TV vs. Trump in 2018: Lots of Russia, and 91% Negative Coverage (Again!)

March 6th, 2018 8:40 AM

So far, 2018 looks an awful lot like 2017 — at least when it comes to the broadcast networks’ hostile approach to Donald Trump. A Media Research Center analysis of the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts in January and February found ten times more negative comments about the President than positive statements, and found the ongoing Russia investigation once again swamped all other topics.

For this study, MRC analysts looked at all 505 evening news stories that mentioned President Trump or his administration in January and February. Out of 851 total minutes of airtime devoted to the administration, the networks spent almost one-fourth of it (204 minutes, or 24%) on the Russia investigation, eclipsing other major topics such as the economy, immigration reform, and even the gun debate.

Since Trump took office on January 20, 2017, the three broadcast evening newscasts have spent a combined 1,438 minutes on the Russia investigation, accounting for more than one out of every five minutes (21%) of coverage of the Trump presidency.

Network coverage has also emphasized the drama of Trump’s presidency while giving short shrift to its substance. In January and February, nearly 63 percent of news coverage was devoted to scandals like the Russia investigation, plus tabloid fodder such as the domestic abuse scandal involving White House aide Rob Porter (54 minutes), the fallout from Michael Wolff’s book about the Trump White House (53 minutes), reports that the President made disparaging comments about African nations in a closed-door meeting (31 minutes), along with dozens of other controversies the networks deemed worthy of airtime.

During those same months, coverage of policy issues such as immigration reform (100 minutes), the government shutdown (84 minutes), and gun control (63 minutes) amounted to just 37 percent of Trump’s coverage. Among the important substantive issues getting relatively little coverage so far this year: the continued strong economy and jobs (12 minutes); the positive impact of the big tax cuts passed in December (9 minutes); and the fight against al Qaeda and ISIS (a mere 1 minute, 23 seconds).

Our analysts also measured the spin of coverage by tallying all evaluative statements about the President and his top officials uttered by anchor, reporters or non-partisan news sources such as experts or voters. Out of a total of 712 such evaluative comments, only 65 were positive (9%) vs. 647 which were negative, or 91 percent. (Neutral statements, as well as the comments of partisans, were excluded from this measure).

This is essentially unchanged from the 90 percent negative coverage we documented for all of 2017, and matches the 91 percent negative coverage we tallied during the 2016 general election campaign. Without question, no President has ever been on the receiving end of such hostile coverage, for such a sustained period of time, as has Trump — and the midterm elections are still eight months away.

Thanks to MRC intern Bill D’Agostino and former MRC research analyst Mike Ciandella for assisting with this report.