Negative media coverage of Donald Trump was 77 percent during the general election, according to a study released Wednesday by the Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.
Trump complained during the campaign that the media was biased against him in favor of Democrat Hillary Clinton. The study found that while Clinton also received more negative coverage than positive, it was only 64 percent negative in the general election.
When it came to questions of the candidates' fitness for office, Clinton and Trump each had equally high negative numbers: 87 percent.
"Were the allegations surrounding Clinton of the same order of magnitude as those surrounding Trump?" the study's author, Thomas Patterson, a Bradlee professor of Government and the Press at the Harvard Kennedy School, wrote. "It's a question that political reporters made no serious effort to answer during the 2016 campaign."
Still, The Washington Post announced in early May it was assigning 20 reporters specifically to look into Trump's past. The Post's Bob Woodward said at the time it also was working to get to the "essence" of Clinton, but did not say whether the paper had assigned 20 reporters to her case.
Negative presidential campaign coverage is not new. Negative stories have outweighed positive ones for all candidates since 1980, according to the study. It peaked in the contentious 2000 Bush-Gore election at 75 percent for both candidates combined.
"A healthy dose of negativity is unquestionably a good thing," Patterson wrote. "Yet an incessant stream of criticism has a corrosive effect. It needlessly erodes trust in political leaders and institutions and undermines confidence in government and policy."
Clinton actually received more negative coverage than Trump when the two parties' primary campaign seasons were included in the figures. Clinton received 62 percent negative coverage to Trump's 56 percent. Clinton faced attacks from rival Bernie Sanders and his supporters in the primaries, but Trump also was attacked by some of his 16 GOP primary opponents.
The negative press coverage isn't limited to political races, the study found. Negative stories also are far more common than positive ones on topics such as immigration, Muslims, health policy and the economy.
"The real bias of the press is not that it's liberal. Its bias is a decided preference for the negative," Patterson wrote.
The study analyzed news reports by ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, the Los Angeles Times, NBC, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.
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