Media Coverage of the 2016 Election Was Very, Very Negative

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The Shorenstein Center has published its analysis of 2016 election coverage, and the main takeaway is that it was very, very negative—but not uniformly negative. For most of the campaign, Donald Trump’s coverage was more negative than Hillary Clinton’s, but that suddenly turned around after James Comey’s letter about Clinton’s email was released. In the final two weeks of the campaign, more than a third of Clinton’s coverage was devoted to scandals. At the same time, coverage of Trump turned suddenly less negative.

The result is that during the crucial closing stretch of the campaign, Clinton’s coverage was more negative than Trump’s. It’s hard to look at this and not conclude that Comey’s letter was the key turning point that made Donald Trump president.

There are lots of other interesting tidbits in the Shorenstein report, but this one in particular struck me:

That’s an astonishingly straight line. For the past half century, news coverage of presidential campaigns has gotten steadily more negative—regardless of who’s running. This is disturbing. It’s easy to believe that the clubby and decorous political coverage of the 50s and 60s deserved to become tougher and more candid. But this doesn’t mean that ever more cynical is the right answer. Does it really stand to reason that a full two-thirds of the coverage of the past three elections—featuring five different candidates—has been negative? I’m hard pressed to see how.

Also, note that 2016 did not generate the most negative coverage of all time. That honor still belongs to 2000. I’m pointing this out as bait for Bob Somerby.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

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