REWIND: The Media’s Four-Year War Against the Trump Presidency

December 31st, 2020 8:55 AM

While every President has their critics in the press, the Trump presidency has been unique in that a massive percentage of the media — hosts, columnists, commentators, contributors, anchors and working reporters — openly mock and disparage the President of the United States, often to the cheers of their brethren. Here’s eight minutes of their worst:



The Media Research Center is the only institution that has comprehensively tracked the liberal media’s concerted effort to tear down this President. We’ve analyzed every broadcast evening news story since January 20, 2017; we’ve supplemented this research with dozens of additional studies examining broadcast morning news and the liberal cable networks; and we’ve posted thousands of articles detailing all of this bias to our NewsBusters blog.

After four years, our research documents a liberal media establishment that jettisoned its last professional restraints to become active opponents of the President of the United States:

■ The Honeymoon from Hell: Instead of the traditional “honeymoon” period with the press, reporters began taking swipes at President Trump mere moments after he concluded his Inaugural Address. Our first study of ABC, CBS and NBC evening news coverage found the broadcast networks punished him with 89 percent negative coverage during those early days, by far the most hostile treatment of any incoming American President.

Harvard’s Shorenstein Center posted very similar results, finding CBS and NBC’s coverage of Trump during this period was 93 percent negative; the same group determined news coverage of Barack Obama’s first 100 days was 59 percent positive. The media’s #resistance was already well under way.

■ The Russia Collusion Cloud: During the President’s first year in office, one-fifth of all broadcast evening news coverage was spent on the Russia investigation, wrapping Trump in a perpetual cloud of suspicion and stealing valuable airtime away from key administration initiatives. By the time it ended in 2019, those three newscasts alone had spent an astounding 2,634 minutes on the Mueller probe, yammering endlessly about a “constitutional crisis” even as they buried crucial questions surrounding the investigation’s bias.


Over 31 months, these newscasts spent a mere 40 minutes on the blatant bias of FBI agents revealed in text messages; gave just 34 minutes to the Democratic-funded dossier used to jump-start the investigation; and spent just 20 minutes on how the Obama administration might have abused the FISA courts to monitor a Trump campaign advisor.

Just before this year’s election, declassified notes exposed the Russia collusion probe as a Hillary Clinton “plan” to distract from her e-mail server, and that President Obama was briefed on that plan. Despite spending such a huge amount of airtime over three years chasing the Russia story, ABC, CBS and NBC refused to provide even a second of coverage to these damning documents.

■ Trashing His Policies: When they weren’t hyping fruitless investigations, the networks zeroed in on whichever Trump policy was most despised by liberal activists at that moment, then pounded it with bad press. During the first weeks of the administration, the favored target was the so-called “travel ban” (223 minutes of airtime in just 11 weeks, 93% of which was negative).

Next up was the effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare, drawing 384 minutes from March 1 through July 31 (after John McCain’s thumbs-down killed GOP reform plans). The network spin on Trump’s replacement plan was even more negative than that of the “travel ban,” 95 percent negative.

And during the first 18 months of the Trump presidency, immigration received the most airtime of any policy topic. The networks’ spin was relentlessly hostile to the administration (92% negative) as these newscasts framed nearly all of their coverage around the plight of those adversely affected by enforcement and virtually ignored anyone harmed by illegal immigration.

The hostility was even more pronounced on cable news: During a three-day period in June 2018, CNN and MSNBC talking heads made 22 references to Trump’s policies as being akin to slavery, FDR’s Japanese internment camps, or the Holocaust.

■ Accomplishments Ignored: In his first year in office, President Trump took action to promote religious freedom by loosening ObamaCare’s contraceptive mandate; reform veteran’s care after Obama’s scandalous administration of VA hospitals; and appoint a record 12 judges to the federal circuit courts of appeal.

Yet in a year that saw nearly 100 hours of evening news coverage of the new President, these accomplishments ranged from a paltry six minutes (for promoting religious freedom) to a nearly non-existent 37 seconds (for elevating conservative judges).

In November and December, 2017, these newscasts pounded President Trump’s tax reform package with 173 minutes of (80% negative) coverage as it was being debated in Congress. But in the first two months of 2018, as the plan’s benefits were quickly realized in big bonuses for many workers, an improving economic outlook and a soaring stock market, the networks abandoned their interest; evening news coverage evaporated to just nine minutes, a 95 percent decline in coverage from the prior two months.

Another major Trump accomplishment: the virtual destruction of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. By October 2018, U.S.-backed coalition forces had regained nearly all of the territory that the self-ordained caliphate occupied in 2015. Yet on network evening broadcasts, the President and his administration received virtually no credit for this achievement, with only 33 minutes (a minuscule 0.33% of all Trump coverage up to that point) mentioning their role in the successful fight against ISIS.

■ Impeachment Smothers More Success: Beginning only two days after Trump was elected in 2016 — and more than two months before he was sworn in — media talking heads had been suggesting his impeachment and removal from office. So it was probably inevitable that soon after Mueller’s Russia probe ended without finding proof of collusion, the media leaped on the President’s phone call with the Ukrainian president as grounds for their long-sought impeachment investigation.

From September 24, 2019 to January 31, 2020, impeachment drowned out all other Trump topics, with 1,082 minutes of airtime, or three-fifths (61%) of all Trump administration coverage. The frenzied coverage eclipsed successes such as the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (45 minutes before the networks dropped it from their newscasts) and the administration’s economic policies (just 14 minutes).

During the Clinton years, the media deplored impeachment as the persecution of an elected President, but hypocritically flipped those standards during the Trump years. Like the Russia probe, the impeachment drama stole more valuable months from the President when he could have been pursuing his agenda, yet reporters were nonetheless morose when it ended — inevitably — with Trump’s acquittal by the Republican Senate. TV talking heads decried the verdict as a “travesty” and a “sham.”



■ The Virus that Ate the 2020 News Agenda: As with the Russia investigation and impeachment, the coronavirus pandemic became the anti-Trump story the media loved to report, crowding out nearly all other topics. From the initial reports in January through October 20, 2020, the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts spent 1,745 minutes reporting on the administration’s handling of the virus; the spin of this coverage was 95 percent negative. (This does not include an additional 140 minutes about the President’s own coronavirus diagnosis.)

In contrast, those broadcasts spent only 113 minutes reporting on the President’s handling of the economy, a 15-to-one disparity. The economy was largely a good news story for Trump (even on the networks, the spin of these stories was a remarkable 79% positive), but it was essentially lost amid an ocean of bad news about the virus.

For example, the five jobs reports from June 5 to October 2 showed a record 11,161,000 jobs were created in the extraordinary snapback from the pandemic recession. Those reports were only given a combined 16 minutes, 55 seconds of airtime when they were released, and each time correspondents wrapped them in negativity. When 4.8 million new jobs were announced on July 2, CBS Evening News fill-in anchor Margaret Brennan offered an immediate downer: “That good news comes with a big catch,” predicting new lockdowns would cause future job losses.

But that didn’t happen — the next month saw another huge gain: 1.8 million new jobs, yet “many economists fear temporary job losses are becoming permanent,” NBC’s Peter Alexander fretted on the August 7 Nightly News.

On October 29, the media were confronted with another record-setting economic report: the single biggest quarterly jump in economic growth, 33.1 percent on an annual basis (the previous record came more than 70 years ago: 16.7% in the first three months of 1950). The three evening newscasts combined gave it a stingy two minutes, 23 seconds of airtime, pouring on the pessimism. “The U.S. economy still has not bounced back in full from the huge hit it took during the peak of the shutdowns,” NBC correspondent Jo Ling Kent griped on Nightly News.

■ More Accomplishments Overlooked: As the 2020 election neared, the President and his team made history by brokering peace agreements with Israel and several of her Arab neighbors. Yet in 33 days that culminated in a White House signing ceremony on September 15, the network evening newscasts delivered just nine minutes of coverage to these historic agreements.

