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Positive and Negative News Coverage of Presidential Candidates

2016-07-18

All the candidates for president, on both sides, complain that their news coverage has been unfairly negative.  You don’t hear this much from Clinton, but you do hear it a lot from Sanders, and particularly from Donald– he has banned some news outlets from his press conferences.

A study by  Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy says that Clinton has, by far, been treated most negatively in news coverage, especially in the year preceding the beginning of the primaries.   Donald was treated positively, even before he began his rise to the top of the primaries.  The data collected by this study is detailed in a report from the Center that makes for good reading and goes into great detail.  The Center also studied news reporting of the primary season from January to June of this year and found the same problems:  Clinton has received substantially more negative coverage than Sanders, and Sanders was relatively ignored early in the primary season.   Donald was treated positively in the news before he won the primaries, but then the reporting switched to highly negative after he had cinched the nomination.

The impressions that we have been getting about the news coverage of presidential candidates have been confirmed by these in-depth studies.  Clinton has been treated in a very negative fashion by the news.  Some would argue that’s because she’s got a lot of negative aspects– but how do we know?  We only know what we are told by the news media.

Vox posted a report about the Shorenstein Center’s studies, and they mention another study by a different group, Crimson Hexagon, a “social media analytics firm in Boston” that they reported on back in April.  The Hexagon studied reporting from a different angle but got similar results: Clinton was treated more negatively than any other candidate, and received fewer positive stories as well.  Sanders was relatively ignored early on in the race, but then got more positive reports than Clinton– belying the complaints of Sanders supporters that they were being treated unfairly.

The Hexagon’s methodology was quite different, and involved an analysis of retweets and mentions on Twitter that indicated the most discussed media outlets.  These outlets, whose names turn out to be the publishers of the most popular news stories, generated some 170,000 stories in the first four months of 2015.  These outlets included some of the biggest names: the Washington Post, Politico, Fox News, the Huffington Post, and CNN.

The stories produced were analyzed by computer for their positive, neutral, or negative content– and most turned out to be negative, for all the candidates.  However, the number of positive stories was least for Clinton and the most for John Kasich (who also had the fewest negative stories.)  Kasich turned out to be an also-ran, but then so did Sanders, who was treated in an average way.  Aside from the positive or negative slant of stories, there is also the way the candidates are treated as “most likely to win” or “not a winning candidate.”  This treatment, the Hexagon asserts, has the most effect on voter’s perception of the candidates as winners or losers.  Thus, the media’s initial treatment of Sanders had an inhibiting effect on his chances and made voters look upon him as a loser, at least according to the Hexagon.

The most important point to be gathered from these analyses is that Clinton has been treated most negatively by the press, and this has had an effect on the way she is perceived: as untrustworthy or dishonest.  The perception of Clinton as dishonest compared to Donald is risible, considering the practiced way in which Donald lies his way through every speech.  Donald even brags about his lies in the books he has written, and everyone who has been involved with him in a business deal has a story to tell about the lies he has inflicted upon them in an effort to look more successful than he really is.

The bottom line is that Donald is unlike almost every other candidate for President who has ever ran.  He is the most dishonest, the most narcissistic, the most manipulative, and he has proposed the  most disruptive policies of any candidate.  He makes an appeal to the racist, xenophobic, and misogynist sentiments that lurk in the hearts of the under-educated, middle-aged, white males who lurk in the most economically depressed areas of this country.  He brings out the hatred and distrust that have been generated by the systematic deprivation of jobs and livelihoods of the white underclass by corporations that have sent all the manufacturing capacity of this country overseas.

The people who support him had jobs and lives that were removed from them by these corporations, and they have no prospects to get new jobs that would support them in the way to which they had become accustomed.  Unlike the black underclass, who have never had good prospects and suffer from despair and learned helplessness, these people have only recently been put down and still have plenty of rage to express.  At the same time, the minorities (mostly black but also Latino) who have been oppressed for many years are beginning to express themselves in opposition to the police state that has had its foot on their necks.  The black people who feel oppressed are sympathetic to Clinton– who has been rational and reasonable, unlike Donald, who has been irrational and unreasonable.

Who would you support– a narcissistic demagogue who is supported by a relatively privileged white underclass, or a rational leader who has the support of the truly oppressed?  It is no wonder that people don’t believe the news media when they treat this extremely polarized election as a horse race.

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