Accusations of media bias reveal mixed evidence

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First year Caleb O’Brien smiles as Trump was announced as the winner in Florida. SAM CARAVANA / THE DEPAUW
First year Caleb O’Brien smiles as Trump was announced as the winner in Florida. SAM CARAVANA / THE DEPAUW

Since being nominated in July, Republican nominee Donald Trump has railed against the media, claiming it is biased against him and working to protect and promote his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

According to a Quinnipiac University poll published on Oct. 19, Trump isn't the only one who thinks the media industry fails to be objective. In the poll, 55 percent of participants said they believe the media is biased.

Miranda Spivack, Pulliam distinguished visiting professor of journalism at DePauw University and former reporter at The Washington Post, said the amount of media bias varies by medium. “You have to differentiate TV and whatever passes as print now,” Spivack said. “I think the TV has gotten more polarizing in their coverage.”

According to a recent study by Media Research Center that looked at broadcast networks, 9 percent of Trump coverage was positive compared to Clinton’s 21 percent.

Jeff McCall, professor of communications, said some of this disparity is due to Trump’s impassioned statements, but he believes media outlets can do a better job of providing equal coverage.

“There is some point where the media has to analyze its own coverage,” McCall said. “They need to look at the number of stories they're doing, and assess the tone of them and find ways to provide an accurate balance to what is going on out there and that doesn't mean there has to be a one-to-one balance. If someone is generating more negative news than positive at a certain point, you just have to cover that.”

McCall also attributes the disparity in media coverage to laziness. He said that the media reported Trump’s controversial statements instead of taking the time to sift through thousands of Clinton’s emails released by Wikileaks. “If you look at a Trump tweet from two in the morning when he insults somebody, that doesn't take any time to research,” McCall said.

A disparity in negative coverage may also be chalked up to Trump’s recent arrival to politics. Kelechi Ikwuakor, a senior political science major, believes the media has been reporting on Hillary Clinton for years. “She’s probably the most investigated politician in modern politics,” Ikwuakor said. “There’s no one who gets scrutinized more in politics than Hillary Clinton.”

Still, McCall maintains that Clinton’s public record and the scandals surrounding her should have been better investigated and published.

Though Trump has claimed the media is rigged against him, he has received close to twice the amount of mentions on TV networks than Clinton, according to analysis by Television News Archive. Trump has garnered close to 1.1 million mentions compared to Clinton's 600,000.

Ikwuakor argues that despite Trump’s criticism of the industry, extensive media coverage helped Trump earn the Republican nomination.“Trump has benefitted a lot from the media,” Ikwuakor said. “I think that the media has pushed the narrative that the people want this anti-establishment politician so, especially in the primaries, he kind of knocked out a bunch of different candidates just because he was anti-establishment.”

The media has bigger shortcomings this election cycle than bias, according to Ikwuakor. “Every American who has followed the media should be able to tell you the policy positions of each candidate, but I don't think they can because the media is too focused on Hillary Clinton’s emails or what Donald Trump said on a bus,” Ikwuakor said.

“Two presidential candidates talk for 90 minutes. They cover a range of topics, and for four days after, all we can talk about is an insult to a beauty contestant 20 years ago,” McCall said. “That is where I think the media has failed us frankly. They have allowed the agenda to be minimized.”

Spivack says Trump’s claims that the media is rigged are nothing new. “People always think there is a big conspiracy, but most of the time getting the newspaper out is a miracle,” Spivack said. “You’re not sitting around thinking ‘how can we misportray this person or that person.’ It just doesn't work that way.”