As Hillary Clinton prepares to promote her new book on her election loss in 2016, simply titled What Happened, the rest of us prepare to hear every excuse about how her allegedly inevitable juggernaut landed in a ditch. The most implausible villain in this scenario is the liberal media, that somehow they were disloyal to the Clintons and were “played by the Republicans.”
Hillary die-hards are promoting a new report from Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center which insists the press was remarkably unfair to the Clinton campaign. Clinton aide Peter Daou tweeted out the study, insisting it should “result in mass apologies from the media.”
The Berkman Klein study offered this key finding: “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...Immigration and Muslims/Islam were the two most widely covered substantive issues of the campaign.”
No one can plausibly argue the media was nicer to Donald Trump than they were to Hillary Clinton, or treated his policy proposals with more respect. They covered Trump’s immigration and Islam comments as horribly scandalous, while they dismissed Hillary’s scandals like the private email server as a “stupid issue” (John Dickerson, CBS).
To assess this study’s claims, there are fundamental questions: What is the time frame of this research? And how is “the press” defined?
The study period began on May 1, 2015 and went through Election Day. So it’s plausible that the media’s horror at Trump’s comments on immigration by Mexicans and Muslims were a dominant topic. For most of the early months, Hillary’s campaign avoided the press and tried to center her race on her qualities more than her policies – on competence and experience, suggesting Trump had neither.
When most people hear the term “the press,” they think of the traditional press, the so-called “objective” media outlets. But this Harvard study defined the “press” by including a bunch of “hyperpartisan” sites, from Breitbart on the right to the Daily Kos on the left. They used a social-media component, studying the most-shared stories of the campaign. That might be interesting, but it’s not studying “press coverage” as most people understand it.
MSNBC host Ari Melber summarized their finding on media consumption: “Clinton supporters shared actual news stories from news outlets that they liked. And Trump supporters shared opinion pieces from partisan and propaganda outlets. So, Clinton’s top sources were journalists like the New York Times, Washington Post, and Politico, while Trump supporters – according to this massive amount of data -- chose partisan outlets like The Daily Caller and Breitbart.”
Try not to laugh at the idea that The New York Times and The Washington Post were nonpartisan outlets with no animus against Trump and no favoritism toward Hillary.
But here’s where we scream “Buyer beware” on these studies of campaign bias. Did the Harvard researchers actually read each story for its contents? No. They offered “Content analysis using automated tools.” They had “Media Cloud” software scan sentences...because their sample was literally millions of stories. This is as nebulous as counting the number of Google mentions of a topic to define if it was “overcovered” or “undercovered.” At least another Harvard outfit, the Shorenstein Center, issues studies “conducted by trained full-time employees who visually evaluate the content.”
Hillary can't blame the liberal media for her defeat. It's not fair to blame journalists for sharing her blindness to how half the country dismisses them as arrogant elitists who won't let "deplorables" have any voice in how America evolves.