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Rob Savillo

Author ››› Rob Savillo
  • In 2018, Sunday shows have covered Hurricane Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico for only 20 seconds

    And since the hurricane hit, the shows have devoted a total of less than 90 minutes to the issue

    Blog ››› ››› ROB SAVILLO

    Since Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, the five Sunday morning political talk shows have given the disaster scant coverage.

    ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, CNN’s State of the Union, Fox News’ Fox News Sunday, and NBC’s Meet the Press have spent only one hour and 27 minutes discussing Hurricane Maria and its impact on Puerto Rico since September 24, 2017, but the vast majority of that coverage came shortly after the hurricane hit. In 2018, the Sunday shows have mentioned Puerto Rico for a total of just 20 seconds even as the island was dealing with power outages, revisions in the official death toll, and other ongoing recovery challenges.

    This week, The Associated Press reported that Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello raised the official death toll from Maria from 64 to almost 3,000 based on research from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University.

    The first official death toll came a week after landfall on September 27, when Rossello announced that 16 people had lost their lives. The following week, that figure was increased to 34. Since the hurricane, various studies have put the death toll estimates anywhere from about 1,000 to 8,000.

    Puerto Rico’s recovery has been a long process, and the impact has been ongoing. What hasn’t been ongoing is the media’s focus on the island. In February, a New York Times report revealed that a FEMA contract that called for 30 million meals to be sent to Puerto Rico resulted in only 50,000 meals being delivered. This story was mostly ignored by cable and broadcast media. In May, a new study came out that found the death toll from Maria could have potentially been 72 times higher than the official count. Media were too occupied with Roseanne Barr to devote much coverage to it, and the Sunday shows entirely ignored it. In June, nine months after Maria hit, AEE Power, which provides electricity to almost 1.5 million Puerto Ricans, reported that thousands of its customers were still without power. It wasn’t until August, 11 months after the hurricane, that power was restored almost fully. That same month, the Puerto Rican government finally acknowledged a higher death toll, and the media still failed to pay much attention, with Sunday shows again ignoring the story completely.  

    Throughout all these developments, the Sunday morning political talk shows -- which have an outsized role in setting the political agenda week after week for the Washington elite -- have hardly covered this humanitarian disaster. The Sunday after Maria made landfall, only two Sunday shows even mentioned the hurricane: State of the Union for just seven seconds and Meet the Press for 24 seconds. Almost all of the Sunday shows’ coverage came the following week on October 1, 2017: This Week covered the story for about 18 minutes, Face the Nation for almost six minutes, State of the Union for approximately 19 minutes, Fox News Sunday for nearly 17 minutes, and Meet the Press for about 15 minutes. In total, the Sunday shows covered Maria for just over one hour and 15 minutes that day. Since then, they have provided only approximately 11 minutes of additional coverage -- of which, only 20 seconds has been in 2018.


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the Nexis transcript database for mentions of “Puerto Rico” or “Hurricane Maria” from September 17, 2017 -- three days before landfall -- through August 26, 2018, for the five Sunday morning political talk shows: ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, CBS’ Face the Nation with Margaret Brennan, CNN’s State of the Union with Jake Tapper, Fox News’ Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, and NBC’s Meet the Press with Chuck Todd. We timed each teaser for an upcoming segment, passing mention, news correspondence from reporters on the ground or in studio, and guest interview or panel for coverage of Maria. We timed only relevant speech and excluded speech on other topics.

  • Fox News’ coverage of Mollie Tibbetts’ death spiked after it was linked to an undocumented immigrant

    The story served a two-fold purpose for the network: distract from bad Trump news and ratchet up anti-immigrant sentiment

    Blog ››› ››› ROB SAVILLO


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Fox News' August 21 coverage of the tragic death of Mollie Tibbetts spiked after law enforcement identified their suspect as an undocumented immigrant. In the eight hours between reports that the 20-year-old University of Iowa student's body had been found and the announcement of the suspect's alleged legal status, the network discussed the story for 21 minutes; after law enforcement announced that the suspect was undocumented, that coverage spiked to over three times as much throughout the next seven hours.

    The news of Tibbett’s body being found broke around 9 a.m. that day, and Fox spent 21 minutes on the story during the next eight hours. But once local authorities identified the suspect as an undocumented immigrant during their 5 p.m. press conference, Fox’s coverage jumped to 69 minutes for the remainder of the evening. The spike in coverage occurred despite Fox airing President Donald Trump’s rally for over an hour and news breaking that former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort had been found guilty on eight counts and former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen had pleaded guilty to two felony campaign finance charges in which he directly implicated the president.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The story of Tibbetts' death was featured on Fox’s entire evening schedule from 5 p.m. to midnight. Every single mention, tease, news correspondence, interview, and panel -- save one, a less than 30-second comment on Tucker Carlson Tonight -- noted the suspect’s alleged immigration status.

