Negativity Isn’t Bias

I recently came across a blog post making what I think is a pretty important distinction between biased media coverage and negative media coverage.

A common complaint of President Trump and others in the GOP is that a high percentage of media coverage of him is “negative.” The official GOP Twitter account often tweets about this, sometimes citing a statistic from a Harvard study stating that over 90% of media coverage of Trump is negative. This, the President and his allies complain, is evidence of bias. In this post I argue that “negative” coverage itself isn’t necessarily “biased,” and is often perfectly fair. However, it is often easy to confuse negativity and bias, and it is similarly easy for them to overlap within the reporting of a story. As a result, many casual media observers feel like media sources have become recently more biased against Trump because of a seeming increase in negative reporting about him.

When is negative reporting simply unbiased reporting of the facts, and when is it bias? Almost 100% of stories about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assaults are negative, but no one says it is because newspapers are biased against Weinstein himself. Almost 100% of stories about drunk drivers are negative, but no one says it is because the local news anchors are biased against drunk drivers. We intuit that the reporting is appropriate because the sexual assaults and the drunk driving themselves are bad things. Often, when the news reports that someone did a bad thing, it’s because the thing was actually bad.

With their accusations of “fake news” and complaints that equate critical coverage with bias, Trump supporters are trying to de-legitimate reports on this President and this administration. That in itself isn’t new–partisans of all sorts engage in spin intended to counter bad publicity.

I think there are aspects of this pushback that are new, however. One is fairly obvious: this is the first President in my lifetime who is seemingly incapable of generating good news.  This administration is so ignorant of governance, not to mention venal, incompetent and mean-spirited, that the negative coverage isn’t a consequence of emphasizing the bad stuff and ignoring the good. There isn’t any good.

The second element that is new is demographic. The President’s critics are, by and large, educated people–both Democrats and Republicans. (I can’t think of any other President who has repelled so high a percentage of his own party’s elder statesmen and intellectuals.) His defenders tend to be people whose arguments–on Facebook, Twitter and right-wing publications–disclose a lack of even superficial familiarity with history, the Constitution and democratic theory. There are obviously exceptions to this broad characterization, but a case can be made that Trump appeals to people who share both his ignorance and his racist and sexist animus.

As the author of the quoted blog put it,

What does it mean when an historically conservative and/or Republican writer writes a piece that is “negative” about Trump? Does it mean that the conservative/Republican is now a liberal/Democrat? I argue that the answer is no, and many such journalists/writers have argued the same themselves.

Principled conservatives have recoiled from an administration that is anti-science, anti-democratic, anti-free-market, and anti-rule-of-law. Principled liberals who were prepared to work against a traditional Republican agenda have instead confronted a President whose only fidelity to that agenda has been its alliance with big money and its Southern Strategy.

No wonder genuine journalists from credible news organizations aren’t writing positive articles.

21 thoughts on “Negativity Isn’t Bias

  1. The President and his inner circle seem anti-Republican as well. So the ‘fake news’ within GOP circles is beginning to shift on Trumpian Dumpling Sitting On His Wall. With the primaried ouster of Senator Lugar, I barely recognize the Republican Party in Indiana anymore. Every time I see Senator Todd “Goody Two Shoes” Young standing by the President, he seems to appear like a puppy in search of his last bowl of pablum. The jury is still out for me in regards to Senator Braun. Once the campaign shtick wears off, I am waiting to see if a genuine thinking for himself Republican shows up.

  2. I’ve received the same criticism on my FB page when I report the latest Trump display of ignorance–“This is just another Trump bashing media source.”

    In order to attract the Trumpians, I would have to make him appear giant like or even the champion of MAGA. The only problem is Trump and Pence are pieces of shit. No matter how much I want to attract readers so I can make money, my conscience prevents me from concocting bullshit stories about our commander in chief. He’s an idiot. End of story.

    I always refer to the now disgraced Les Moonves, former CEO of CBS, “Trump may be bad for America, but he’s great for CBS.”

    And industry experts want to know why nobody trusts the media. LOL

  3. Statistics be damned; when we watch Trump himself in action with his rhetorical rants and his blatant lies, name calling of anyone who disagrees with him – including his own appointees – denying rightful disaster assistance to Americans and ignoring Rule of Law and the Constitution, we are seeing negativity at its worst on the world stage. He refutes films and newscasts of himself as lies and fake news and his supporters cheer him on wearing his made-in-China hats and waving signs they were provided by is permanent presidential campaign members.

