What’s Going On: Media should hold up a mirror

A study came out of Harvard last week that really shouldn’t surprise anyone: media coverage of Donald Trump’s first 100 days as president was overwhelmingly negative.

In fact, the negativity involved was of historic proportion, at least in modern times. Measuring stories in major broadcast outlets CNN, FOX, NBC and CBS, along with the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, the study revealed 80 percent of Trump stories were negative, with only 20 percent positive.

This is the biggest disparity since Bill Clinton, who had a 60-40 split during his first 100 days, prompting this comment during a Rolling Stone interview: “I’ve fought more damn battles here than any president in 20 years with the possible exception of Reagan’s first budget and not gotten one damn bit of credit from the knee-jerk liberal press. I am damn sick and tired of it.”

How ironic. Even a Democratic president complains about the “liberal” media.

Back to Trump, though. CNN and NBC were the most “negative” in their coverage of our new president at a resounding 93 percent. CBS (91 percent), the Times (87 percent) and The Post (83 percent) weren’t far behind, with the WSJ checking in at 70 percent.

And to reinforce the obvious, Fox News provided the most “positive” coverage at 48 percent, although it is worth noting the typical GOP supportive network still had more bad than good.

Unsurprisingly, Fox has used the study as further evidence of the mainstream media’s “bias” against our current president, adding it exposes their underlying goal of discrediting him and undermining his administration.

Touting a headline of “New Study Exposes Massive Media Bias Against Trump,” Fox News proclaimed of their coverage “and Fox News was, well, fair and balanced. The network that is often derided by the rest of the media for being too pro-Trump was actually the fairest, according to the Harvard researchers.”

Fair and balanced. I’ve never quite understood that slogan. First, life isn’t fair. So I’m not sure how media coverage of anything can be … fair, but we’ll ignore that and stick to the “balanced” claim which seems to be at the heart of this issue regarding too much negative and not enough positive.

The role of media isn’t to be balanced. If the it run a “negative” story, the media isn’t obligated or required to run a “positive” one just to be balanced. As far as I’m concerned, media should be a mirror … nothing more. A mirror only reflects reality. It doesn’t shade it in a more positive or negative light.

For example, if the Vikings go 0-16 this year, it would be hard to criticize the Minneapolis-area sports media for “unbalanced” coverage if most of their stories were negative.

As readers/viewers, we would expect coverage to be negative because, well, the team would have to be pretty bad to go 0-16.

Now, don’t misunderstand that analogy as an implication that Trump’s presidency has been a total failure and that the media coverage has been as objective as it could be. However, when you have a president sending out tweets at 3 in the morning claiming an election he won was rigged, or implying he has tapes implicating an FBI director he just fired, don’t expect the morning news stories to focus on anything but the sideshow he created.

And for what it’s worth, despite his claims of disdain of the media and its coverage, I believe Trump loves the attention, regardless of its spin. That same Harvard study found 41 percent of all news stories during Trump’s first 100 days involved him. That’s an astounding figure and more than three times of any other president.

Don King is credited with the phrase “there is no such thing as bad publicity” and I believe that’s a lesson Trump has taken to heart. I truly believe he just wants to be in the news and he really could care less whether it is positive or negative. As long as the spotlight is on, he’ll be happy, and it doesn’t appear there’s any reason to expect much to change in the near future.

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Gregory Orear is the publisher of The Journal. His award-winning weekly column, “What’s Going On,” has been published in four newspapers in three states for more than 20 years. He can be contacted at gorear@nujournal.com.

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