With the presidential primary season in full swing, prime-time cable and broadcast evening news coverage of the economy focused on the candidates' policy priorities in the second half of 2015. News coverage of economic inequality fell considerably after hitting an all-time high in the first half of the year.
On the sixth anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC, PBS remains the gold standard for coverage of campaign finance reform while other broadcast networks show room for improvement, according to a Media Matters review of their evening and Sunday news shows over the past 16 months. While coverage of the subject has increased across the board, with CBS in particular showing a substantial increase, a sizable fraction of the increase is due to Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) raising the issue in interviews on Sunday programs, rather than proactive efforts by journalists to cover campaign finance reform.
Donald Trump didn't announce his candidacy until mid-June of last year, but still managed to be covered as the second biggest news story for all of 2015 on the network evening newscasts.
Between ABC's World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News, Trump's campaign captured 327 minutes of airtime, according to television news analyst Andrew Tyndall (ABC: 121, CBS: 84, NBC: 122 minutes, respectively). That figure doesn't include the network newscasts' coverage of the Republican debates, which garnered an additional 123 minutes of airtime.
Context: ABC's evening news broadcast produced almost as much Trump coverage last year as it did for the Ebola panic in 2014.
How does Trump's 327 minutes compare to other candidates this year and to coverage for previous campaign cycles? Trump's figure is off the charts. Over the last decade, the networks' evening newscasts have never showered a presidential campaign with the kind of attention they gave Trump one year before the White House vote even takes place.
More context: Trump received 327 minutes of evening network airtime one year before the general election campaign. In 2012, during the general election campaign, President Obama's re-election run garnered just 157 minutes of airtime.
Trump has famously had to spend very little money on his campaign to date, in part because of the orgy of free media he receives in the form of news coverage. Media Matters recently calculated that, thanks to over 24 hours of Trump interviews Fox News hosted between May and the end of 2015, the conservative cable channel provided the Republican with nearly $30 million in free media.
Last year, the Republican frontrunner received nearly three times as much coverage as the Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton: 327 minutes for Trump, compared to 121 minutes for Clinton (ABC: 35, CBS: 24, NBC: 62.) Note that the controversy over Clinton's personal emails last year received 88 minutes of airtime, while the Republican-fueled Benghazi story grabbed 29 minutes. That means the network newscasts devoted nearly as much time to emails and Benghazi in 2015 as they did to Clinton's entire campaign.
As for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, Media Matters previously highlighted that from January through November, ABC World News Tonight dedicated just one minute to the Sanders campaign, an astonishing oversight. For Tyndall's final, year-end tally, ABC bumped that one minute up to four minutes. Sanders received a total of 20 minutes of network newscast coverage in 2015, compared to Trump's 327.
Combined, the Republican field of candidates, and their debates, received 701 minutes of airtime, compared to 248 minutes for Democrats in the field.
But note that a big chunk of that Democratic tally, 73 minutes, was set aside for political speculation surrounding Vice President Joe Biden, who decided not to run. So in terms of Democrats who entered the race and who participated in the debates, the network evening news total for 2015 was 175 minutes, compared to 701 minutes for Republicans, or a 526-minute gap.
With the networks setting aside so much time for Trump, other areas of news were cut back. (i.e. There's a finite number of minutes for each newscast.) According to Tyndall, "Foreign policy received less than half its average annual coverage; domestic policy barely more than half." Specifically, economic news last year received the least amount of coverage in 28 years.
The Beltway media have been crowing a lot about the unfolding "Trump phenomenon." Guess who played a crucial role in creating it?
From the December 8 edition of NBC's NBC Nightly News:
From the November 19 edition of NBC's NBC Nightly News:
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A Media Matters analysis of the three months of broadcast evening news' coverage of Hillary Clinton following her 2016 presidential campaign launch found that there were more than twice as many segments covering Clinton's use of a personal email server than there were of her more than a dozen announced policy proposals and positions.
If you feel like the 2016 presidential campaign, starring celebrity Donald Trump, has already produced mountainous media coverage, you're right. According to a new study of network evening news campaign coverage by broadcast news monitor Andrew Tyndall, ABC, CBS, and NBC have devoted a total of 504 minutes to covering the story in 2015. At this point in the 2007 race, 462 minutes had been dedicated to the race, compared to just 277 minutes given to the contest in 2011, according to Tyndall.
To date, Republican coverage far outweighs that of the Democratic primary, 338 minutes to 128 minutes.
But what's most telling about the number crunching is how broadcast newscasts have covered Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. The findings back up claims from supporters of both candidates who insist the press is a) utterly obsessed with the Clinton email story and b) not giving Sanders his due.
The Clinton campaign has received a good deal coverage this year, garnering 82 minutes in network news time. That's second only to Trump (a staggering 145 minutes), and well ahead of the next most-covered candidate, Jeb Bush (43 minutes). Here's what's so noteworthy, though: ABC, CBS, and NBC have dedicated almost the exact same amount of airtime to her campaign (82 minutes) as they have to covering the Republican-fed controversy surrounding Clinton's old secretary of state emails this year (83 minutes).
