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Among Cable Outlets, Fox Had By The Far The Least Prime-Time Coverage
Nightly broadcast news shows have proven incredibly reluctant to cover the spate of anti-Semitic threats and attacks made since President Donald Trump’s election. Cable outlets provided a bit more coverage during prime-time, with Fox News as the exception, clocking just one segment on the topic. Given the rise of the “alt-right” and white nationalist groups -- and given Trump’s repeated reluctance to discuss the rise of anti-Semitism -- it’s particularly important for news media to provide audiences with information on the threats and attacks which have targeted Jewish institutions across the country.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) recorded 100 anti-Semitic incidents in the days following now-President Donald Trump’s election. And as Vox’s Sarah Wildman pointed out, the number “may be enormously underreported because, as with all hate crime statistics, the incidents were largely self-reported by groups that may not feel comfortable talking to law enforcement.” In addition, SPLC’s report did not take into account online harassment, which was rampant during the election.
This wave of anti-Semitic hate has not gone away. Since January, the Jewish Community Center (JCC) Association of North America’s members have received 68 bomb threats at 53 facilities in 26 states and one Canadian province. And in February, vandals damaged more than 100 headstones at a Jewish cemetery outside of St. Louis, echoing the vandalism committed by Nazis during World War II.
Despite the fear among many Americans, broadcast news outlets have drastically undercovered these stories. Since the election, ABC’s World News has spent 5 minutes and 45 seconds on the threats, while CBS’ Evening News and NBC’s Nightly News have spent 3 minutes and 1 second and 3 minutes and 6 seconds, respectively on the topic. Out of the eight segments the newscasts aired in the four-month period, four aired on NBC, and two aired on each ABC and CBS. NBC was the only network to report on the trend in January; all the other segments took place in February.
Prime-time shows (between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.) on CNN and MSNBC fared slightly better. In total, CNN aired 10 segments on the trend, devoting a total of 45 minutes and 38 seconds to it, while MSNBC’s five segments clocked in at 20 minutes and 23 seconds. All of the segments, except one that MSNBC aired in November, took place between February 17 and 22.
Fox News’ coverage, on the other hand, was especially abysmal. Since November 9, the network has only aired one segment on the trend, on the February 21 edition of Hannity, and host Sean Hannity used it to segue into a smear campaign against Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN).
Especially now, media must devote significant attention to these hate incidents and threats. During the election, the anti-Semitic white nationalist movement known as the “alt-right” rose from the fringe to become one of the most significant factions in conservative media. Trump’s candidacy and subsequent election have also elevated the white nationalist movement.
And media cannot rely on Trump to bring up these incidents himself. It was only after he came under increasing pressure -- and some reporters made failed attempts to broach the subject -- that Trump finally acknowledged and denounced the rising violence aimed at Jews, on February 21. If media continue to wait for Trump to acknowledge these incidents before reporting on them, viewers may never know that they are happening.
Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts for mentions of “Jewish,” “cemetery,” “JCC,” “anti-Semitism,” “anti-Semite,” “anti-Semitic,” “St. Louis,” “University City,” and “Chesed Shel Emeth Society” on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, and CBS November 9 through February 22. Mentions on cable news must have taken place between 8 and 11 p.m. on weekdays and mentions on broadcast news must have taken place during the nightly newscasts on a weekday. Segments included in the analysis featured a significant discussion of a specific incident or threat or a significant discussion of the overall trend in anti-Semitic threats and incidents.
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As part of CBS News’ “Climate Diaries” series, correspondent Mark Phillips has traveled to Antarctica to report on climate change. We’ll be posting video of the segments here as they air on CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News throughout the week.
Phillips told TVNewser, “With any luck, the biggest take away from our reporting here will be to turn the climate change argument, which has gotten very political, back to science. The polar regions are where the evidence of climate change is greatest, and what happens here will eventually affect us all.”
Phillips further explained that “it’s an important time to be here doing this type of reporting.” And indeed, CBS’ Anthony Mason introduced Phillips’ initial report on CBS This Morning by noting that it was occurring “at a time of uncertainty over the U.S. government’s policy towards climate change.”
