Facts Don’t Match! Columnist Fails to Show Hillary Is a ‘Tough But Fair Media Critic’

By Tim Graham

Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan veered into the absurd on Monday with a column that she summarized on Twitter:“Hillary Clinton thinks the news media was unfair to her. She’s right.” For example, “She makes a convincing case that coverage of her email practices as secretary of state was way over the top.”

Actually, Hillary claimed it was “the biggest nothing-burger ever….They covered it like it was Pearl Harbor.” Does Sullivan find that characterization convincing? Or is that way over the top?

The paper’s puffball headline on page C-2 was “Clinton is a tough but fair media critic.”


What’s amazing is how the liberal media elites pretend the voters somehow couldn’t possibly escape an avalanche of harshly worded e-mail server scandal coverage.

Let’s revisit what MRC’s Rich Noyes just reported on evening-news coverage from January 1 to November 7, 2016:

[T]he broadcast evening newscasts spent much more time on Trump’s campaign (2,437 minutes of airtime) than Clinton’s (1,504). But a much greater share of Trump’s coverage was devoted to embarrassing controversies (1,032 minutes, or more than 42% of his total airtime) than on similar stories involving Clinton (488 minutes, or 32% of her airtime).

The networks spent 245 minutes on Clinton’s e-mail scandal, more than any individual Trump controversy, and about one-sixth of her total coverage. But the large number of Trump controversies given heavy coverage by the networks collectively dwarfed coverage of her e-mails.

This is only the time spent on the e-mails; it doesn’t address the tone. Here’s Noyes again:

During the final days of the campaign, when Clinton claims the coverage of the re-opened e-mail probe cost her votes, evaluative statements of the Democratic nominee skewed the most positive of the fall election — 50 percent positive vs. 50 percent negative, compared to a 21-79 split in the previous twelve weeks we previously reported.

Trump’s press was also better at the end — 23 percent positive vs. 77 percent negative — although still far more hostile than Clinton’s.

Margaret Sullivan

Margaret Sullivan

Sullivan found fellow liberals to share her Twilight Zone take on the apparently Trump-favoring media: “The [New York]Times columnist David Leonhardt — a former Washington bureau chief — did offer a tough assessment of the media’s overhyped coverage of the hacked Democratic National Committee emails and the ‘obsession’ with Clinton’s private server.”

Sullivan asserted, among other fake-news items, that she agreed with Mrs. Clinton that the media gave Donald Trump “too much uncritical exposure during the primary season. It’s all true…”

What? This argument only makes a fraction of sense if it refers to live TV coverage of Trump’s speeches without commentary. Whenever the press has commented on Trump, it’s been overwhelmingly critical.

Here’s another fake-news item: a transparently phony statistic that Sullivan borrowed from Hillary:

Clinton did get a raw deal from the press, which largely ignored her on serious policy and allowed Trump to frame the coverage.

The campaign exposed the worst characteristics of the media — its addiction to the sensational, its propensity for overkill, and its profit-driven desire for clicks and ratings.

As a Harvard study noted, the major TV networks gave 220 minutes to policy in 2008. In 2012, it was 114 minutes. In 2016, it was 32 minutes.

The email story, by contrast, got 100 minutes of airtime.

The problem is that 32 minutes stat is not a Harvard number. It’s a Tyndall Report number circulated by Hillary and her fans. Sullivan’s summary is remarkably imprecise: it could leave the notion that the “major TV networks” include cable news, and it could leave the notion that these 32 minutes happened in 24-hours-a-day coverage.

But the Tyndall report – like the Rich Noyes numbers – only measure ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news programs, not the morning shows, and not magazine shows like 60 Minutes.

Then, peel back another layer of imprecision. Tyndall’s 32-minutes stat was about stories focused solely on policy, and did not count stories where the candidates pushed their policy in talking points.

And then another layer: Tyndall reported this number on October 25, “with just two weeks to go.” It’s not even the whole campaign.

Every policy wonk can agree the networks favored scandalous tweets and verbal insults over policy debates, but it’s simply unfactual to imply in any way that policy issues drew 30 minutes of coverage in 11 months.

Liberal partisans like Sullivan can argue that liberal newspapers and TV networks somehow deprived the nation of President Hillary Clinton. But this column mangled the facts and used false citations. The idea that journalism-school students might be assigned as required reading a mess like this Sullivan piece would demonstrate what’s wrong with schools today.

Editor’s note. This appeared at Newsbusters and is reposted with permission.