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Trump press coverage 'sets new standard' for negativity: Study

  • A Harvard study found that 80 percent of Trump coverage was negative during his first 100 days in office.
  • Trump's high point with the media was after the Syria strike; the low point came during an unsuccessful effort to overturn Obamacare.

President Donald Trump's early days in office were subjected to almost universally negative news coverage, a Harvard study has found.

The Trump presidency is "setting a new standard for unfavorable press coverage of a president," according to the report from Thomas E. Patterson, professor of government and the press at the Harvard Kennedy School and Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

The study looked at Trump's first 100 days and examined coverage in the print editions of The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, as well as broadcast outlets CNN, CBS, Fox News and CNBC parent NBC, and European news outlets the Financial Times, BBC and ARD in Germany.

Of the total news stories examined, 41 percent focused on Trump, which was triple the coverage for previous presidents for the same period

And of that group, the tone was resoundingly negative — 80 percent of all stories, to be exact. That would be just shy of double the first 100 days of Barack Obama and significantly more than George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Trump frequently has criticized his coverage, stating this week that "no politician in history" has been treated worse.

Sources: Stephen J. Farnsworth and S. Robert Lichter, The Mediated President (2006), p. 37 for Clinton and Bush; Center for Media & Public Affairs for Obama; Media Tenor for Trump.

"Trump's coverage during his first 100 days set a new standard for negativity," Patterson wrote. "Trump's coverage was unsparing. In no week did the coverage drop below 70 percent negative and it reached 90 percent negative at its peak."

The "high" point for Trump came after he ordered retaliatory missile attacks against Syria when the Assad regime reportedly gassed its own citizens. The low points were when a court struck down an executive order restricting immigration from several predominately Muslim countries, and when a Republican effort to overturn Obamacare failed.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer (R) takes questions from members of the White House press corps during a daily press briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room February 14, 2017 at the White House in Washington, DC.
Getty Images
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer (R) takes questions from members of the White House press corps during a daily press briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room February 14, 2017 at the White House in Washington, DC.

Trump's most favorable U.S. coverage has come from Fox, though 52 percent of the coverage was still rated as negative. CNN and NBC tied for least favorable, with 93 percent of stories negative. In Europe, ARD's coverage was 98 percent negative.

CNBC has reached out to the news outlets for comment.

From a topic standpoint, the area where Trump received the most negative coverage was immigration at 98 percent, while economic stories were just 54 percent negative. The stock market has posted solid gains since Trump took over, and economists have been nudging up their growth expectations based on the president's pitches to lower taxes, cut regulation and spend aggressively on infrastructure.

The survey's methodology looked for newspapers looked at all articles except for letters to the editor, sports and obituaries. The inclusion of editor and op-ed pieces, then, could have played a role in skewing the data somewhat.

The question, of course, is whether Trump has brought the negativity on himself or has been the victim of a press determined to make him look bad.

"The fact that Trump has received more negative coverage than his predecessor is hardly surprising. The early days of his presidency have been marked by far more missteps and miss-hits, often self-inflicted, than any presidency in memory, perhaps ever," Patterson wrote.

"Nevertheless, the sheer level of negative coverage gives weight to Trump's contention, one shared by his core constituency, that the media are hell bent on destroying his presidency," he added.