    “Negativity Isn’t Bias” with Trump and his administration; it is reporting facts as they happen. If you need to look for statistics to decide the lay-of-the-land; you are part of the escalating problem with our government today.

  4. In an attempt to understand trump and his maga supporters’ claims of biased/negative media coverage it seems they believe the rest of us should view his support of their racism, xenophobia and extreme anti-immigrant perspectives as being positive for our country.

    Boy, we liberals and educated elites sure are hard-headed people aren’t we?

  5. Let me quote that great, once jailed, former Vice President Spiro Agnew in saying that we are all, “nagging nabobs of negativism.” Thank God.

  6. Trump’s coharts Appear to come from the genre of conspiracy agents. I don’t call them theorists because they have no hypothesis and search for no antithesis to their shared rumors. They believe science is a ruse, the world is only 7,000 years old, there was no holocaust, and modern medicine is a hoax! Yet these vermin now have a voice in the White House!

  7. Trying to separate bias and negativity with regard to Trump’s “performances”, I’d say it was like trying to separate fly crap from pepper. He IS as bad as every rational media outlet says he is. When that’s all there is to report, it looks like bias, but in fact it is the dreadful truth based on obvious facts. In Trump’s case, those observations define negativity.

  8. Sheila hits the nail on the head when she writes that there isn’t any good to report and Todd joins her with his quoted observation that Trump may be bad for America, but he is good for CBS.

    When there is no “good” to report, any such report will correctly be diagnosed as negative, and rightly so; and when there is a built-in profit motive by the media in reporting that there is no good, you have capitalism at its worst, and it takes critical thinking skills to navigate these seeming biases. Applying such skills, I note that fake news is still news, adjectives aside.

  9. Wish we would all harness the time and energy spent on the negativity/complaining/marching to replacing the political cronies who abet the Duck, K-Street, Wall Street and the rest who are undermining our democracy. There are folks out there who can be servant leaders – let’s find them; encourage them; elect them.

  10. Until some members of the GOP that current are holding office, hold Trump accountable, and do so publicly, what the ‘elder statespersons’ say does not matter. The editorializers who pontificate but never hold office or try to get elected; don’t matter either.

    In order to check this mal-POTUS’s power, Democratic party controlled House will have a political minefield to navigate. It will be interesting to watch and see if they will take the heat, and truly challenge this man and his party.

  11. Todd, good point >> I always refer to the now disgraced Les Moonves, former CEO of CBS, “Trump may be bad for America, but he’s great for CBS.”

    And industry experts want to know why nobody trusts the media. LOL <<

    The cable news networks: CNN, MSDNC, and FOX, have taken to reporting on anything connected with President Agent Orange and Pastor Pence as lead stories throughout the day, at the exclusion of anything else. These networks have decided based upon ratings, what "sells" to their viewing audience and continues to pile it on.

    If you are happy with the shredding of the EPA, a fossil fuels over all mentality, the privatization of schools, funding religious schools out of tax dollars, a bellicose foreign policy of aggression overt and covert (think Venezuela and Iran), a military funded beyond all reasonable needs, then any criticism of these areas would be considered by some negative and therefore biased.

  12. I am less concerned with negativity and bias in the media than I am about the ignorance and factual inaccuracy we witness daily. It is replete on the left and the right.

    Case in point. We are under 31 concurrent National Emergencies and Congress could rescind a Trump declaration with a Resolution.

  13. Off subject but a defeat of Crony Capitalism and Corporate Welfare should no go unnoticed.

    Negative vs positive in some cases depends on your perspective. Amazon has recently admitted defeat in it’s attempt to build a “campus” in Queens New York. Here we have in Amazon one the largest companies in the world needing an estimated $3bn in subsidies and tax breaks for the new campus.

    State senator Michael Gianaris, a Democrat who represents Long Island City, the Queens neighborhood where the company set its sights said, “A community that was facing its own demolition was salvaged. And New York took a stand against the type of corporate subsidies that are increasing the wealth concentration in this country.”

    But Gianaris had no problem playing the chief naysayer. “I’m very comfortable being the person that says we should not be giving $3bn to Jeff Bezos when we can’t afford to fix our subways or have enough housing for people to live in,” he said.

    The Democratic Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo and the state senate’s top Republican John Flanagan agreed in essence that what is good for Amazon is good for NYC.

    https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/feb/15/amazon-new-york-long-island-city-hq2-michael-gianaris
    ==================================================
    IMHO, I would view the defeat of Amazon in a positive light.

