In case you’ve been living under a rock these past few years, you might have missed when the U.S. elected the most unpopular president in its history. The media has not missed this, however, covering the Donald Trump presidency at record rates and with an unforeseen amount of vitriol. A report by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy acknowledged that “President Trump dominated media coverage in the outlets and programs analyzed, with Trump being the topic of 41 percent of all news stories — three times the amount of coverage received by previous presidents.” This excessive coverage has also been disproportionately focused on Trump’s persona, and not on his political decisions, hurting the quality and relevance of news stories during his presidency.
American media’s Trump coverage differs from how European media covers the U.S. as evidenced by the Harvard report: European media “gave relatively more space to international trade, military, and foreign policy issues,” while only four percent of American coverage was given to the economy, for example. Europe has a clear interest in the U.S.’ global actions, but the discrepancies in coverage stem from differing views of media. Europe does not treat media like entertainment but rather as an educational tool. It is more direct in questioning Trump’s ability to lead or his domestic and international policy decisions.
The news media coverage of the Trump administration in the U.S. must change. It is understandable that journalists find themselves in an incredibly difficult position, being forced to report on “the world’s most oppressive leader toward press freedom,” as titled by the Committee to Protect Journalists. But it doesn’t excuse journalists’ laziness in covering the presidency. Instead of taking a longer and more partial look at his policies, television media often sensationalizes Trump. And when it comes time to critique Trump’s policies, it often relies on cheap soundbites, 80 percent of which come from Republicans. There is no nuanced discussion when most of the time allotted goes to quick, one-sided video clips.
Ultimately, the presidency coverage does not focus on what really matters, the policy implication of having Trump in office. The Pew Research Center has found that the American press coverage in 2017 talked about Trump’s leadership and character a staggering 69 percent of the time. That same number was 50 for former President Obama and 35 for former President Bush. And herein lies a real problem: The more time focused on Trump’s persona, the less the media tackles issues of policy, ideology, and agenda. There are of course concerns around Trump’s sanity in office, but news sources should engage an actual dialogue, which functions best without debating whether his last tweet means that Trump has gone mad.
By focusing too much on Trump’s persona, the American media has helped create an inefficient system that drowns out real news and glorifies the wild sayings of a backtracking and erratic president. Journalists need to recognize that the daily tweet is different than current events. This approach began well before Trump took office but needs to reverse if the press wants to meet its responsibility to inform the public.