In his first report, versions of which aired on the February 13 editions of CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News, Phillips discussed a 100-plus-mile-long crack in the Larsen C ice shelf and the potential impact the loss of the shelf could have on sea levels that are already rising due to climate change. On CBS This Morning, Phillips stated, “It's not so much the floating sea ice from the shelf that is worrying. It’s that without the ice shelf to hold it back, the glacial ice on land will flow into the oceans more quickly and drive sea levels up even more than the 3 feet that is already predicted for the century.”
Phillips also described a “chill in the scientific community that’s working [in Antarctica] -- a fear that the kinds of money they need for their work will be less forthcoming in the future and that there’ll be a less sympathetic ear in government for the kind of science they do.” Many scientists have expressed grave concerns about the future of climate science under President Donald Trump, who has dismissed climate change as a “hoax” and whose administration may “attempt to undermine the years of science underpinning” climate policies, as Time magazine put it.
From the February 13 edition of CBS This Morning:
On February 14, CBS This Morning aired Phillips’ second report from Antarctica, which focused on how climate change could be threatening the food supply of killer whales.
In the segment -- a similar version of which also aired on the February 19 edition of CBS Weekend News -- Phillips accompanied Palmer Station scientists tracking and studying sick and malnourished killer whales. Phillips explained that the scientists so far only have a hypothesis for why the whales are in bad health, but they believe that warming waters -- which have reduced the pack ice and led to fewer seals in areas where the whales normally hunt -- might be to blame.
In Phillips’ reports on the February 15 editions of CBS This Morning and CBS Evening News, researchers at Palmer Station detailed how dramatic changes in Antarctica are impacting another animal found in the region -- the Adélie penguin, whose population on the island housing Palmer Station has declined by around 85 percent, from a peak of almost 9,000 to about 1,200 this year. As Phillips explained in the CBS This Morning report, “These Adélie penguins need one essential condition to thrive: they need sea ice to hunt from, and there is less of that around now,” with the sea ice season now three months shorter than it used to be.
On CBS This Morning, Phillips also discussed how in addition to sea ice, glaciers are retreating at increasing rates, leaving Palmer Station researchers “shocked” at how dramatically the landscape has changed. Standing along the shoreline, Phillips explained that the Marr Ice Piedmont glacier is retreating so quickly that researchers were able to witness the creation of a new island in an area they had previously thought was part of the mainland. Introducing a similar version of the report on the CBS Evening News, anchor Scott Pelley noted that NASA found that last month was the third-warmest January on record and 2016 was the warmest year, adding, “Mark Phillips sees the change at the bottom of the earth.”
Here’s Phillips’ report from the February 15 edition of CBS This Morning:
On the February 17 edition of CBS Evening News, Pelley introduced a segment about “the future of financing environmental research in the Trump era.” In it, Phillips detailed how tourists paying to go on Antarctic expeditions are financing scientists’ research in the region, and stated that given the Trump administration’s dismissive stance towards climate change, these expeditions “may be a new model for how scientific research gets paid for in the future.”
Phillips spoke with Antarctic researchers, including Antarctic ice scientist Ken Taylor, who told Phillips, “We’ve already gotten indications from our federal funding agencies, particularly the National Science Foundation, that we should anticipate budget cuts. It didn’t take very long after the election for that word to come down.” Phillips also interviewed two researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who said they already rely on money from tourists because the government funding they currently receive isn’t enough to support their research tracking Antarctic whales.
Phillips also interviewed one such tourist, Lori Fey, who told him, “I really think it’s a shame that the science is in the crosshairs of politics, because it doesn’t take much to understand that we are having a detrimental effect, collectively, on the world.”
From the February 17 edition of CBS Evening News:
Meanwhile, The White House Freeze-Out Of CNN Continues
The Trump administration offered White House senior adviser Stephen Miller -- and reportedly no one else -- to appear on the Sunday morning political talk shows of ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox Broadcasting Co. In his appearances on the four shows, Miller repeatedly dodged questions, made blatantly false claims, and attacked the media. Recent profiles of Miller have highlighted his extreme ideological views, his close relationship with Stephen Bannon, and the “enthusiasm” of white nationalists like Richard Spencer over his role in the administration.
Fox News And NBC Ignored The Reports, While CNN’s Coverage Led The Way
Morning news programs on cable and broadcast television largely ignored reports that President Donald Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn seemingly engaged in “inappropriate and potentially illegal” communications with the Russian government, spending less than 30 minutes on it across 15 hours of programming.
