(AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

The press still obsessed with Donald Trump's voters, but they didn't care about Obama's

The media double standard at play is monumental


Eric Boehlert
May 5, 2017 2:00PM (UTC)
This article originally appeared on Media Matters.

At this point, if you’re a Donald Trump supporter -- and especially if you’re one from a mostly white town inside a red state -- and a Beltway reporter hasn’t interviewed you as part of a Trump supporter update story, you need to get out more often.

A platoon of reporters continues to fan out to Trump strongholds, eagerly collecting quotes (“I think he’s doing a great job”) from people who voted for Trump and who want to confirm how much they still support him. (“Hitting it out of the ballpark.”) It’s a bizarre press phenomenon that has no precedent in modern history.

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Specifically, eight years ago in April 2009, as President Barack Obama approached his first 100 days in office, the Beltway press was in no way obsessed with chronicling his “supporters.” There certainly wasn’t an avalanche of “Obama Voter” headlines, nor did reporters sprint to blue state bastions like Cambridge, MA, Montclair, NJ, or Portland, OR, to harvest effusive quotes from Obama’s biggest fans.

The media double standard at play is monumental.

During Trump’s first 100 days, The New York Times has published more than 130 articles in its news and opinion sections that mentioned “Trump supporters” or Trump voters, according to Nexis. During Obama’s first 100 days in office, the Times published seven articles in the news and opinion sections that mentioned “Obama supporters” or Obama voters.

At The Washington Post, the daily has published more than 140 articles in its news and opinion sections referencing “Trump supporters” or Trump voters. But in 2009, it published only 16 articles referencing Obama supporters or voters during the same time period.

In 2009, it just wasn’t a thing. Back then, finding out what Obama voters thought of the new president simply wasn’t considered as newsworthy by the political press. Yet today, what Trump voters think of him is being hyped as wildly important.

We’ve seen nonstop entries to the genre in recent days: Politico (“Poll: Trump Voters Stand By The President”), Los Angeles Times (“Voters In This Democratic Part of Colorado Backed Trump. After 100 days, They Have No Regrets”), Hartford Courant (“At 100 Days, Trump Supporters In State Like What They See”), NBC News(“This County Flipped From Obama To Trump. How Do They Feel Now?”) New York Times (“These Guys Really Like Trump”).

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The conveyor belt of “Trump Voters” stories has become so relentless that the topic, and the media’s insatiable appetite, has morphed into a punch line on Twitter:

And the hits keep coming. Look at the big voter piece the Times did late last week, “Circling Back to Voters, 100 Days Into Trump Era.” The piece was explained this way (emphasis added):

Now, as President Trump approaches his 100th day in office, we wanted to circle back to some of the voters — most of them Trump supporters — we had spoken with around the start of his presidency about the issues that had driven their votes.

So to take the nation’s temperature about Trump’s first 100 days, the Times focused largely on interviewing voters in white communities from red states. And specifically, to take the nation’s temperature, the Times quoted an alt-right white supremacist activist who during last year’s election “was captured on video shoving a black woman at a Trump rally.” (He thinks Trump’s doing a great job.)

This “Trump Voter” press trend has manifested in other odd ways, like suggesting that if Trump’s base still approves of him -- while most Americans do not -- than that means Trump’s support is “stable” because he “has held onto the support of the voters who put him in the White House,” and his base is "steady."

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No president in the history of modern polling has lost his base after just 100 days in office. It’s unthinkable and represents a completely preposterous premise. (It took roughly six years for President George W. Bush to finally start losing his base, and he left office as the least popular president in U.S. history.) So why is that the baseline being used to judge Trump’s success?

Fact: Most presidents expand their base of support during the first months after their election victory.  (That’s why it’s called a honeymoon.) But not Trump, who boasts a historically awful approval rating for a new president at his first 100 days. To give Trump credit for hanging onto his base is the political equivalent of a participation medal. But for some reason in 2009, the press wasn’t handing out those awards.

Back then, what did the Beltway press think was exceedingly important as Obama’s first 100 days approached? The president’s most fevered critics in the Tea Party, of course. And that press obsession stretched on for years and greatly exaggerated the movement’s importance.

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At the time, I noted that during one ten-day stretch between April 9 - 19, 2009, the three cable news channels reported on or discussed the fledgling Tea Party movement more than 100 times. (Fox News quickly emergedas the Tea Party’s unofficial marketing partner.)

Note that Media Matters recently reported that one day after hundreds of thousands of protesters worldwide took to the streets to criticize Trump’s anti-science agenda during the March for Science, the event was essentially ignored on the Sunday morning talk shows. But you know which protesters were not ignored by the same Sunday shows eight years ago this month? Tea Party protesters who staged anti-Obama demonstrations.

On April 19, 2009, NBC’s Meet The Press stressed at the top of its show that “Tea party protests over taxes this week highlighting the political divide as conservatives rail against the administration's big government answers to the financial crisis.” The show then interviewed Republican Dick Armey, who helped plan the rallies. (Meet the Press failed to cover the recent March for Science.)

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Soon after taking office in 2009, and following his landslide popular vote victory, Obama faced a firewall of criticism in his first 100 days, and the press responded by pushing the views of his critics front and center. After Trump lost the popular vote, he has also faced a firewall of criticism in his first 100 days. But the press has responded by pushing the views of his supporters front and center.


Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

MORE FROM Eric Boehlert

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Barack Obama Donald Trump Media Matters Red State Trump Supporters Trump Voters

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