care (9 percent).

This despite the fact many of Trump’s biggest accomplishments have come in other areas – the economy, energy and the environment, education policy and foreign relations.

Instead, the travel ban on countries with significant terrorism ties dominated immigration news, despite the fact Trump’s stepped-up border enforcement has reduced illegal entry into the United States by 70 percent.

Allegations of Trump using the Russians to discredit Hillary Clinton during the campaign dominated coverage of U.S.-Russia relations and all foreign policy for that matter. They got far more play than Trump’s successes at involving Middle East governments, including Saudi Arabia and some of the Gulf states, in efforts to curb transnational terrorism.

Three-fourths of stories focused on President Trump’s leadership and character, as opposed to his policy agenda. Negative assessments outstripped positive assessments by 4:1.

Mainstream media had to admit Trump has dominated the news cycles since he took office. The study found 45 percent of stories during the period were initiated by words or actions taken by Trump or members of his administration, and Trump administration sources were cited in 74 percent of those stories. The next most-used category of sources was the news media covering and quoting itself – at 35 percent, followed by congressional Republicans at 26 percent, congressional Democrats at 21 percent, experts at 16 and interest groups at 13. 

By contrast, other media reports generated 19 percent of stories studied, statements or actions by members of Congress accounted for 10 percent and all other government for 15.

Trump is our first president to use social media extensively, and mainstream media has been forced to cover his views in his words as a result. The study found 16 percent of stories across all categories and ideological viewpoints contained at least one Trump tweet.

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