The Washington Post reported on February 9 that Flynn “privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States during the month before President Trump took office.” The Post explained that “Flynn’s communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were interpreted by some senior U.S. officials as an inappropriate and potentially illegal signal to the Kremlin.” The New York Times pointed out that the conversations “raise the prospect that Mr. Flynn violated a law against private citizens’ engaging in diplomacy, and directly contradict statements made by Trump advisers.”
However, the story was all but neglected on morning shows across broadcast and cable news networks, with the exception of CNN. The February 10 editions of ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’ CBS This Morning, and NBC’s Today spent a combined total of 2 minutes and 26 seconds on the story, with Good Morning America spending 1 minute and 32 seconds on it and CBS This Morning devoting only 54 seconds to the story. The story wasn’t mentioned at all on NBC’s Today.
On cable news, Fox News’ Fox & Friends also spent no time on the reports during the February 10 edition. MSNBC’s Morning Joe barely fared better, discussing the story for only 3 minutes and 3 seconds during the three hour show. CNN’s New Day, on the other hand, led the pack, spending 20 minutes and 2 seconds discussing the new reports.
Fox News and NBC’s decisions to ignore a story that is problematic for the Trump administration on their morning shows also fits into their patterns of providing favorable coverage to Trump and normalizing his incredibly abnormal administration.
During the campaign, broadcast and cable news were reluctant to devote a significant amount of time to investigative reports about Trump and those around him. Instead, outlets consistently allowed Trump to hijack the media narrative and drown out negative coverage through his tweets and antics.
Graphs by Sarah Wasko
Moderators Jake Tapper and Dana Bash should utilize the February 7 CNN debate between Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) on “the future of Obamacare” to ask targeted questions about the GOP’s plans to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and how that will affect the American health care system. As CNN’s town hall with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) demonstrated, these forums can serve as opportunities to fact-check misinformation, but they can also fail to substantively engage on specific policy issues. Moderators should be prepared to pose specific questions to Cruz, the representative for “the viewpoint of President Trump and the Republican party,” on distinct policies proposed by the GOP to repeal and replace the ACA.
While there is no shortage of important questions about the negative impacts of repealing the ACA on Medicare, job growth, LGBTQ equality, the budget deficit, and mental health care services, moderators must prioritize the subjects they can address in the time allotted. Here are five of the most important questions that CNN should ask Cruz in tonight’s debate.
Implementation of the ACA has resulted in a record low number of uninsured Americans -- merely 8.6 percent in June 2016, down from over 16 percent in 2010. Numerous reports have noted that Republican politicians continue to obfuscate about whether their replacement for the ACA would cover as many people as Obamacare does, likely because none of their proposed policies would. Vox’s Sarah Kliff analyzed the existing replacement plans and found that all of them would reduce coverage, with the number of people impacted ranging by between 3 million and 21 million people.
Given that Cruz himself dodged this question during a 2016 Republican presidential primary debate, this new venue provides a unique opportunity to press the senator on whether the Republican replacement will maintain existing coverage levels.
Congressional Republicans, including President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, Tom Price (R-GA), have publicly opposed some ACA provisions regarding women’s health care. As CBS News noted, the debate over the ACA resurrects the risk of “a return to higher premiums for women” and “gaps in coverage for birth control and breast pumps.” The ACA also banned discriminatory practices, like sex discrimination and gender rating, while significantly reducing out-of-pocket costs for women’s birth control.
Tapper and Bash should ask about the future of women’s health care, making sure to reference the specific gains made by the ACA to prevent generic answers that dodge the question.
One of the leading GOP proposals for reforming the health care system revolves around changing Medicaid’s funding structure to a block grant system, which caps the amount of funding a state receives from the federal government. While conservatives typically discuss block grant proposals in terms of allowing states to “innovate,” in reality, most block grant proposals shift Medicaid costs to the states, which would cause chaos on state budgets and force draconian cuts in services covered by Medicaid.
Under the ACA, the Medicaid expansion extended health insurance to millions of low-income Americans, making a discussion of proposed changes a necessity during the debate.
Numerous conservatives, including Trump, have pledged to keep certain parts of the ACA, like the ban on denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and the provision that allows young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance until age 26. But they simultaneously promise to get rid of other provisions, like the individual mandate and the varied taxes, which provide the revenue to fund the popular parts of the law.
