For example, President Trump’s push to invigorate the economy and bring back American jobs received a mere 18 minutes of coverage (less than one percent of all airtime devoted to the administration), while his moves to renegotiate various international trade deals resulted in less than 10 minutes of TV news airtime.
Eight years ago, in contrast, the broadcast networks rewarded new President Barack Obama with mainly positive spin, and spent hundreds of stories discussing the economic agenda of the incoming liberal administration.
For this study, MRC analysts reviewed all of ABC, CBS and NBC’s evening news coverage of Trump and his new administration from January 20 through April 9, including weekends. Coverage during those first 80 days was intense, as the networks churned out 869 stories about the new administration (737 full reports and 132 brief, anchor-read items), plus an additional 140 full reports focused on other topics but which also discussed the new administration.
Five big topics accounted for roughly two-fifths (43%) of the whopping 1,900 minutes of total network airtime devoted to the Trump administration. But those five topics accounted for a much larger share (63%) of the negative coverage hurled at the administration, as the networks covered each with an overwhelmingly hostile (more than 90% negative) slant.
Methodology: Our measure of spin was designed to isolate the networks’ own slant, not the back-and-forth of partisan politics. Thus, our analysts ignored soundbites which merely showcased the traditional party line (Republicans supporting Trump, Democrats criticizing him), and instead tallied evaluative statements which imparted a clear positive or negative tone to the story, such as statements from experts presented as non-partisan, voters, or opinionated statements from the networks’ own reporters.
Using these criteria, MRC analysts tallied 1,687 evaluative statements about the Trump administration, of which 1,501 (89%) were negative vs. a mere 186 (11%) which were positive.
The networks spent 223 minutes on the battle over the President’s executive orders aimed at temporarily banning immigration from seven (later reduced to six) countries that are either failed states or otherwise safe havens for Islamic terrorism. All three networks showed their disdain by filling their newscasts with soundbites from those distressed by the order. “I feel ashamed to be living in this country now,” one traveler was shown saying on CBS’s January 28 broadcast, while ABC weekend anchor Cecilia Vega said the order had created “chaos, confusion and fear.”
“It feels like a nightmare,” a Syrian resident of Pennsylvania told NBC two days later, after his relatives arrival was delayed by the order. There was no balance to this debate, with our analysts tallying 287 negative statements on this topic vs. a mere 21 positive, which computes to an astounding 93% negative spin.
The next-most-covered item (222 minutes) was the continuing probe of Russia’s presumed role in last year’s hacks of Democratic e-mails, and whether individuals connected to the Trump campaign may have participated in the scheme. While this topic generated only about half as many evaluative statements as the travel ban, an overwhelming 97% (153 out of 157) were critical of President Trump and his associates.
The GOP effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare received 152 minutes of evening news coverage, with a ridiculously lopsided 94% hostile spin (193 negative vs. 12 positive statements). The Trump administration’s effort to crack down on illegal immigration, including increased deportations, an end to sanctuary cities, and a border wall, received 120 minutes of network coverage, 93% of which was negative (117 negative vs. 9 positive statements).