Home » OPINION » Columns » TODD SMITH — New study shows how the press failed voters in the 2016 presidential election

TODD SMITH — New study shows how the press failed voters in the 2016 presidential election



A new report from Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy analyzes news coverage during the 2016 general election, and concludes that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump received coverage that was overwhelmingly negative in tone and extremely light on policy.

The negativity was not unique to the 2016 election cycle but instead part of a pattern in place since the 1980s and one that is not limited to election coverage.

“A healthy dose of negativity is unquestionably a good thing,” wrote Thomas Patterson, the study’s author. “Yet an incessant stream of criticism has a corrosive effect. It needlessly erodes trust in political leaders and institutions and undermines confidence in government and policy,” resulting in a media environment full of false equivalencies that can mislead voters about the choices they face.

The study found that, on topics relating to the candidates’ fitness for office, Clinton and Trump’s coverage was virtually identical in terms of its negative tone. “Were the allegations surrounding Clinton of the same order of magnitude as those surrounding Trump?” said Patterson. “It’s a question that political reporters made no serious effort to answer during the 2016 campaign.”

This is the final report of a multi-part research series analyzing news coverage of candidates and issues during the 2016 presidential election. The study tracks news coverage from the second week of August 2016 to the day before Election Day.

This Shorenstein Center study is based on an analysis of news reports by ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, the Los Angeles Times, NBC, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. The study’s data were provided by Media Tenor, a firm that specializes in the content analysis of news coverage. The research was partially funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Most Americans who see fake news believe it

Fake news headlines fool American adults about 75 percent of the time, according to a new survey conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for BuzzFeed News.

The survey also found that people who cite Facebook as a major source of news are more likely to view fake news headlines as accurate than those who rely less on the platform for news.

This is the first large-scale public opinion research study into the fake news phenomenon that has had a sweeping effect on global politics, and that recently caused a gunman to threaten a D.C. pizza place. The results paint a picture of news consumers with little ability to evaluate the headlines that often fly toward them without context on social media platforms. They also – surprisingly – suggest that consumers are likely to believe even false stories that don’t fit their ideological bias.

And the survey calls into question the notion – which Facebook has reportedly begun testing – that consumers themselves can do the work of distinguishing between real and fake news.

The new data come from an online survey of 3,015 U.S. adults conducted between Nov. 28 and Dec. 1.

“The 2016 election may mark the point in modern political history when information and disinformation became a dominant electoral currency,” said Chris Jackson of Ipsos Public Affairs, which conducted the survey on behalf of BuzzFeed News. “Public opinion, as reflected in this survey, showed that ‘fake news’ was remembered by a significant portion of the electorate and those stories were seen as credible.”

The survey found that those who identify as Republican are more likely to view fake election news stories as very or somewhat accurate. Roughly 84 percent of the time, Republicans rated fake news headlines as accurate (among those they recognized), compared to a rate of 71 percent among Democrats. The survey also found that Trump voters are more likely to rate familiar fake news headlines as accurate than Clinton voters.

In the survey, respondents were shown a random selection of six headlines – three true and three false – related to the election. Those six were drawn from a list of 11 headlines gathered largely from a BuzzFeed News analysis that compared the top-performing fake election news articles on Facebook to the top-performing real election news articles on Facebook. Of the 11 headlines tested, five were false and six were true.

Respondents who said they recalled the story in question were then asked to rate the claim in the headline as “very accurate,” “somewhat accurate,” “not very accurate,” or “not at all accurate.”

Real news headlines received a higher overall accuracy rating than fake news. The respondents made 1,516 judgments about fake news headlines they’d recalled seeing or hearing about; 75 percent of the time, they thought those headlines were “somewhat” or “very” accurate. By comparison, they considered 83 percent of real news headlines to be accurate, based on 2,619 judgments.

Social media ads may hit $50 billion by 2020

The amount of money spent on advertising on social media is expected to catch up with newspaper ad revenues by 2020, a leading advertising forecaster predicts.

The rapid expansion of social media platforms on mobile devices, as well as faster internet connectivity and more sophisticated technology, has triggered a huge shift in the way many people get their news.

Advertising agency Zenith Optimedia, owned by France’s Publicis, predicts global advertising expenditure on social media will account for 20 percent of all Internet advertising in 2019, hitting $50 billion and coming in just 1 percent smaller than newspaper ads. It expects social media to overtake newspapers comfortably by 2020.

“Social media and online video are driving continued growth in global ad spend, despite political threats to the economy,” Jonathan Barnard, head of forecasting at Zenith, told Reuters.

Advertising trends have been shifting rapidly in recent years, with firms moving their ad budgets from sources such as newspapers to websites found on computers and mobile phones.

Marketers are increasingly directing their spending to social media sites where ads blend into users’ newsfeeds on platforms such as Facebook and Snapchat proving more effective than interruptive banner formats.

Zenith’s report forecasts that global advertising expenditure will grow 4.4 percent in 2017, the same rate as in 2016, which it said would be a strong performance given that big events like the Olympic Games, Britain’s EU referendum and the U.S. presidential election boosted advertising this year.

Online video advertising is also rapidly growing and set to total $35.4 billion across the world by 2019, fractionally ahead of the amount spent on radio advertising but still far less than television.

Golden Mic | First Responders, Dolly Parton help wildfire victims

When uncontrolled wildfires swept through the Smoky Mountains, devastating Sevier County, killing 14 people, and scorching 17,000 acres, including portions of popular tourist destinations in Gatlinburg, Tenn. and Pigeon Forge, Tenn. first responders made a huge impact in saving lives.

Dolly Parton immediately jumped into action, too, and announced her My People Fund, a coordinated effort with the Dollywood Foundation and East Tennessee businesses. Through the fund, she pledged to provide $1,000 a month for six months to families who lost their primary residences in the fire.

She also hosted Smoky Mountains Rise, a benefit telethon earlier this week featuring more than 20 country music artists to raise much needed funds for the victims. Kenny Rogers, Reba McEntire, Chris Stapleton, Chris Young, Alison Krauss, Cyndi Lauper, Alabama, Lauren Alaina, Hank Williams Jr., Don McLean and Jamey Johnson participated in the event that took place in Nashville, Tenn. and aired live on numerous TV and media outlets.

For this life saving – and life-changing – effort, the first responders, Dolly Parton and her country music colleagues take the Golden Mic.

» Todd Smith is president and chief communications officer of Deane, Smith & Partners, a full-service branding, PR, marketing and advertising firm with offices in Jackson. The firm — based in Nashville, Tenn. — is also affiliated with Mad Genius. Contact him at todd@deanesmithpartners.com, and follow him @spinsurgeon.


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