As New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote, it’s “impossible” to keep certain popular provisions “while eliminating unpopular parts,” because the “good and the bad depend on each other.” This tension is a central fault line in discussions about the ACA and should be a central theme in CNN’s town hall.
One of the few specific health care policies Republicans have championed in pushing to repeal and replace the ACA involves the resurrection of high-risk pools. Despite conservative attempts to repackage high-risk pools as a new idea, they have a long history of problems, as they typically are chronically underfunded, are prohibitively expensive for customers, and provide inadequate coverage. As the Los Angeles Times’ Michael Hiltzik noted, 35 states used high-risk pools prior to the implementation of the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions, and the experience was “almost universally grim.”
Moderators should ask about high-risk pools, because they would degrade access to health care to those who are most vulnerable and need care the most.
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Stephen Bannon: White Supremacist Or Just #1 Fan Of White Supremacists?
With the appointment of former Breitbart chief Stephen Bannon as a permanent member of President Donald Trump’s National Security Council, white nationalist forces in America have achieved what Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson could only dream of: a revanchist, retrograde ethno-nationalist at the highest levels of the United States government.
You might think this would be a major news story, but instead the focus has been more parochial, largely focused on the extremism of Breitbart.com under Bannon. And indeed, the website was extreme.
But the driver of Breitbart is not its focus on or use of verboten topics or words. Breitbart is driven by the horde of white supremacists and misogynists who frequent the site. Don’t take my word for it. Take it from Stephen Bannon himself. In late December, Bannon told Breitbart radio, “The best thing we ever had was both the comments section at Breitbart and the callers, the great audience we’ve got here at SiriusXM, to call and share every day what their feelings were.” He reiterated the importance of the “intensity in the comments” later in the interview.
There is no ambiguity about which commenters Brannon was referencing. He bragged to Mother Jones at the Republican National Convention in August that Breitbart was “the platform for the alt-right.” And the “alt-right” loves Bannon back. Former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro said that “Breitbart has become the alt-right go-to website, with [editor Milo] Yiannopoulos pushing white ethno-nationalism as a legitimate response to political correctness, and the comment section turning into a cesspool for white supremacist mememakers” (emphasis added). Beyond Yiannopoulos, Breitbart has also hired white nationalists as reporters. Shapiro said the “alt-right” is “shot through with racism and anti-Semitism” and explained the connection with Breitbart at length:
I’d heard, of course, that the some (sic) of Breitbart’s comment sections had been occupied over previous months by a motley collection of white supremacists and anti-Semites (I generally never check the comments). I’d certainly felt their online wrath, accused by alt-righters of being an anti-Trump “cuck” — accusations that came with memes of gas chambers and “shekelmeister” cartoons that could have come directly from Der Stürmer. Such material flowed into my inbox and Twitter feed. That flow escalated dramatically after I declared that I would not support Trump, and it escalated again after I left Breitbart over its attempts to smear its own reporter, Michelle Fields, in order to shield then-Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski against charges that he’d yanked her by the arm at a campaign event.
But it wasn’t until March 29 that Breitbart’s full embrace of the alt-right became clear. That’s the day the site featured Yiannopoulos’s lengthy piece glorifying the alt-right. Yiannopoulos had already given interviews in which he stated that “Jews run the banks” and “Jews run the media,” dismissing anti-Semitic memes as merely “mischievous, dissident, trolly.” He wrote, along with co-author Allum Bokhari, this insane sentence: “There are many things that separate the alternative right from old-school racist skinheads (to whom they are often idiotically compared), but one thing stands out above all else: intelligence.”
And this is the cast of characters, and their enablers, to whom Trump has turned.
White nationalists and white supremacists were overjoyed when Trump appointed Bannon as his chief strategist. Former KKK grand wizard David Duke told CNN, "You have an individual, Mr. Bannon, who's basically creating the ideological aspects of where we're going." Duke added on his radio show that Bannon had “been right on about a lot of the issues facing European Americans.” A neo-Nazi website described Bannon’s White House position as “pure awesomeness.” Richard Spencer, the Nazi who was punched during inauguration weekend, lauded Bannon’s ability to chart Trump’s “macro trajectory.” Andrew Breitbart himself reportedly called Bannon “the Leni Riefenstahl of the Tea Party movement,” referring to the German filmmaker who made propaganda films for the Nazis.
