While U.S. television news outlets have largely ignored the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act during their evening news and opinion programming, they have covered repeatedly and at-length Tim Tebow, Casey Anthony, Kim Kardashian's divorce, the British Royal Family, and Alec Baldwin being kicked off an airplane.
Last week, we released a study showing that during their evening programming, MSNBC, Fox News, ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN devoted a combined total of one segment to SOPA and its Senate companion bill, the Protect IP Act. (That segment aired on CNN's The Situation Room. Though Fox News Channel has apparently not touched the story during evening programming, conservative/libertarian host Andrew Napolitano has run several segments vocally opposing SOPA on his program, which runs on the lower-rated Fox Business Network.) The parent companies of these networks, as well as two of the networks themselves, are listed as official "supporters" of SOPA on the U.S. House of Representatives' website.
Since then, coverage has continued to be non-existent, with one exception. CNN's Erin Burnett covered SOPA during a report on her show last night, noting major tech companies' objections to the legislation and the planned blackout next Wednesday of the social news website Reddit in protest of the bill.
Though the online arms of most of these networks have covered developments in the story, evening TV coverage is still lacking.
Rather than covering legislation that Google co-founder Sergey Brin has warned would "put us on a par with the most oppressive nations in the world," these outlets have instead broadcast numerous segments featuring discussions of stories that carry far less import.
Some lowlights in TV news coverage since SOPA was introduced in the House of Representatives on October 26, 2011:
- While ABC has not mentioned SOPA during its flagship news program, World News with Diane Sawyer, it did find time to cover Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton's refusal to take a bite of "peanut paste" and whether this was evidence that "there might be a little prince or princess on the way." As ABC's Duncan Larcombe reported at the time, "The tiniest hint like this could be massive, and we'll always look for those."
- It seemed no event involving the British Royal Family was too trivial for inclusion in nightly news and opinion broadcasts. NBC's Nightly News and ABC's World News both covered Prince William and Kate Middleton moving into William's childhood home, and CNN discussed the revelation that Kate has "what appears to be a scar on the left side of her head."
- CNN, ABC, and Fox News all covered Casey Anthony (whose trial ended six months ago) releasing a YouTube video last week.
- Fox News in particular has been obsessed with any perceived slight of Tim Tebow over the past few months, but they have not been alone in their overwrought coverage of the Denver quarterback. Earlier this week, ABC's World News devoted a segment to Tebow's latest win and mentioned how "many of us [are] scratching our heads over two statistics, that Tebow threw 316 yards and averaged 31.6 yards per pass. Remarkable, since his favorite bible verse is John 3:16."
- NBC's Nightly News ran segments on three different nights on Alec Baldwin (star of NBC's 30 Rock) getting kicked off of an airplane after an altercation with a flight attendant over his refusal to stop playing a game on his phone.
We reviewed transcripts of broadcasts airing at or after 5pm in the Lexis-Nexis database from October 26, 2011, through January 12, 2012, for segments featuring discussions of the British Royal Family, Tim Tebow, Kim Kardashian's divorce, the Alex Baldwin airplane incident, Casey Anthony and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) or Protect IP Act (PIPA). Shep Smith's nightly 7pm Fox News program is not available in the Nexis database, so it is not included in this study.
Eric Hananoki and Drew Gardner contributed to this report.