Accuracy in Media

Mainstream media TV networks spent 2017 bashing President Trump in every way imaginable — but it’s not just an overreaction by his supporters.  

The Washington Post analyzed closed captioning from news programs every hour of every day from five networks – Bloomberg, CNN, CNBC, Fox Business, Fox News and MSNBC – and found words typically associated with lines of attack against the president were the clear leaders for most mentioned of the year.

No word appeared more than “Russia,” which peaked Jan. 2, when Fox Business mentioned it in more than 3 percent of its sentences that day but was mentioned heavily and regularly throughout the year on CNN and MSNBC, with fewer mentions on Fox News. “Russia” ruled the roost throughout the year, except during late-August through mid-September, when three hurricanes pounded the U.S.

The Supreme Court also garnered a lot of mentions, particularly from late January, when Neil Gorsuch was nominated to succeed Antonin Scalia, through early April, when Gorsuch was confirmed. It peaked on Feb. 1 when MSNBC mentioned “Supreme Court” in 4.5 percent of its sentences.

Then, it was off to Obamacare and the Trump administration’s attempts to get Congress to repeal it. The topic peaked on March 25, when CNN mentioned it in 3.6 percent of its sentences. But it spiked again in May, when the House passed its version, twice in the summer, when the Senate took close votes but failed to advance the measure, and again, to a lesser extent, in October, when efforts emerged to include it in the tax legislation now nearing passage.

“North Korea” spiked four times – all at or near the occasion of various missile tests. It peaked on Feb. 12 when CNN mentioned North Korea in 8.2 percent of its sentences, then peaked again in August, when President Trump called Kim Jong Un ‘Rocket Man’ and told Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, via Twitter, that he was wasting his time talking to the North Korean leader.

May was the big month for mentions of “FBI.” That was both the month when James Comey was fired as the bureau’s director and when former director Robert Mueller was tapped to serve as special counsel to investigate alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. election. “FBI” began to creep back up in November and has had a mini-spike in December as reports have emerged of FBI agents possibly conspiring to keep the president out of office or remove him if necessary.

The only significant mention of climate change in 2017 came not during the hurricanes or other weather events but in June, when the president pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate accords. The peak came on June 2, when CNN mentioned climate change in 1.6 percent of its sentences. It also was a major peak for Bloomberg, which covered the financial aspects of the U.S. removing itself from the Paris accords.

Hurricanes were not mentioned until they became a captivating national story in late summer, when three swept through the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, and Texas sustained the largest rainfall on record. The story got its biggest play on MSNBC and CNN, which sought to blame President Trump for perceived problems with the response.

Later in the year, sexual assault became a big story with revelations that Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood studio executive, had harassed dozens of women and forced others to provide sex or lose out on their careers. The story returned to prominence as various other men in entertainment, journalism and politics found themselves accused of harassment and spiked in the two weeks leading up to the Alabama Senate election.

But again proving Trump’s ability to control the narrative, the phrase “tax reform” held strong in the news all year. It peaked on March 24, when CNBC, upon seeing the first proposed drafts, mentioned it in 3 percent of its sentences. But it produced mini-spikes throughout the spring and again throughout the fall. 

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