And yet the mainstream media is still insistent upon protecting Stephen Bannon’s reputation. NPR’s deferential interview with Breitbart editor Joel Pollak was a signal of what was to come. After House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) twice called Bannon a “white supremacist,” mainstream figures rushed to his defense.
Speaking to MSNBC’s Greta Van Susteren, The New York Times’ Nick Confessore literally scoffed at the idea of Bannon as a white supremacist:
Scott Pelley on CBS Evening News described Bannon as “controversial” and said that CBS Evening News could not find “any quotes from Bannon himself advocating white supremacy.”
Stephen Bannon spent years empowering white supremacists and publishing a white nationalist website, and his ex-wife even swore in court that “he said he doesn’t like Jews” and didn’t want his children to go to “school with Jews.” And yet, mainstream media give him a pass because he has enough sense to not say anything in public that explicitly reveals white supremacist views. This is narrowing the definition of white supremacy to just the cartoonish, David Duke version. Bannon’s longest description of his own worldview described an apocalyptic clash of civilizations, even invoking the siege of Vienna in 1529.
From a perspective — this may be a little more militant than others. I think definitely you’re going to need an aspect that is [unintelligible]. I believe you should take a very, very, very aggressive stance against radical Islam. And I realize there are other aspects that are not as militant and not as aggressive and that’s fine.
If you look back at the long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam, I believe that our forefathers kept their stance, and I think they did the right thing. I think they kept it out of the world, whether it was at Vienna, or Tours, or other places… It bequeathed to use the great institution that is the church of the West.
Because it is a crisis, and it’s not going away. You don’t have to take my word for it. All you have to do is read the news every day, see what’s coming up, see what they’re putting on Twitter, what they’re putting on Facebook, see what’s on CNN, what’s on BBC. See what’s happening, and you will see we’re in a war of immense proportions. It’s very easy to play to our baser instincts, and we can’t do that. But our forefathers didn’t do it either. And they were able to stave this off, and they were able to defeat it, and they were able to bequeath to us a church and a civilization that really is the flower of mankind, so I think it’s incumbent on all of us to do what I call a gut check, to really think about what our role is in this battle that’s before us.
The “alt-right” is counting on the media using only the cartoonish definition of white supremacy and white nationalism. Its adherents take advantage of the hesitancy of mainstream media and establishment figures to call out connections between Bannon and white supremacy. The “alt-right” is self-organizing and aims to protect the reputation of their allies.
BuzzFeed gained access to secret chat rooms in France and documented Trump supporter’ efforts to manipulate the conversation to favor the “alt-right” by making far-right Marine Le Pen supporters appear to be the most reasonable political group. Trump supporters in America are undeniably using the same tactics.
It’s more than fine if news outlets want to fact-check statements made about the chief strategist to the president of the United States. But it would be nice if they also gave a little more scrutiny to what, exactly, he is planning for America’s future.
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In the five weeks before the November 8 presidential election, evening cable and broadcast news, major newspapers, and the Sunday morning broadcast network political talk shows combined to flood the media landscape with coverage of hacked emails released by Wikileaks, according to an analysis by Media Matters.
After its July release of emails that were stolen from the Democratic National Committee, Wikileaks released a daily stream of hacked emails from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta starting in early October.
Between October 4 and November 8, weekday evening cable news aired a combined 247 segments either about the emails or featuring significant discussion of them; evening broadcast news and the Sunday morning broadcast network political talk shows aired a combined 25 segments; and five of the country’s most-circulated daily newspapers -- Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post -- published a combined 96 articles about the emails released by Wikileaks in their print editions.
Following Donald Trump’s presidential victory, the U.S. intelligence community released a report with its assessment that “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.” The assessment, which represents the view of the 16 federal intelligence agencies, concluded “with high confidence” that as part of this effort, “Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release US victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks.”
In response to mounting evidence that Russia sought to swing the election in Trump’s favor, in part through allegedly releasing hacked emails through channels like Wikileaks, Trump and his allies have in recent months downplayed the impact of the hacks. Trump, who has repeatedly sought to de-emphasize Russia’s alleged role in the election-related hacking to begin with, has also argued that the hacks had “absolutely no effect on the outcome” of the election. As ThinkProgress noted, “This was not the view of candidate Trump, who talked about Wikileaks and the content of the emails it released at least 164 times in last month of the campaign.”
