Since the beginning of last year, Donald Trump has received less negative coverage than Hillary Clinton, despite the fact that he is an inveterate bigot who insults marginalized people and fundamentally lacks the temperament and experience to be president. Now a new analysis has found that Trump continued to get more positive coverage than Hillary throughout April. The reason for that? We all know.
In the Washington Post, Eric Wemple examines numbers from the research firm mediaQuant, which “indicates that for the month of April, Trump’s media coverage was 85 percent positive—a number that Paul Senatori, mediaQuant’s chief analytics officer, says has been pretty consistent throughout Trump’s nearly year-long campaign.”
By comparison: Hillary’s media coverage was only 70 percent positive. Says Senatori: “It’s amazing that Hillary Clinton has gotten more negative sentiment than Trump has gotten.”
Amazing—and simultaneously entirely typical.
There are a whole lot of explanations for this, from the fact that opinion-makers are still disproportionately white, male, and conservative, to the long history of demeaning Hillary so insistently that unsubstantiable narratives become “conventional wisdom.”
But there is perhaps no more relevant explanation than the basic reality that we live in a culture steeped in gender inequality.
Which is relevant not merely because Trump is a man and Hillary is a woman (although that, too), but because Trump subscribes—and appeals—to a very particular sort of retrograde masculinity, and because Hillary is a feminist woman who champions women.
Trump has become iconic of a breed of swaggering chauvinism on the verge of extinction, a Nietzschean superman who will usher in a new (old) world order by declaring “political correctness is dead.”
Hillary, in contrast, talks about breaking down the very barriers that have limited the opportunities of marginalized people. She explicitly speaks to the needs of women, and people of color, and the LGBT community, and disabled people, and people in poverty.
She talks about the need to expand access for people who have been kept out and kept down. And she listens. Just the very act of listening confers credibility on the voices of people to whom she’s listening—and amplifying our voices is a direct threat to existing power-brokers and gatekeepers.
Trump is the past. Hillary is the future.
And while the members of the disproportionately white, male press might fancy themselves above and separate from the gasping rage of dying patriarchs, many women will tell you that even lots of men who imagine themselves to have achieved some sort of enlightenment routinely engage in a multitude of mundane betrayals that undercut their self-proclaimed commitment to gender equality.
The truth is: Large swaths of the media are more sympathetic to Trump’s crusade than they might care to admit.
They coolly report on disaffected Trump supporters whose blue collar jobs are not as available and secure as they used to be, while the specter of social media, blogs, and new media nips at their own heels; while Black Twitter, feminist blogs, and engagement media outlets like BNR (ahem) hold them accountable in ways they’ve never previously had to navigate.
So maybe it’s not so amazing after all that a not insignificant number of members of the media are inclined to give positive coverage to Trump, despite his heinous bigotry and constitutional unfitness for the presidency. Maybe it’s not so amazing that they are disinclined to give as much positive coverage to Hillary—and frame their more abundant negative coverage of her in sexist frames that invoke disgust for women in authority.
There’s a reason, after all, that Trump was early regarded as a fun bit of entertainment by the people who were not the targets of his subjugative ire. While women and immigrants and Muslims were expressing horror at his odious and harmful rhetoric, he was being treated by the media as the best show in town. Something about what he was saying, and says still, resonated with the many of the people who report on him. Who report, uncritically, that he is an “everyman” who “tells it like it is.” Who is “authentic,” and just “says what everyone is thinking.”
Last night, I was watching a show on cable news, hosted by an ostensibly liberal white man, who mendaciously used the outlier Fox News poll showing Trump leading nationally to launch an entire segment on what a terrible candidate Hillary is. He followed with an all-male panel discussion, which sounded like a Greatest Hits of Hillary Hatred: She’s inauthentic, unlikable, no enthusiasm for her candidacy.
I called a friend, who I suspected would be watching, because he, too, is a voracious newshound by profession. “Are you watching this?” I asked him, incredulous.
“I had to turn it off,” he replied. “They hate her so much.”
“Can you remember,” I asked, “the last time you heard any of these guys say anything positive about Hillary?”
He paused. Thought. “I can’t,” he said.
I wondered aloud if they even knew how to speak positively about her. What would they even say?
It’s as though they’ve been so entrenched in false, negative frames about her for so long, for literally decades, that they have lost all perspective on the fact that she is a wildly popular politician, all over the globe. All they have left are talking points, the most cursory scrutiny of which reveals them to be demonstrably wrong. Their job is precisely that sort of analysis, but they refuse to do it.
The truth about Hillary is given a pass, while Trump is given a pass on sexism, racism, xenophobia, queerphobia, lying, impersonation, evasion, shady business deals, exploitation of workers, poor temperament, incompetency, unpreparedness, defensiveness, unseriousness, and I’m only getting warmed up.
All ignored in favor of positive coverage of Trump, which frequently frames him as a glad-handing, back-slapping, roguish good-time-Charlie, whose cowardly prejudices are “brave truthtelling” and whose regressive machismo is “edgy.”
Meanwhile, Hillary’s extensive policy knowledge makes her an “unexciting policy wonk” and her eminent decency toward marginalized people makes her a trafficker in “identity politics.”
There are people who want to fight epic battles with me over my contention that the disparate coverage of Trump and Hillary is rooted in sexism, but I cannot state this more plainly: If you look at a presidential race in which a catastrophically unqualified buffoon with half a dozen different nasty streaks is elevated by the media as a serious and likable candidate, while an extraordinarily qualified statesperson who preaches love and kindness is dismissed as an uppity monster, and you think that has nothing to do with the respective genders of those candidates, you are part of the problem.
I shan’t waste my time fighting those battles with people who refuse to acknowledge the obvious any longer. I will instead invest my time writing positive pieces about Hillary Clinton in a bid to balance the scales—because, unlike many members of our esteemed media, I actually find plenty of positive things to say.
(Photo: Hillary for America)