How Negative is Political News Coverage?


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Updated: 10-22-2017

This is a test-run of a new feature exploring how politics is covered by the mainstream U.S. news media.

Specifically, I’m undertaking an effort to estimate how negative – or positive – political news reporting is from major media outlets. At the moment, my analysis focuses solely on CNN and Fox News. CNN is included because they are a favorite target of the President, who frequently labels them “fake news,” and Fox News is included because they are generally regarded as having a conservative political slant, suggesting their coverage of the Trump administration might generally be more favorable than that of other news outlets.

The graphic below shows the average sentiment conveyed by CNN and Fox News between Saturday March 4, 2017 and Sunday October 22, 2017.

Sentiment is defined here as the average number of positive words per article each day (words like “love,” “respect,” and “admire,” for example) minus the average number of negative words per article each day (words like “hate,” “terror,” and “disgrace,” for example).

Over the course of the past week, both CNN and Fox News used more negative words than positive words in their political news coverage. However, CNN was slightly less negative than Fox News. During the past seven days, the average political news story at CNN contained 4.68 more negative words than positive words. At Fox News, however, the average political news story contained 10.26 more negative words than positive words.

Over the last 233 days, the average political news article from CNN included 2.97 more negative words than positive words, whereas over at Fox News the average article included 3.87 more negative words than positive words.

The graphic below shows the relationship between the average sentiments conveyed by CNN and Fox News.

At the moment, there is a only a slight positive correlation (r = 0.23) between sentiments. This means, for example, that on days when political coverage at Fox News tended to be fairly negative (when the average news story included either many negative words or few positive words), political coverage over at CNN also tended to fairly negative.

However, this positive relationship appears to be driven, in large part, by just a few isolated and extreme events, such as the U.S. missile strike against Syria, which occurred on April 6, 2017. The following day on April 7, the average political news story at CNN contained 16.16 more negative words than positive words, and over at Fox News the average political news story contained 10.6 more negative words than positive words.

 

What were the Most Positive & Negative News Stories on Sunday October 22, 2017?

Most Positive Stories:

CNN: Trump claims he’ll bring ‘biggest tax cuts ever’ (4 Negative Words vs. 24 Positive words)

Fox News: Former presidents lead Texas concert for hurricane relief (5 Negative words vs. 15 Positive words)

Most Negative Stories:

CNN: A timeline of the White House after the Niger raid (78 Negative words vs. 31 Positive words)

Fox News: Trump turns feud with Democrat Wilson into midterm GOP rallying call (23 Negative words vs. 0 Positive words)

 

What Words Appeared Most Frequently in the News on Sunday October 22, 2017?

 

 

What was Happening in the News this Week?

Below is a list of the top headlines from each of the past 7 days, starting with Monday October 16, 2017 and ending with Sunday October 22, 2017. The list comes from Memeorandum, a website that employs an algorithm to auto-generate a summary of popular news stories throughout the day. Each article was featured as the top story as of 1:00 PM EST on each respective day.

  1. Monday, October 16, 2017: The Danger of President Pence, New Yorker
  2. Tuesday, October 17, 2017: Trump’s alternative reality, Axios
  3. Wednesday, October 18, 2017: Trump disputes account of his call with soldier’s widow. But congresswoman who heard exchange says it was ‘horrible.’, Washington Post
  4. Thursday, October 19, 2017: Trump is thrashing around in a straitjacket of GOP lie, Washington Post
  5. Friday, October 20, 2017: In attack on Frederica Wilson over Trump’s call to widow, John Kelly gets facts wrong, Miami Herald
  6. Saturday, October 21, 2017: Exclusive: Pentagon Document Contradicts Trump’s Gold Star Claims, Roll Call
  7. Sunday, October 22, 2017: More than 30 women come forward to accuse director James Toback of sexual harassment, Los Angeles Times

 

A Little About the Methods

The findings presented here are based on a sentiment analysis of 6,382 articles from CNN (scraped from CNN’s politics RSS feed) and 2,281 articles from Fox News (scraped from Fox News’ politics RSS feed). The difference in the number of articles between the two news organizations is due to the fact that CNN offers 30 articles in their news feed at any given time, whereas Fox News offers only 10 articles in their news feed at any given time. Because the analysis of Fox News’ political coverage is based on a smaller sample size of articles, we should expect to see a greater number of extreme values – conveying either positive sentiment or negative sentiment – for Fox News relative to CNN. Both news feeds are embedded below.

Articles were scraped from each news feed at approximately the same time each day, roughly between 12:00 pm EST and 4:00 pm EST.

Text mining and sentiment analysis were performed using the tidytext package in R in conjunction with Bing Liu’s Opinion Lexicon.

A few words that were not intended to express either positive or negative sentiment, but which were flagged by the opinion lexicon as expressing sentiment, were removed from the corpus prior to analysis. Some examples of words that were removed for this reason include: “trump” and “right” – marked in the opinion lexicon as expressing positive sentiment – and “conservative” and “vice” – marked in the opinion lexicon as expressing negative sentiment.

Of course, these results should not be viewed as anything more than mere estimates of the average sentiments conveyed by CNN and Fox News. Moreover, these results most likely DO NOT reflect partisan bias in the media. For a listing of some important caveats and limitations to keep in mind regarding this analysis, and for a discussion of what these findings might – and probably do not – tell us about political news coverage, check out this post.

 

CNN Politics Feed

  • Trump plans to release classified JFK documents
    on October 22, 2017 at 4:43 pm

    President Donald Trump said Saturday he intends to allow the release of classified government documents about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy "subject to the receipt of further information." […]

  • McConnell: 'We're not' abandoning revenue neutral tax reform
    on October 22, 2017 at 4:32 pm

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stood by his previously stated goal of passing tax reform without reducing revenue just days after Congress passed a budget to pave the way for tax cuts that could add an estimated 1.5 trillion to the deficit over the next decade. […]

  • Indonesian military chief denied entry to the United States
    on October 22, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    The chief of Indonesia's military was denied entry to the United States on Saturday, despite having an invitation from US General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. […]

  • McConnell dismisses Trump attacks on himself, GOP
    on October 22, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday brushed off harsh criticism he has received in the past from President Donald Trump and said he trusts Trump as a negotiating partner. […]

  • Trump claims he'll bring 'biggest tax cuts ever'
    on October 22, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    President Donald Trump dismissed Democratic leaders' assertions that the Republican tax reform proposal will hurt the middle class as "their standard" line in an interview that aired on Fox News on Sunday. […]

 

Fox News Politics Feed

 


Author

Brian Kurilla is a psychological scientist with a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology. You can follow Brian on Twitter @briankurilla