Monday, September 4, 2017

On the Liberal Media

The Omnivore is constantly accused of not believing the media has a liberal bias by frustrated Trump supporters who are desperate to try to dismiss whatever "the media" is saying right now about Trump.

When The Omnivore dismisses the "bias is the same as outright lying," it creates an unpleasant frisson--if what the media is saying isn't lies--then where does that leave us? Well, glad you asked. Right here:
"The country is in the grips of a lying media narrative--and that is why Trump is seen as 'Tearing The Country' Apart. Until that changes, the polls won't change."

The first stage is Trump-Support is poll-denialism. It's the first stop (He won the election! No one thought that was possible) on the road to "I don't have to engage with stuff I don't like"-ville. The problem is, that doesn't get  you very far.

  1. General Election polling was pretty much dead on.
  2. State polling was off--but Trump only won by <100k votes across 3 states.
  3. 538, the gold-standard of analysis, gave Trump a 1-in-3 chance of winning. That's quite a lot and could represent the actual chances.
In other words, while not perfect, the polls were, you know, accurate within their required zones.

So then we get to "It's the media's fault." The Omnivore was presented with this study--by Harvard--which shows the overwhelmingly negative press-coverage of Trump. A conservative analysis of this reaches the obvious conclusion:
The study found that in Trump's first 100 days in office, the tone of the news coverage of the president has been a whopping 80 percent negative to 20 percent positive.
CNN and NBC struck a 93 percent negative tone on their Trump stories, with only 7 percent positive. CBS was third in the anti-Trump race, with a 91 to 9 ratio. And the pro-Trump Fox News? That network was 52 percent negative to 48 percent positive.

"Because of the way the press covered Obama, they lost so much credibility," Bevan said. "And because they did not take these things seriously, the IRS Scandal, Fast and Furious, you could go down the list of where they turned the other cheek. … And now where they're giving Trump the third degree on everything, that makes the contrast all that much greater.
"So you have a certain segment of the public, the people who voted for Trump, who literally do not trust what the media says."
And the divide between rigidly defined political tribes, one courted by the media, the other dismissed by it, grows even wider.
"It's not good for journalism, and it's not good for the country," said Bevan.
Agreed. But I don't see it changing any time soon. Do you?
The points,  to summarize:

  1. The Coverage of Trump is Overwhelmingly Negative.
  2. The Coverage of Obama Was 60-40 Positive.
  3. Trump voters, therefore do not trust the media.
  4. This is the media's fault--and bad for the country.

So, Is This Right? Or Is It Bullshit?

It will not come as a shock to you that The Omnivore thinks this is bullshit. But the question is: why is it bullshit? Let's look.

Point 1: The Media Also Made Trump

Here's another Harvard study (since apparently Trump Supporters will believe those?)

There's plenty to read in there--but the takeaway is that: The media hammered Clinton on her scandals and covered Trump's issues. Sure--they were, often, aghast--but they covered it. They delivered his message. 

The Omnivore knows--The media was trying to nominate Trump so Clinton could beat him. That's the excuse. Solid gold thinking right there. It's also nonsense. If they were doing that, they wouldn't have focused on her scandals. Here are the dueling word clouds:

Can you tell which is which?

Relentless Omnivore Hammering: You will not like this--or want to hear it--but The Media was not in a plot to elect Trump and did not shower Clinton with favorable coverage. Quite the opposite. If you don't believe this, show your work--use stats, not anecdotes.

Point 2: All That Negative Coverage? Let's Look!

So the assertion is that the coverage was negative. Well, sure--what, exactly, was covered? Here's the breakdown:

In the first 100 days, the top story was Immigration.

The Immigration Coverage  - 17%
Trump rolled out his--uh--Muslim Ban. Now, whatever you may think of the merits, it was (a) a mess and (b) a self-inflicted wound. Firstly, the topic itself was fraught. Trump was arguing it wasn't a Muslim Ban while Giuliani was on TV claiming it was and that he'd been asked how to make it legal! Secondly, they made a last minute and utterly indefensible decision to ban Green Card holders. Their roll-out ensured chaos at major airports.

What was to like about that? What % of the coverage should have been positive? That Obama did something somewhat similar--but in an orderly fashion for a specific and defensible reason--without having a surrogate come out and claim you were a big liar? Uh-huh. That's 17% negative.

Health Care - 12%
The health care coverage covered the beginning of the collapse of Republican's failure to repeal / replace Obamacare. Here's a shot of Google News from that time-frame:

Now, you can argue that this was biased journalism--but given that the final disposition (thus far, anyway) was one of the most egregious face-plants in legislative history, that is a ridiculously heavy lift. In fact, looking at these headlines--not a one of them seems unreasonable.

What was the positive coverage that you could see generated?

Russia  - 6%
Russia interfered with our election. They seem to have been pro-Trump. Trump has more or less refused to acknowledge this or, indeed, take any action against it. Did he collude? We don't know--but we do know that Don Jr. was super-happy (lovin' it) to get some tasty opposition research from the Russians. We know that Trump himself seems to have misled on that front.

We know that a bunch of senior members of the team--Sessions, Flynn, etc. met with Russians, lied about it, and suffered consequences. 

We know that Trump fired Jim Comey because of Russia--which begat Mueller.

In short, the Russian story, even if Trump is cleared, is an incredible fuck-up. What positive coverage would you, Trump-supporter suggest? Cover it less? Fox news devoted half the time of coverage as other outlets. So there you go.

We Are Now At 35% Negative Coverage

Let us assume that Trump had a honeymoon period where he was owed, say, 60-40 positive coverage like Obama got. If we then shift the numbers from his three biggest stories to the negative column we get 25%-75% positive-negative coverage.

Of course Trump isn't a normal president--he had 6% coverage of his family: that's FLOTUS living out of the White House at great expense. It's Trump appointing his children and children-in-law to actual positions in the White House. 

There is also the 3% coverage of fitness for office. The Omnivore doesn't know if any other president had those questions--but given his refusal to show his Tax Returns or divest himself from his business--both self-inflicted--it is probably fair to say that he earned at least some if not all of that coverage.

At this point we are in the 80% of negative coverage.

So what's the bias-level? Stories are about 10% more negative than they might otherwise be? That sounds about right. Maybe the coverage of Trump should have been 20-80 if he was given his full honeymoon period. Of course he ran a divisive campaign, threatened to lock up his political opponent to baying crowds, and lost the popular vote by a historic margin.

So he may have done more to damage his honeymoon than one might think.

The Net-Net Here

What Trump Supporters don't want to face is that Trump isn't just getting bad coverage--he has had an appallingly bad first 100 days. He has repeatedly engaged in behavior that is designed to get him bad-coverage (and that's not just "fighting with the press"--it's things like refusing to release his Tax Returns).

If you want to impose a fighting-with-the-press penalty of +5% negative coverage there's hardly any bias at all.

If you think there is, it's incumbent on you to show it.

Postscript: In showing how Trump "should have been covered" The Omnivore was given a Daily Signal article: Trump's Unconventionally Successful First 100 Days.
  1. Gorsuch
  2. Repealing Obama Regulations That will Save 18Bn
  3. The 100-Day-Mark-Is Kinda Bogus Anyway
Gorsuch - McConnell got this done by nuking the filibuster after refusing Garland a hearing. This isn't much of a success for Trump (although it is a success).

Repealing Regulations - The 18bn Annually number is iffy to start with--but how much fanfare do you demand for signing counter-EOs? 

The 100-Day Mark - This is evidence you're giving up.

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