As Hillary Clinton prepares to promote her new book on her 2016 election loss, simply titled "What Happened," the rest of us prepare to hear every excuse about how her allegedly inevitable juggernaut landed in a ditch. The most implausible villain in this scenario is the liberal media; somehow they were disloyal to the Clintons and "played by the Republicans."
Hillary die-hards are promoting a new report from Harvard University's Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society that insists the press was remarkably unfair to her campaign. Former Clinton aide Peter Daou tweeted out the study and insisted it should "result in mass apologies from the media."
The study offered this key finding: "Donald Trump succeeded in shaping the election agenda. Coverage of Trump overwhelmingly outperformed coverage of Clinton. Clinton's coverage was focused on scandals, while Trump's coverage focused on his core issues. ... Immigration and Muslims/Islam were the two most widely covered substantive issues of the campaign."
No one could plausibly argue that the media was nicer to Trump than they were to Hillary Clinton, or that they treated his policy proposals with more respect. They dubbed Trump's comments on immigration and Islam as horribly scandalous, while they dismissed Clinton's scandals like the private email server as a "stupid issue" (as John Dickerson of CBS said).
To assess this study's claims, there are fundamental questions: What is the time frame of this research? How is the press defined?
The study period began on May 1, 2015, and went through Election Day. So it's plausible that the media's horror about Trump's comments on Mexican and Muslim immigration were a dominant topic. For most of the early months, Clinton's campaign avoided the press and tried to center her race on her qualities rather than her policies — focusing on her competence and experience and suggesting that Trump had neither.
When most people hear the term "the press," they think of the traditional press, the so-called objective media outlets. But this Harvard study defined the press as including a bunch of "hyperpartisan" sites, from Breitbart on the right to the Daily Kos on the left. It evaluated social media, studying the most shared stories of the campaign. That might be interesting, but it's not a study of press coverage as most people understand it.
MSNBC host Ari Melber summarized the study's finding on media consumption by saying: "Clinton supporters shared actual news stories from news outlets that they liked. And Trump supporters shared opinion pieces from partisan and propaganda outlets. So, Clinton's top sources were journalistic — the New York Times, Washington Post, and Politico, while Trump supporters, according to this massive amount of data, chose partisan outlets like The Daily Caller and Breitbart."
Try not to laugh at the idea that The New York Times and the Washington Post were nonpartisan outlets with no animus against Trump and no favoritism toward Clinton.
But here's where we scream "Buyer beware" on these studies of campaign bias. Did the Harvard researchers actually read the contents of each story? No.
They offered "content analysis using automated tools." They had Media Cloud software scan sentences ... because their sample was literally millions of stories. This is as nebulous as counting the number of Google mentions of a topic to say whether it was overcovered or undercovered.
At least another Harvard outfit, the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, issues studies "conducted by trained full-time employees who visually evaluate the content."
Clinton can't blame the liberal media for her defeat. It's not fair to blame journalists for sharing her blindness: She can't see how half the country dismisses them as arrogant elitists who won't let "deplorables" have any voice in how America evolves.