Unfair to President Trump? DC Journalists Have Talked It Over and We Don’t Agree.

Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan today asked if media coverage of President Trump has been “terribly unfair,” as the President claimed in a commencement address to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

Sullivan: “Here’s my carefully nuanced answer: Hell, no.”

She says that negative vs. positive coverage of President Trump is the wrong question. She says:

The idea idea of balance is suspect on its face. Should positive coverage be  provided, as it were a birthright, to a president who consistently lies, who has spilled classified information to an adversary, and who fired the FBI director who was investigating his administration?

So unfairness to President Trump is not a Washington Post problem.

She goes on to write about a study by Thomas E. Patterson of Harvard about mainstream press coverage of President Trump’s first 100 days:

“The press is focusing on personality, not substance,” he said recently on public radio’s “On the Media” program. And that reflects “not a partisan bias but a journalistic bias,” the tendency to seek out conflict. (No mystery there — it’s more interesting.)“It’s the press in its usual mode, and that erodes public trust,” Patterson said.

And then there’s the dirty little secret that every journalist knows — Trump stories drive ratings and clicks. The word “Trump” in a headline vastly increases its chances of getting attention. (We’re all guilty; see above.)

Sullivan does not mention one chart in Patterson’s study:

Figure 9. Trump’s “Fitness for Office” Coverage by Outlet


In the November election, 96 percent of the residents of the District of Columbia didn’t vote for candidate Trump. And 96 percent of the Post stories about President-elect Trump were negative about his fitness for office.

So the Washington Post is reflecting the attitudes and feelings of its home base, the District of Columbia. (The DC suburbs also are trending increasingly Democratic.)

Why has the nation’s capital become so unwelcoming to Republicans? The old conventional wisdom has been that Republicans come to Washington when they win an election but go home when they lose, while Democrats never leave.

Maybe it’s also because it’s ever easier for Democrats to find work. Federal spending has gone from $2.2 trillion in 2000 to $3.9 trillion this year, and Washington is ever more anxious to help the rest of the country decide on everything from what restroom you can use to what your neighborhood school can teach.

The nation’s capital is increasingly more liberal—we love federal programs and federal spending—and we vote overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates and 96 percent of the time our daily newspaper questioned whether Republican Donald Trump was fit to be President. A balance problem? It’s worth discussing.

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