Across the Spectrum 2 - Comparing Media Coverage of Trump's Administration from 2/16/17 to 3/1/17
Through March 1st, 2017, Donald Trump had been President of the United States for 41 days. Less than a month and a half is hardly enough time to determine whether we're headed for a nuclear apocalypse, class warfare, an alliance with Russia, or a free-market utopia. While I believe his Presidency will wind up somewhere on the bad side of average and hope it will be uneventful, news coverage is more dramatic. I've always found claims of media bias hypocritical given that bias is inherent and 76% of Americans regularly get news from the same sources...
...but I don't think large media corporations ever claimed to be not-for-profit enterprises. Personally, I think they're all biased, which is why we're here: to compare and contrast coverage of the same events across multiple sources. If you want more background on choosing the six sources below, check out our original post. If you read that or if you don't care, let's move on to examining the second half of February.
As a reminder, the format for each topic's summary will be:
- Source: Headline (Character Count | Trump-Critical Sources Quoted | Trump-Supportive Sources Quoted)
February 16th: President Trump's First Press Conference
- New York Times: 'I Inherited a Mess,' Trump Says, Defending His Performance (11,157 | 0 | 1)
- Washington Post: Trump Calls the Media 'the Enemy of the American People' (6,168 | 0 | 1)
- BBC: Trump Launches Stinging Attack on Media (5,237 | 0 | 1)
- Yahoo! News: Real Leaks Bring Fake News, Trump Says as he Blasts Media (9,524 | 0 | 1)
- Fox News: 'I Inherited a Mess': Trump Holds Press Conference, Blasts Media Dishonesty (4,453 | 0 | 2)
- Breitbart: Donald Trump Trashes Media in Epic-Long Press Conference (1,517 | 0 | 1)
Analysis: All six sources heavily quoted President Trump himself. The New York Times, BBC, and Yahoo! News articles all mentioned the suspended Travel Ban and Trump's interaction with African-American reporter April Ryan, who asked if he would meet with the Congressional Black Caucus about his urban agenda. Trump responded by asking if they (the CBC) were friends of hers, and if she would set up a meeting.
Both the Washington Post and Yahoo! News covered the "Mainstream Media Accountability Survey" sent by Trump's campaign to his supporters shortly after the speech.
Neither Fox News nor Breitbart touched on the Travel Ban or the President's interaction with April Ryan, but both implicated other sources as biased. Fox News was a bit more subtle, quoting the Office of the Director of National Intelligence referring to a Wall Street Journal report as inaccurate. Breitbart simply asserted that other outlets were committed to making Trump look bad:
February 19th: Trump Mentions Sweden in Rally
- New York Times: 'Last Night in Sweden'? Trump's Remark Baffles a Nation (7,069 | 6 | 1)
- Washington Post: Sweden has no idea what Trump meant when he said, ‘You look at what’s happening … in Sweden’ (5,676 | 3 | 1)
- BBC: Trump refers to non-existent Sweden terror incident (5,156 | 3 | 1)
- Yahoo! News: Sweden to Trump: What happened last night? (4,382 | 4 | 0)
- Fox News: Trump may have been unclear, but Sweden experiencing a migrant crime wave (5,842 | 1 | 5)
- Breitbart: Trump refers to non-existent Sweden terror incident (3,271 | 3 | 1)
Analysis: The Fox News article is clearly the outlier here, supporting the notion that Trump's remarks were related to a possible uptick in crime after Sweden accepted over 250,000 asylum-seekers in the past three years. The rest of the article focuses on crime statistics with little frame of reference: the second paragraph itemizes a five-day stretch of crimes in the city of Orebro, and later an increase in hand grenade attacks from 48 in 2015 to 52 in 2016 is described as a "jump". I think we can all agree zero hand grenade attacks is ideal, but the statistical significance there is dubious.
The New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, and Fox News pieces all cite Fox News's Tucker Carlson Tonight as the inspiration for Trump's comments. The first three also include quotes from filmmaker Ami Horowitz, Carlson's guest during the segment, while Fox News does not.
