Hillary Clinton
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

If you had asked me to guess which candidate from either party received the most positive news coverage during the primaries, I would have guessed Bernie Sanders. There were almost no negative exposés or investigative pieces of him, and most coverage focused on his surprising successes and his huge rallies. Certainly, he came under more scrutiny as he made progress, and he hurt himself at times, in particular with his meeting with the New York Daily News editorial staff. Still, his problem with the media wasn’t what they said about him but in getting them to saying anything about him at all. Trump stole most of the oxygen that Sanders needed.

In any case, it turns out that my intuition was correct. At least through the end of 2015, Sanders received by far the most positive news coverage. That’s the conclusion of a study done by the Shorenstein Center at Harvard University, anyway.

Hillary Clinton received the most negative coverage of any candidate.

As his poll numbers ticked upward, [Sanders] was portrayed as a “gaining ground” candidate, a favorable storyline buttressed by reports of increasingly large crowds and enthusiastic followers. “The overflow crowds Sanders has been drawing in Iowa and New Hampshire,” said USA Today, “are signs that there is ‘a real hunger’ for a substantive discussion about Americans’ economic anxieties . . . .” The “real hunger” extended also to journalists, who are drawn to a candidate who begins to make headway against an odds-on favorite.

The odds-on favorite got virtually no breaks from either liberal or conservative media…

…Whereas media coverage helped build up Trump, it helped tear down Clinton …

Month after month … her coverage was more negative than positive. There was only one month in the whole of 2015 where the tone of her coverage was not in the red and, even then, it barely touched positive territory. During the first half of the year, excluding neutral references, it averaged three to one negative statements over positive statements. Her coverage in the second half of the year was more favorable, but still damning. The ratio for that period was more than three to two negative over positive.

I think candidates bear some responsibility for their coverage, so if Clinton was barraged with questions about her emails, for example, then that’s largely her own fault. But, still, if there’s an impression out there that the media establishment was in the bag for Clinton and had it out for Sanders, that impression is the opposite of credible.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com