And Trump wasn’t alone.
Media Matters’ review shows that news media treated the emails released by Wikileaks a major news story in the lead-up to the election. (It’s important to note that this is only a quantitative study; Media Matters did not attempt to assess the quality of articles and news segments about the hacked emails. A segment or article criticizing coverage of the emails or highlighting suspicions about Russia’s potential involvement was counted the same as a segment or article breathlessly promoting the contents of the hacked emails.)
Data-driven news site Fivethirtyeight.com determined that the hacked emails released by Wikileaks were “almost exclusively an October story. Over 72 percent of people who searched for Wikileaks from June onward did so during October or the first week of November. Interest really got going with [Wikileaks Editor-in-Chief] Julian Assange’s press conference on Oct. 4.” We reviewed transcripts and articles beginning on October 4, when Assange first announced during a press conference that Wikileaks would release additional information pertaining to the election, through November 8, Election Day.
Evening cable news -- defined as shows airing weekdays from 5 p.m. through 11 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC -- devoted massive coverage to the Wikileaks story, with Fox leading the way. In total, Fox News aired 173 segments over the course of the period studied. Fox also aired teasers 64 times to keep audiences hooked throughout broadcasts. The hacked emails were also mentioned in passing by a guest, correspondent, or host 137 times during additional segments about other topics.
Fox’s coverage was a near-daily obsession for its evening news hosts. Four of the six programs in the study ran at least one segment every weekday or nearly every weekday between October 7 and November 7. Special Report with Bret Baier ran segments every weekday between October 7 and November 4; On the Record with Brit Hume ran segments every weekday between October 7 and November 7; The Kelly File ran segments on all but four weekdays between October 7 and November 7 (and on those four days, Wikileaks was still mentioned in passing at least once); and Hannity ran segments nearly every weekday between October 7 and November 7 (excluding October 10 and 20, the latter of which featured at least one mention of the story).
CNN aired the second most Wikileaks coverage, with 57 segments teased to audiences 21 times and an additional 75 mentions during segments about other topics. MSNBC aired only 17 segments teased six times and tallied 23 mentions during additional segments. (MSNBC’s 6 p.m. hour, which at the time aired With All Due Respect, was not available in Nexis and was therefore excluded from this analysis).
On broadcast network news, the numbers are smaller, but over the course of the period studied, the networks each aired a significant number of segments on their evening news programs and Sunday morning political talk shows. ABC programs World News Tonight and This Week with George Stephanopoulos devoted the most coverage to the Wikileaks emails, with 10 segments and five mentions during additional segments combined. CBS’ Evening News and Face the Nation with John Dickerson followed, with nine segments and three mentions during additional segments combined. NBC’s Nightly News and Meet the Press with Chuck Todd aired just six segments and 12 mentions during additional segments combined.
The five major newspapers we studied each published numerous articles in their print editions (we did not include online coverage) about the Wikileaks emails in the month before the election, but three stood out from the rest. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal each published 27 articles about the emails and mentioned them in 26 and 10 other articles, respectively. The Washington Post was the third paper in this group with 26 articles about the Wikileaks emails published and mentions in 14 additional articles.
USA Today published 11 articles about the Wikileaks emails and mentioned them in three other articles while Los Angeles Times ran just five stories and mentioned the Wikileaks emails in only seven other articles.
As was the case with Trump, conservative media figures who hyped and encouraged reporting on hacked emails quickly adjusted their views on the significance of the hacked emails during the presidential transition period. After touting the release of the stolen emails, credulously reporting on numerous illegally obtained emails published by Wikileaks, encouraging Trump to “just read” the stolen emails at campaign rallies, advising Trump to “study Wikileaks,” and repeatedly providing a platform for Assange to promote the publication of the stolen emails, right-wing media figures downplayed the influence the disclosure of the emails had on the 2016 campaign. Taking the lead from Trump's transition team, some right-wing media figures then argued that “no one can articulate or specify in any way that” the publication of the private emails “affected the outcome of our election.”
