The Media versus Hillary—Part I

  2 m, 50 s

The American presidential primary season is drawing to a close, and it appears that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former reality TV star Donald Trump are going head-to-head in the fall. Policies aside, this match-up represents two of the most famous people to seek the office who weren’t already President.

Still, the Press plays a role in how people vote, even if the names on the ballot are ones that almost everyone who has looked even once at a TV in the past 30 years knows. This has led to a lot of coverage-of-the-coverage, specifically with regards to Donald Trump’s press dominance.

Trump says the media gets “great ratings” from him, but the coverage is stacked against him. Also, it has been a common marketing canard for Republicans and conservative media types that the Press itself is biased in favor of Democrats or, more specifically, “liberals.” So it should only make sense that Trump is the candidate who gets the most negative coverage right?

Wrong.

A report from data journalism site Vox looked at a sentiment analysis of 170,000 online stories published in dozens of online outlets over a four-month period. Ultimately they discovered two things. First, the majority of press any candidate ever gets is negative. Second, the candidate who gets the vast majority of negative press? Hillary Clinton.

America’s current president notwithstanding, Hillary Clinton is perhaps the single most controversial figure in American politics. She has been in the national, public eye for nearly 25 years. From her time as First Lady of the state of Arkansas to her tenure as President Obama’s Secretary of State, she has been plagued by accusations, scandals, and just general vitriol for all of it.

“Indeed, the cloud around many big Clinton stories is so thick and toxic that it’s hard to get to the bottom of whether she’s the perpetrator or victim of bad deeds,” Jonathan Allen, author of a book on Clinton, said.

There may be something to that argument. For example, take this description of Clinton from an article on this very story, essentially defending her. “In truth, [Clinton] is a boring centrist, whose policy positions are seemingly crafted to be the least offensive as possible. While this is likely because every position she takes garners an overreaction, her critics say it’s because she has no principles and is a corporate/socialist shill.”

While the author might think he is defending the former Secretary of State, one doesn’t even need sentiment analysis to determine that it’s still a negative description of her.

This shows how useful sentiment analysis tools can be and in ways people don’t typically expect. It’s not just measuring how people feel on social media. Tests like this can highlight things like bias press coverage, even when the authors of the reports don’t even realize that it’s there. It also helps combat claims of overwhelming bias in the press. For example, the majority of the coverage was neutral for all the candidates (even Clinton, but barely).

Of course, as with everything involving this technology, there are ways we can improve this tool even more. Crimson Hexagon, who ran the analysis, manually entered and coded the stories as positive, negative, or neutral. That still leaves some room for human bias to creep into the results. As AI gets more advanced, that space will narrow and, eventually, disappear.

Categories: Analysis, Special Interest