As US media gave Trump a honeymoon, international journalists took aim

May 4, 2017

It isn’t just Americans who are riveted by the day-to-day reality show that has become the Trump presidency.

Trump has also taken up an inordinate share of the international news cycle. The tenor of the coverage has been mixed, from the Russian TV host who praised Trump for avoiding the word democracy in his inauguration speech to the German reporter who was hailed as a hero at home for her tough questioning of Trump during a press conference and the Australian newspaper that reopened its Washington bureau to take advantage of the Trump bump.

Media Tenor International, a monitoring firm based in Switzerland, has been tracking Trump coverage in Europe and the US since Trump announced his run. Founder and CEO Roland Schatz says there has been more coverage of Trump in European media than any other US president—most of it negative.

According to Media Tenor’s analysis of more than 13,000 reports on TV news — as well as in the Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal — since June 2015, Trump enjoyed something of a honeymoon period in US media between the election and inauguration, as journalists praised Trump’s win and were mostly neutral on policy issues. Conversely, it was during this period that European outlets began questioning Trump’s suitability to govern, and the role of the US in world affairs—topics that received scant coverage at home.

Once Trump took office, those issues took center stage in Europe, along with a focus on Trump’s proposed border controls. In February, the German political magazine Der Spiegel, known for its provocative cover illustrations, published a widely circulated editorial arguing that Trump is a liar and calling for Germany to “stand up in opposition to the 45th president of the United States.” At the same time, negative coverage of Trump resumed in the US and positive coverage of Trump in Europe ceased almost entirely. “The degree to which American politics has been damaged since [Trump] has been in office is much greater than even it was under George W. Bush,” says Schatz, “and the European media already had the impression back then that it was the end of the world.”

Top 3 Topics in US and European Trump Coverage


(Jun 16, 2015 – Nov 7, 2016)
US Europe
1. Election Campaigns 1. Election Campaigns
2. Public Opinion Polls 2. Personality
3. National Election 3. Public Opinion Polls
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Election to Inauguration
(Nov 8, 2016 – Jan 20, 2017)
US Europe
1. Election Outcomes 1. National Election
2. Constitution 2. Personnel Decisions
3. National Election 3. Election Outcomes


First Weeks in Office
(Jan 21 – Mar 14, 2017)
US Europe
1. Immigration 1. Border Controls
2. Constitution 2. Suitability to Govern
3. Personnel Decisions 3. Role of the US


While European TV media has been particularly critical of the administration’s proposed travel ban, the continent is hardly alone in its opposition. During Trump’s first month in office, a quarter of all editorials in Canada’s largest newspaper, the Toronto Star, focused on the Trump administration, and the editorial board repeatedly urged the Canadian government to position Canada as an open-armed alternative to the closed border policies Trump was espousing. “The federal government should heed the call of legal and human rights experts and ensure that those who cannot now count on safe haven in the U.S. can find it here,” it wrote.

On the other side of the ideological divide, Trump began his presidency as something of a darling of Russian media, which is tightly controlled by the government (it ranks close to the bottom of the press freedom index compiled annually by Reporters Without Borders). In January it was reported that Trump was mentioned 202,000 times in Russian media—more than Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Since then, Russian coverage became more measured as Putin’s government, along with the rest of the world, struggled to get a handle on what Trump’s foreign policies actually are, and what they could portend. Following Trump’s Syria strike and Trump’s posturing about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, Russian state-controlled media has begun to show outright hostility to Trump. The Moscow Times called out the U-turn: “After spending months preparing the nation for a detente under President Trump, Russian television pundits and producers are now hurrying to demonize the US leader.”

Similarly, Trump was received positively by the Chinese around the time of his election. But after Trump’s phone call with Taiwan’s leader Tsai Ing-wen soon after the election, and his subsequent flip-flopping over his intentions in the South China Sea, media coverage took on a more cautious tone.

Sevanti Ninan of Indian media watchdog The Hoot told CJR in March that while Trump has received a lot of attention from the Indian press, it’s not uncommon for American politics to be well-covered in the subcontinent given how many families have relatives living in the US. She says the tone of stories about Trump were negative in the lead up to the election, and have since been tinged with concern. “First there was some incredulity that he was actually doing things he said he would do. Now there is alarm at the attacks on Indian immigrants in the US, [which] are seen as an offshoot of his pronouncements.” Stories such as the firing of Preet Bharara and the H1B visa issue have ensured that the amount of coverage has held steady since Trump took office.

Indian journalists see some parallels between Trump’s treatment of the US press corps, and their own experiences with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Trump attacks the press, the Indian prime minister treats them as irrelevant to his connection with the Indian people,” says Ninan. “Many of us here can see that journalists in the US stand their ground much more than our tribe does here.”

While the enthusiasm towards Trump has cooled overseas, his accusations that news outlets that print information he doesn’t like are sharing “fake news” have proved contagious. In February, the Russian government launched a website highlighting foreign news reports about Russia with the word “fake” stamped in big, red letters across a screenshot of the article. The phrase has also been used by politicians in Australia, the UK, and China. Media Tenor’s Schatz says Europeans are sensitive to the “fake news” moniker due to their history with the use of the word lügenpresse (lying press), an accusation leveled against German media by the Nazis. “We have a history of that,” says Schatz. “It [wasn’t used] for 60 years because everybody knew it was ridiculous, and then the right-wing extremists started to use it [again] during their protest movements.”

As the Trump show continues, and the US press corps struggles to keep up with the news generated by Trump’s domestic policies, the foreign press offers up insights on how the Trump presidency is affecting US relations abroad, and its standing in the world. Just like American citizens at home, the world is watching.

Shelley Hepworth , formerly a CJR Delacorte Fellow, is Technology Editor at The Conversation in Australia. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymiranda.