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US media lack public trust in coverage of China, Trump

China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-07-10 10:08

Like many in China, I have long felt the US news media bias in covering China. Much of this, in my view, is due to an individual writer's lack of knowledge about China, his political bias, the agenda of his news organization or political correctness in the United States.

Don't get me wrong. As a journalist, I understand the watchdog role of the press. Yet that is totally different from sheer biased reporting.

More Americans might see such a problem when they look at the news media treatment of US President Donald Trump. A Pew Center survey in March shows that 83 percent of Americans say current tensions have made the relationship between the administration and the news media unhealthy.

That includes 88 percent of Democrats and 78 percent of Republicans. Meanwhile, 73 percent say these tensions are getting in the way of access to important national political news and information.

It is true that Trump has made plenty of controversial or outrageous comments since he started his presidential race on June 16, 2015, but the US news media's extreme bias against Trump is obvious.

A report in May by the Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy analyzed news coverage of Trump's first 100 days in office. It found that 80 percent of the coverage was negative, while only 20 percent was positive.

This compared with the 41 percent negative coverage Barack Obama received; and the 57 percent of George W. Bush and 60 percent of Bill Clinton.

Fox News was the best place for Trump, where 48 percent of the coverage was positive, and 52 percent negative. The negative coverage at CNN and NBC was both 93 percent; CBS 91 percent; New York Times, 87 percent; Washington Post, 83 percent; and The Wall Street Journal 70 percent.

Trump might be the first US president who took the news media head on, calling them fake news and dishonest, something that a shrewd US president and politician would rarely do given the outsize power of news media today in influencing votes and public opinion.

On the other hand, US news media were not almighty because Trump won the 2016 election despite a hostile media environment and a predicted landslide for Hillary Clinton, with most major polls concluding a Clinton victory was a foregone conclusion.

A report by senior media writer Jack Shafter and data reporter Tucker Doherty of Politico in May is telling. Some 72 percent of all internet publishing or newspaper employees work in a county that Clinton won.

"By this measure, of course, Clinton was the national media's candidate," they wrote, adding that "the national media really does work in a bubble" and "don't get the 'real America' of southern Ohio or rural Kansas".

It is no secret that high ratings in covering Trump is also one of the drivers for the enthusiasm displayed by many US news outlets, especially the cable networks.

Conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan believes the bias of the national media is due to news executives and producers having determined that it is more profitable to actively oppose Trump than attempt to cover him objectively.

Watching and reading news about China in US news media gives many Chinese the same feeling why the coverage is so biased. China rarely gets any credit for anything, especially when it comes to relations with the US. The narrative: China is always wrong, and China is evil.

I cannot stop laughing when watching the superficial and one-sided analysis by some talking heads on US TV networks, especially by someone who has predicted China's collapse multiple times.

I wonder why some respected China experts, both in China and the US, are never or rarely invited to talk on TV. Is that because they are too rational and not sensational enough to help TV ratings?

Daniel Griffiths, a senior journalist with BBC World Service and a former China correspondent, carried out a detailed content analysis in 2013 of how China was represented in the online sites of The New York Times, BBC News and The Economist back then. His conclusion was that the international media coverage of China had too narrow an agenda.

The BBC actually deserves a lot of credit for its recent series titled Tales from Modern China. Such programs about today's China are seriously lacking on US TV networks and newspapers.

It is not hard to understand why those talking heads and journalists make such horrible mistakes. As a Chinese national, I feel the need to go back home from time to time to catch up with the fast changes there. That is also the thinking of many China hands in the US I talked to.

It is forgivable that those who have not lived in China or even visited China keep pretending they know all the problems and solutions in China.

The US news media are facing a crisis of low public confidence. A Gallup poll in June revealed that only 27 percent say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in newspapers, while 24 percent have high confidence in TV news;16 percent have high confidence in news on the internet.

If news media are all about public trust, then US news media have failed miserably.

Contact the writer at chenweihua@chinadailyusa.com

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