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Trump press coverage 'sets new standard' for negativity: Harvard study

Jeff Cox

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 Muslim immigration from certain countries, and when a Republican effort to overturn Obamacare failed.



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 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.