    Shortly after the press conference began, commentators on Fox were already weighing in on how Trump could use the revelation about the suspect’s legal status politically, while downplaying the developments in the Manafort and Cohen cases.

    The Five co-host Dana Perino suggested that Americans don’t necessarily care as much about Manafort and Cohen’s convictions -- what they really care about is the immigration status of the suspect in Tibbetts' case:

    One thing I think that the president might do is -- maybe he won’t comment on either of these two things [Manafort and Cohen] at all given that we just heard from the police in Iowa with the Mollie Tibbetts case that they are holding -- the federal government is holding a man, illegal immigrant, as a suspect in that case, in that murder. And to me -- thinking about the fact that the Mueller thing is a little bit complicated; the Cohen thing is interesting, and it is explosive, no doubt. But if you are out there in America and you’re watching this and you’re thinking, “What do we really care about right now?” I think the president will probably be talking a lot about that.

    Co-host Greg Gutfeld agreed, stating, “I just have to piggyback on what Dana said. I think that right now Trump’s main argument [on immigration] has now just been backed up by a very ugly reality. And I can’t see how that isn’t -- when you stack that up against these other tax evasions and guilty pleas, for an average American, [the Tibbetts case] resonates.” Later in the show, Gutfeld said, “In terms of what is important, I think no one at the Trump rally tonight will give a damn about Manafort or Cohen, but this will probably be fresh in their minds.”

    Introducing the topic of Trump’s West Virginia rally that evening, host Bret Baier stated during Special Report: “We’re likely going to hear a lot about Mollie Tibbetts and this illegal immigrant who’s in custody in Iowa.” Matthew Continetti of the conservative Washington Free Beacon replied, “That’s, of course, safe political terrain for Trump where he has a real point about the problems that illegal immigration are causing in the United States of America, and here we have the most visceral and tragic example of it with Mollie Tibbetts.”

    Right before Trump’s rally, The Story host Martha MacCallum asked her guest David Wohl, “What do you expect the president might say about this case tonight?” Wohl replied, “He is going to go over this extensively tonight. ... This is the number one story, Martha. Michael Cohen’s being indicted for campaign issues that Trump had nothing to do with is secondary completely to this story, Martha. This is what parents care about.”

    After the rally concluded, the remaining lineup on Fox all discussed Trump’s comments about the Tibbetts case and the suspect’s alleged immigration status. Tucker Carlson Tonight, Hannity, The Ingraham Angle, and Fox News at Night all included a clip of Trump’s speech at the start of segments about Tibbetts.

    The spike in Fox News’ coverage after local authorities linked Tibbetts' murder to an allegedly undocumented immigrant made two things clear: The network was looking for a story to take some heat off the Cohen and Manafort news, and its streak of exploiting stories to hype "immigrant crime" remains unbroken.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched the Snapstream video database’s transcript and closed-captioning archive on August 21 for variations (including misspellings) of the terms “Tibbetts,” “Mollie” within close proximity to “Tibbetts”, or “Tibbetts” within close proximity of “immigrant,” “killed,” “murder,” or “missing” on Fox News Channel from 5 a.m. to midnight. We timed all mentions, teases, news correspondence, interviews, and panels only for relevant speech about the Tibbetts case.

  • The Trump administration refused to enact election-related sanctions on Russia. Fox News barely covered it.

    Fox spent under 10 minutes covering Russia sanctions while CNN and MSNBC devoted over three hours to it

    Blog ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT & ROB SAVILLO

    Over the course of nine days, Fox News devoted less than 10 minutes to the news that President Donald Trump’s administration refused to enact sanctions on Russia, which Congress mandated last year with overwhelming bipartisan support in response to Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections. In contrast, CNN and MSNBC gave this development significant coverage, with CNN devoting nearly two hours and MSNBC covering it for well over an hour during the same time period.

    In July 2017, Congress passed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), with bipartisan, veto-proof support. The bill mandated “new measures targeting key Russian officials in retaliation for that country’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election.” Though Trump signed the bill into law, he was vocal in opposing it and called it “seriously flawed.”

    January 29 was the deadline for the Treasury Department to issue sanctions against entities doing business with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors. On that day, however, the Trump administration announced it would not implement the sanctions, with a State Department official claiming that “the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent.”

