News and Analysis

Media Give Biden More Negative Coverage Than Trump: The Washington Post
US President Joe Biden eats ice cream at Moomers Homemade Ice Cream in Traverse City, Michigan on July 3, 2021. (
MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

Although the legacy news media subjected President Donald Trump to historic levels of hostility, a Washington Post columnist has claimed to have proof that journalists have given President Joe Biden more negative media coverage than Trump — and that portraying Biden negatively makes them participants in “the murder of democracy.”

The results came from a “sentiment analysis” performed by the artificial intelligence program created by FiscalNote, which analyzes the position of negative adjectives in new stories and tabulates their impact based on its own algorithm.

Liberal columnist Dana Milbank had the AI program scroll through articles from 65 unnamed news sites, then posted the results in a column titled, “The media treats Biden as badly as — or worse than — Trump. Here’s proof,” posted online Friday evening.

The AI program calculated that these undisclosed news sources gave President Biden more negative coverage from mid-July through late October than President Trump experienced during the same period last year, based on its weighted algorithm.

The results may say more about the limitations, or bias, of the algorithm and its programmers than about the legacy media’s reporting. NBC, ABC, and CBS nightly news broadcasts regularly gave President Trump more than 90% negative coverage throughout his presidency, according to an analysis (conducted by human beings) from the Media Research Center. During last June and July, 95% of legacy media networks’ statements about President Trump were negative, while 67% of their statements about candidate Joe Biden were positive.

Nonetheless, Milbank speculated that the media, “pressured by Trump’s complaints about the press, pulled punches” in its coverage of President Trump during the months of civil unrest throughout the country and the 2020 election.

On the other hand during his first 60 days in office, President Biden received less negative coverage than any president on record, dating back to President Bill Clinton, according to an analysis from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. Milbank described the media’s coverage of Biden’s first months in office “slightly positive.”

It’s true that the media criticized the Biden administration’s execution of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, which left an unknown number of Americans stranded under Taliban rule. Yet the media soon defended his foreign policy actions, with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell opining that at least Biden’s abandonment of Kabul was not as bad as the fall of Saigon.

The study also ignores that much of the cable news networks’ critiques came from the Left, repeating progressives’ allegations that the president had been too harsh toward illegal immigrants and that he compromised too readily with congressional Republicans and centrist Democrats on the eye-watering cost of his “Build Back Better” bill.

Milbank wrote that the media criticism of the sitting president threatened the survival of a free society. “The findings … confirmed my fear: My colleagues in the media are serving as accessories to the murder of democracy,” wrote Milbank.

America is experiencing “an existential struggle between self-governance and an authoritarian alternative. And we in the news media, collectively, have given equal, if not slightly more favorable, treatment to the authoritarians,” wrote Millbank. “Too many journalists are caught in a mindless neutrality between democracy and its saboteurs, between fact and fiction. It’s time to take a stand.”

Milbank’s analysis pleased Joe Biden’s White House Chief of Staff, Ron Klain, who shared the story on social media.

But conservative officials rated the claim that the media had subjected Biden to harsher scrutiny than President Trump as ludicrous. “You have to be kidding me,” replied Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX). His colleague, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), could respond only with bemused emojis.


Other commentators noted that negative headlines may not display bias; they might just reflect the fact that “Biden is doing a bad job,” observed Pradheep J. Shanker. “Facts matter. Who here thinks things are going as well now as they were in 2017?”

Restricting the coverage of 2020 misses the worst bias of the Trump era, when the Big Three networks dedicated 2,202 minutes to largely discredited claims of “Russian collusion.” They have since all but ignored the indictments stating that the sources of the Steele dossier lied to federal investigators.

The AI analysis ignores the contrasting way the legacy media treated the same phenomena depending on whether the president was a Republican or a Democrat. CNN devoted 22 minutes to President Trump nearly slipping on a ramp at West Point in June 2020, with Alisyn Camerota asking if his gait could have been caused by “something possibly neurological.” But CNN devoted only 15 seconds to President Biden repeatedly falling on airplane stairs, noting he “left the plane with ease.” While the media have portrayed President Biden’s love of ice cream as endearing, they questioned whether President Trump’s Diet Coke consumption might harm his physical, or mental, health.

President Trump was said to be a “racist” for imposing travel restrictions to the United States from China during the COVID-19 outbreak, while no major media outlet has said the same of President Biden for halting travel from eight African nations over the Omicron variant. While the media regularly stated that President Trump made claims “falsely” or “without evidence,” they have never done the same to President Biden, even when he makes demonstrably false claims about his own family.

And during the Trump years, no legacy media outlet ever ran a headline like the one The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson posted on Friday: “Joe Biden’s Year Was Ruined. Whose Fault Is That?

Still, many on the Left insisted Milbank’s analysis was both correct and a miscarriage of justice.

CNN’s Brian Stelter highlighted the story on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources.” His guest, far-Left commentator Eric Boehlert, said while “everybody gets bad coverage, Trump was a fascist.”

MSNBC’s Richard Stengel agreed, writing, “Human beings aren’t very good at measuring relative scale. But that is one function of journalists. I know bad news seems newsier, but one president who sought to subvert our democracy & another who is actually trying to govern aren’t remotely equivalent.”

Despite the Left’s criticisms of the press, which echo the Biden administration’s frustrations, many Americans simply dismissed the claims of pro-Trump/anti-Biden media bias out of hand. “There’s a paywall,” wrote one Twitter user. “I’m not paying you to gaslight me.”

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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