Amid a summer of protests and racial unrest, these newscasts glossed over the improvements brought by 2018 passage of the President’s criminal justice reform legislation: a meager 35 seconds of airtime from June 1 through September 30. Instead, the networks doled out 192 minutes of mostly (96%) condemnatory coverage of the President’s response to the George Floyd case and other race-related matters.

The Obama administration added a flurry of federal regulations, adding an estimated $108 billion annual burden on the economy. Upon taking office, the Trump administration engaged in aggressive deregulation, which the White House Council of Economic Advisors estimated would ultimately benefit each American household to the tune of $3,100 each.

Yet such a tangible achievement mattered little to the media; from January 20, 2017 through October 20, 2020 the big three evening newscasts — combined — supplied just 11 minutes of airtime, or less than 15 seconds per month.

In his first year, President Trump took action to start long-stalled pipeline projects to boost America’s energy independence, but the networks rewarded the effort with a tiny seven minutes of coverage. Policies to expand drilling offshore and in the Arctic were given even less airtime — just five minutes over the course of his presidency. Yet those same networks pounced on Trump’s rejection of liberal orthodoxy on climate change, dumping 111 minutes of (mostly negative) coverage — nearly ten times more airtime than the push for energy independence.

■ Campaign Bias: During their August conventions, both parties theoretically had a chance to make their case to voters, but while liberal cable news outlets CNN and MSNBC chose to let the Democratic advertisement run without any significant interruption, they refused to give equal treatment to Republicans. During the GOP convention, cable anchors and reporters repeatedly stepped over the party-produced content to deplore and criticize what viewers were trying to watch.

The interruptions on MSNBC, in fact, were 600 TIMES greater during the Republican convention (201 minutes) than during the Democratic convention (21 seconds).

While the media continued their four-year practice of harshly criticizing President Trump, they ignored controversies involving his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden.

In the spring, the networks refused for weeks to cover serious allegations from a former staffer that Biden sexually assaulted her in the 1990s. After a meager 23 minutes of coverage on the three evening newscasts in late April and early May, the media dropped the story, despite the fact that at least eight corroborating witnesses had come forward in the case.

Following the primaries, Biden worked with socialist Senator Bernie Sanders to create a 110-page “blueprint” for radical change, then picked a running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, who one analysis found to be even more left-wing than Sanders. Yet the criticism that Biden and Harris, would pursue left-wing policies outside of the mainstream was given a mere five minutes, 43 seconds of airtime over 12 weeks of fall campaign coverage, or barely two percent of the Democrats’ total (279 minutes).

The media also bypassed the financial scandal enveloping Biden and his son, Hunter. From the morning of October 14, when the New York Post published new evidence of Hunter Biden’s corrupt business dealings with Ukraine and Joe Biden’s potential involvement, through the morning of October 27, the broadcast networks gave it a scant 21 minutes on their morning, evening and Sunday roundtable programs. When journalists did mention the story, they spent most of their time dismissing it as Russian disinformation.

Comparing Trump to Biden, the networks could not have made their preference more clear. Our study of evening news coverage from July 29 to October 20 found 890 evaluative comments about Trump, 92 percent of which were negative. For Biden, the networks only offered 91 evaluations, 66 percent of which were positive.

After the election, a Media Research Center poll of 1,750 Biden voters in seven swing states, conducted by The Polling Company, found many were unaware of many of Trump’s accomplishments or Biden’s scandals; if they had known, 17 percent would have abandoned the Democratic candidate — enough to flip Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to Trump, giving the President a 311 electoral vote victory.

Yet even with the media’s obvious censorship and, and their relentless four-year onslaught of hostile press coverage, it’s remarkable that Donald Trump drew at least 11 million more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016. That’s millions of citizens who chose to ignore the media’s message, and instead supported a President whose accomplishments they obviously preferred.

That should be a warning to journalists who refuse to restrain their activism (and a hopeful sign for conservatives weary of a liberal media hegemony): the more they act like partisans, the less power they will have to influence the public’s thinking.