  14. “Congress” can stop a “national emergency” – catch, it has to be BOTH the House and Senate. What will MItch do – we already know! Then, the WH has already “shopped” for judges that know no limits on exec power…

  15. Thank you Sheila as always

    I receive the same kind of blow back to things that I post that come from credible sources from friends and acquaintances that I know well enough to think that they would know better. I also wonder given how well I know these people and how well they know me that they would even think that I was blowing them smoke instead of credible information. Perhaps it’s just that they’re beginning to realize the error in their thinking and are already bruised up enough by that realization that they react in a defensive way when they see something in print that drives home the error in their thinking to them once again or hear me blabbing about it. All of this is turned out to be far more than what they had all bargained for where, for many of them, was their deep seated revulsion at Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for the presidency in 2016. Since Clinton was a squarely polarizing figure that election boiled down to the choice between her and the republican nominee which turned out to be Donald trump, someone that they did not support during the primaries but that they were stuck with in the end.

    Now are faced with Trump’s obvious autocratic excesses that are becoming more and more visible each and every day with this day in particular being a clear demonstration of those excesses with him declaring this bogus ham-fisted national emergency. On the other hand, we have progressives that are pushing, or attempting to push, the Democratic Party so far to the left that these people will never embrace what they are advocating even if the choice is still only Trump as an alternative to what they see as both socialism and also ideas that will never fly with a majority of the country.

    Coming from a family that was half loaded with journalists a lot of them, specially my own mother, urged me to read a variety of things not just what I agreed with and that was buttressed even further by my Liberal Arts education where part of my grade on a given paper, those old 80-90 pagers that I had to write on a variety of topics and international relations and national security policy, was based on the range of my source material. Once you have it drilled in your head and know that you’re going to either sink or swim based on the caliber of what you write but also your bibliography and your footnotes or end notes it becomes ingrained in you to always look a little further and what you see at first glance or hear from someone that is unattributed. Thankfully for me I don’t know how else to think.

    Provided that this country survives the rest of this current President’s term and God help us if he’s reelected somehow, historians and social sciences of a variety of stripes are going to have a field day in writing and pontificating about what we have allowed to happen to ourselves. It will also be interesting as part of an after action report, so-to-speak, Howell all sorts of various factors of the ones we already know about things that we did not think about all aligned put us in this spot. As painful as all this currently is it will be a great learning experience for all of us in the hope that we never allow all these very negative inputs to align themselves up the way they have including the intrusion of foreign actors into our domestic political processes ever again.

  16. To me the negative reports have been coming ever since Trump set out to conquer the Republican Party and have not slowed in any way. He earned the negativity and continues to.

    What needs explanation are the positive reports about his corruption and incompetence. The adolation from the GOP and his supporters. What’s that about?

    There was very good reason that we insisted that all previous Presdents prior to Trump were the way that they were. It was the only way that they could represent and lead a nation.

    He and his base believe that they are setting a new standard for the Presidency and Americans all agree. The difference is what his fans and foes see as the country that he represents.

  17. But isn’t it remarkable that Trump could go for two years, making policy and pronouncements and headlines every day, without a single reasonable person (i.e., a non-Fox employee) ever commenting, “What a good idea.” That has to be worthy of a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, and he seems hell bent on extending it. Not that I’m biased.

  18. “…the mudslides and floods started a few days ago. One woman was caught in her house as it started sliding down a hillside. When she got to the bottom she was screaming for help and was pulled out of the wreckage of her house, still alive. Has a big black eye, scratches and bruises and now homeless. Lots of flooding especially north of SF. Rivers flooding, cars stuck on flooded roads. It’s a real mess. Lots of mudslides blocking roads. Supposed to stop raining on Monday.”

    On another issue; I copied and pasted the info above from an E-mail from my friend who lives outside San Francisco area in Santa Clara, CA. I have seen nothing on the news about this; will the disaster funds Trump cut for the wildfire victims be carried over to these weather related problems or is he only aiming his vitriol at those who didn’t rake forest areas and became wildfire victims…including loss of many lives? Or am I just being negative about this issue or possibly biased due to my friend living in the area?

  19. Kudos to the press for reporting as accurately as possible on the political spectacle that we are living through & witnessing. The reporters that take seriously conveying facts & the truth are playing a tremendous role at this time in history! When the same facts are reported by different competing news entities it gives one some assurance of those facts. I think the way we fight wars is changing in this world of cyber communicating!

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