February 22nd: White House Rescinds Support of Obama's Transgender Student Bathroom Directives
- New York Times: Trump Rescinds Rules on Bathrooms for Transgender Students (9,406 | 2 | 1)
- Washington Post: Trump administration rolls back protections for transgender students (12,762 | 5 | 3)
- BBC: Trump rescinds transgender bathroom rules from Obama era (3,843 | 2 | 1)
- Yahoo! News: Trump administration lifts transgender bathroom guidance (5,366 | 4 | 2)
- Fox News: Trump administration revokes Obama-era transgender bathroom guidance for schools (5,218 | 6 | 2)
- Breitbart: Report: Donald Trump Overrides Betsy DeVos’ Support for Obama’s Pro-Transgender Policy (5,939 | 1 | 0)
Analysis: It seems Transgender issues struck a chord with Breitbart, whose article came in at nearly 6,000 characters, 33% longer than the average piece we've reviewed from them. While coverage from the first five sources was roughly similar (they all depicted a disagreement between Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, among other things), Breitbart's article focused on the cost of potential lawsuits against single-sex institutions.
Most notably, Breitbart is the only source to use quotation marks around "gender identity" and NOT refer to transgender individuals by the gender they identify with:
The right-most source also presented the most sensationalized coverage, positing that former-President Obama's directive would "give federal police power to the nation’s small population of 'transgender' men and women", whatever the hell that means.
February 24th: White House Asks FBI to Refute Reports of Pence-Russia Ties
- New York Times: Trump Denounces F.B.I. Over Leaks, Demanding Investigation (5,136 | 0 | 1)
- Washington Post: Trump administration sought to enlist intelligence officials, key lawmakers to counter Russia stories (11,426 | 3 | 1)
- BBC: White House asked FBI to discredit reports of Russia links (3,437 | 2 | 1)
- Yahoo! News: White House adviser asked FBI to dispute Russia reports (4,154 | 2 | 1)
- Fox News: White House forced to defend Priebus contact with FBI about reports linking Trump camp to Russia (3,473 | 2 | 2)
- Breitbart: FBI rejected White House request to publicly discredit reports about Russian ties (2,657 | 2 | 1)
Analysis: An unremarkable story leads to some relatively dull articles. The Washington Post exceeds 10,000 characters as the only source to expand into the Trump administration's requests to non-FBI individuals to refute the reports in question. Yahoo! News references Trump's criticism of contact between Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton during the campaign as a hypocritical parallel. The New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, and Breitbart articles all include Trump's criticisms of "leakers" and the FBI for their inability to find and stop the leaks.
February 24th: Select Media Members Banned from White House Press Conference
- New York Times: Trump Intensifies His Attacks on Journalists and Condemns F.B.I. ‘Leakers’ (11,663 | 5 | 5)
- Washington Post: CNN, New York Times, other media barred from White House briefing (6,794 | 3 | 4)
- BBC: White House bans certain news media from briefing (2,816 | 2 | 1)
- Yahoo! News: New York Times, CNN, BBC among media outlets barred from White House briefing (4,034 | 3 | 4)
- Fox News: Media outlets accuse White House of blocking certain press from covering event (3,330 | 2 | 4)
- Breitbart: Media Outrage over White House ‘Exclusion’ is Fake News (3,873 | 2 | 4)
Analysis: With the exception of Breitbart, who flat-out calls the story "fake news," coverage of this incident is fairly consistent across all sources. The greater length of the New York Times piece is primarily a result of their inclusion of Trump's condemnations of the media and his administration's efforts to refute stories about potential ties with Russia. Fox News appears dubious of any exclusion at all, labeling the reports as claims or accusations rather than facts. The Washington Post ends on a neutral note, with this quote from former Press Secretary (under George W. Bush) Ari Fleischer:
Yes, the media is biased. This bias takes many forms: omitting relevant background information, spending time on stories far from their conclusions, and refusing to acknowledge the existence of parties involved. The best we can do is gather as much information as possible to make up our own minds about what does and should happen. We'll continue our Across the Spectrum series as soon as I'm capable of reading Breitbart again.
Yes, I've already developed a bias against them.