Media Coverage of the 2016 Election Was Very, Very Negative


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.

$500,000 MATCHING GIFT

In 2014, before Donald Trump announced his run for president, we knew we had to do something different to address the fundamental challenge facing journalism: how hard-hitting reporting that can hold the powerful accountable can survive as the bottom falls out of the news business.

Being a nonprofit, we started planning The Moment for Mother Jones: A special campaign to raise $25 million for key investments to make Mother Jones the strongest watchdog it can be. Five years later, readers have stepped up and contributed an astonishing $23 million in gifts and future pledges. This is an incredible statement from the Mother Jones community in the face of the huge threats—both economic and political—against the free press.

Read more about The Moment and see what we've been able to accomplish thanks to readers' incredible generosity so far, and please join them today. Your gift will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $500,000 total, during this critical moment for journalism.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.