So for the network newscasts, the Clinton email story has proven to be just as important as the entirety of her campaign. Talk about newsrooms having skewed priorities. To date, the email story has produced no proof any kind of lawbreaking by Clinton, yet the network newscasts have absolutely devoured the story and turned it into one the year's big news events.
More from Tyndall on the Clinton coverage:
CBS has found the e-mails more newsworthy than the candidacy (31 mins vs 19); NBC has focused more on the candidacy than the e-mails (42 mins vs 26); ABC has treated them roughly equally (e-mails 25 mins vs candidacy 21).
As for Sanders, his campaign has barely even registered on the broadcast evening news this year, generating just eight minutes of coverage. By comparison, Mitt Romney's decision last winter to not run for president generated just as much coverage as Sanders' entire 2015 campaign, which has been crisscrossing the country for the last four months.
Meanwhile, Sanders' coverage is getting dwarfed by Bush's, which doesn't make a lot of sense. According to the polls, Sanders is running strong in Iowa and New Hampshire and polling at approximately 25 percent nationally. By contrast, Bush is polling very poorly in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire and is polling nationally at around ten percent.
Obviously, with many more Republican candidates in the field it's harder to post a big national number. But still, it's hard to look at the polling data and understand why Bush has received more than five times as much network newscast coverage as Sanders.
Also, note that the Vermont Democrat's campaign has received the same amount of broadcast news time as Gov. Chris Christie, who's polling at around three percent and in seventh place among GOP candidates.
In the month since he announced his bid, Sanders' coverage seems to pale in comparison to comparable Republican candidates who face an arduous task of obtaining their party's nomination. The reluctance is ironic, since the D.C. press corps for months brayed loudly about how Hillary Clinton must face a primary challenger. Now she has one and the press can barely feign interest?
As the campaign progresses, there's plenty of time for network newscasts to shift some of their relentless focus off the Republican race and do more to cover the Clinton campaign (not the partisan controversy), and give Sanders his fair share.
Broadcast evening news programs were once again virtually silent on congressional Republicans' attempt to restrict women's access to reproductive health care by pushing an extreme 20-week ban through the Senate. The same outlets ignored a GOP-controlled House vote on a similar bill in May.
Broadcast evening news programs entirely ignored Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign finance reform proposal, instead continuing to focus on speculation about Clinton's email use and poll numbers, according to a Media Matters review.
From the September 1 edition of NBC's Nightly News:
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Cable and network TV news devoted more segments to coverage of economic issues during the first half of 2015 compared to the last six months of 2014, an increase driven by heightened public interest in the debate over economic inequality and a flurry of economic policy proposals from nearly two dozen 2016 presidential candidates.
Major media outlets are turning to former attorney general Michael Mukasey to launch smears against Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton without disclosing the fact that Mukasey is an adviser on Republican Jeb Bush's presidential campaign.
Broadcast evening news programs on ABC, NBC, and CBS completely ignored likely Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush's questionable delay in announcing his campaign while he sidesteps campaign laws and continues coordinating with his super PAC. Despite increasing scrutiny of a strategy that "tests the legal definition of [a] candidate," the nightly news programs have devoted zero coverage to the matter since The Associated Press (AP) first reported on it in April.
"The floods in Texas, the strengthening storms ... these things are a result of human activity making things worse."
On CNN, Bill Nye provided this necessary climate change context to the devastating floods, which killed dozens last week in Oklahoma and Texas, where new monthly rain records were set. But this time, it isn't just "the Science Guy" who is connecting the dots. While past media coverage has largely failed to explain the role of climate change in extreme weather events like wildfires, snowstorms and droughts, Nye's CNN appearance was just one of many examples of major media outlets covering the recent floods in a science-based global warming context, a promising sign that the press is beginning to do more to address the relationship between climate change and extreme weather.
In recent days, the role of human-induced climate change in devastating weather events like the floods was also a featured story on both NBC's Nightly News and the CBS Evening News. On NBC, anchor Lester Holt introduced a report about Texas's "weather whiplash" in which national correspondent Miguel Almaguer explained that "[s]cientists say climate change is exacerbating the wild swings."
On CBS, correspondent Kris Van Cleave noted that a new study by researchers at Rutgers University found that "climate change in the Arctic is slowing the jet stream over the Northern Hemisphere," resulting in prolonged weather conditions that lead to more heavy rain, heat waves, droughts, and snowstorms. As Rutgers climatologist David Robinson explained during the CBS segment: "Everything slows, and with it, weather patterns persist over areas for longer periods of time. That could make a wet situation dangerously wet ... [and] a heat wave dangerously long."
CNN's coverage of the floods has also stood out. CNN's Carol Costello began her May 29 interview with Nye by affirming that "97 percent of scientists say climate change is real and much of it is driven by man," and what followed was a helpful discussion about how the floods demonstrate the need for media to "talk about" climate change.
From the May 28 edition of NBC Nightly News:
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