Although right-wing media figures have claimed that there is “no indication that” the publication of the private emails “affected the election,” the breathless reporting on the contents of the Wikileaks disclosures by media outlets played into the hands of the Russian government’s “influence efforts to … amplif[y] stories on scandals about Secretary Clinton and the role of Wikileaks in the election campaign,” according to the intelligence community’s report. Days after the first trove of private emails was published by Wikileaks, a group of former top national security officials and outside experts warned “the press … to be cautious in the use of allegedly ‘leaked’ information,” which “follows a well-known Russian playbook.”
The Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum summarized the strategy in an interview with Slate months before the first disclosure of Podesta’s personal emails:
I didn’t think about the United States because I thought the United States is too big, American politics isn’t moved by these smaller amounts of money the way that Czech politics are or Polish politics are. But I hadn’t thought through the idea that of course through hacking, which is something they’re famously very good at, that they could try and disrupt a campaign. And of course the pattern of this is something we’ve seen before: There’s a big leak, it’s right on an important political moment, it affects the way people think about the campaign, and of course instead of focusing on who did the leak and who’s interest it’s in, everyone focuses on the details, what’s in the emails, what did so-and-so write to so-and-so on Dec. 27, and that’s all that gets reported.
The press could have seen this coming. On the August 24, 2016, edition of The Kelly File, then-Fox News host Megyn Kelly interviewed Wikileaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, who used the platform to hype the “material” Wikileaks planned to publish, and announced it would be released in “several batches.” Kelly asked Assange if he thought the information in his “possession could be a game changer in the US election.” Assange said the effectiveness of the release “depends on how it catches fire in the public and in the media.”
Media Matters reviewed the Nexis database for news transcripts and articles that mentioned Julian Assange or Wikileaks approximately within the same paragraph as variations on any of the following terms: Hillary Clinton, Democratic National Committee, DNC, or John Podesta. We included cable news networks’ weekday evening programming (5:00 p.m. through 11:00 p.m.) on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC; the evening news shows (ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, and NBC’s Nightly News) and Sunday morning political talk shows (ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS’ Face the Nation with John Dickerson, and NBC’s Meet the Press with Chuck Todd) on ABC, CBS, and NBC; and five of the most-circulated daily print newspapers: Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. (MSNBC’s 6:00 p.m. hour, which hosted With All Due Respect was not available in Nexis and was therefore excluded from the analysis).
Data-driven news analysis website Fivethrityeight.com determined the hacked emails released by Wikileaks “was almost exclusively an October story. Over 72 percent of people who searched for Wikileaks from June onward did so during October or the first week of November. Interest really got going with Julian Assange’s press conference on Oct. 4.” Therefore, we reviewed articles beginning on October 4, 2016, when Assange first announced during a press conference that Wikileaks would release additional information pertaining to the election, through November 8, 2016, Election Day.
For television, we coded as “segments” news segments where the hacked emails released by Wikileaks were the stated topic of discussion, and we also coded as “segments” when signification discussion about the hacked emails from Wikileaks occurred during segments with a different initially stated topic or during multi-topic segments. We defined significant discussion as at least two or more speakers discussing the hacked emails to one another during the course of the segment. We determined the start of a segment to be when the show’s host introduced either the topic or guests and determined the end of a segment to be when the show’s host concluded discussion or bid farewell to the show’s guests.
We coded as “mentions” comments made by a speaker about the hacked emails without any other speaker in the segment engaging. We coded as “teasers” introductions by the host of upcoming segments on the hacked emails where the segment in question did not immediately follow.
For print, we coded as “articles” news stories and opinion pieces where the hacked emails were mentioned in the headline or the lead of the story or article. If the hacked emails were used as a piece of evidence within a larger story or used to provide context, those were coded as “mentions within an article.”
Throughout his campaign, and continuing now as President, Donald Trump has made a series of baseless claims alleging mass voter fraud in order to either preemptively cast doubt on the election results, or to dispute the fact he didn’t win the popular vote. Trump’s allegations, which ranged from “people are going to walk in” and “vote ten times,” to claiming “he would have won the popular vote had it not been for millions of illegal votes,” and most recently his decision to ask for “a major investigation into voter fraud” are based on a series of myths that right-wing media have pushed for years -- including the arguments that strict voter ID laws are needed to prevent voter fraud, that dead people are voting, and that there is widespread noncitizen voting.