    A Media Matters analysis of cable news coverage from January 29, when the administration announced it would not impose the sanctions, through February 6 revealed that CNN devoted an hour and 47 minutes to the news, MSNBC covered it for an hour and 24 minutes, and Fox spent a paltry nine minutes and change on the news:


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Treasury Department did publish a list of senior Russian political figures and wealthy oligarchs just before the deadline, which CAATSA mandated, but “underlined that those named aren’t being targeted for new sanctions.” After questioning by BuzzFeed News, a Treasury official admitted that the list “was derived from Forbes’ ranking of the ‘200 richest businessmen in Russia 2017.’” Although Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told the Senate banking committee on January 30 that “there will be sanctions that come out of this report,” the Trump administration faced congressional criticism for its refusal to enact sanctions by the deadline.

    Fox’s failure to adequately cover the Trump administration’s refusal to hold Russia responsible for its interference in the 2016 election comes amid a growing campaign by Fox News figures to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether members of the Trump campaign worked with Russia during the election.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched closed captioning in the video database service SnapStream for discussion of the Trump administration's refusal to enforce sanctions on Russia between January 29 and February 6, 2018. We searched for combinations of the following terms within the same 20-second clip: "Russia," "Trump," "administration," "president," "White House," "sanction," "sanctions," "oligarch," "oligarchs," "oligarchy," "list," or "treasury."

    We included all-day original programming on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC between 4 a.m. and midnight each day. We did not include reruns of weekday programming that aired on weekends or early in the morning.

    We timed any segment where the topic of discussion was the administration's refusal to enforce sanctions. We also included segments where there was “significant discussion” of sanctions. We defined “significant discussion” as two or more speakers in the same segment discussing sanctions with one another. In segments where multiple topics were discussed, we only timed the portion of discussion relevant to sanctions. We also timed teasers for upcoming segments on the sanctions and “passing mentions” about the sanctions during segments on other topics. We defined “passing mentions” as one speaker mentioning sanctions and no other speakers in the segment engaging in discussion from the comment.

  • Study: Trump officials overwhelmingly flock to Fox News

    Trump and his administration officials, family members, and lawyer are sticking to right-wing media

    ››› ››› ROB SAVILLO, LIS POWER & MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Since the beginning of August, President Donald Trump, prominent figures in his administration, members of his family, and his personal lawyer have appeared on weekday programming on Fox News far more often than on corresponding shows on CNN or MSNBC.

  • STUDY: Prime-time cable news drowned out negative impacts of Senate health care bill in favor of covering process

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN, NICK FERNANDEZ, DINA RADTKE, NINA MAST & ROB SAVILLO

    When Republicans’ Senate health care bill looked like it was hurtling toward a vote two weeks ago, prime-time cable news largely neglected to cover several negative consequences of the bill and instead spent a disproportionate amount of time on the political process surrounding the legislation.

    Media Matters reviewed the two nights of cable news coverage -- from 5 to 11 p.m. -- between the release of the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) score of the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2016 (BCRA) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) announcement that the bill would be temporarily tabled until after congressional recess. We analyzed Nexis transcripts for individual statements -- defined as a single sentence -- about a wide range of reported negative impacts of the bill (including cuts to Medicaid funding, potential cuts to essential health benefits (EHBs), and a one-year freeze in federal funding for Planned Parenthood) and compared those to statements about the process surrounding the potential vote on the bill. We also reviewed coverage to see whether it included personal stories about people who would be impacted by the bill.

    During those two nights of coverage -- when media outlets were under the impression the bill was imminently coming up for a vote and potentially taking a major step toward becoming law -- process overwhelmed policy:

    • CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News made more than four times as many statements about process as they did about the negative impacts of the bill.

    • There were over 33 times more statements about process than personal stories of those who would be most affected by the law.

    • None of the three networks featured statements about potential cuts to mental health benefits, special education programs, or the negative impact of the proposed legislation on people with HIV.


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    While the process surrounding the bill is a crucial part of the discussion (McConnell intentionally kept the drafting process secret and has been trying to rush the bill through the Senate), the extent to which process discussion eclipsed coverage of the impacts of the bill was staggering. On Fox News, the ratio between statements about process and statements about the negative impact of the bill was roughly 10-to-1, while on MSNBC and CNN, that ratio was nearly 5-to-1.

    Cable news made over 1,800 statements about process

    Over the two-day period, prime-time cable news made 1,835 statements about the process of passing the bill through the Senate. CNN made 792, Fox News made 274, and MSNBC made 769.

    There were no statements on any network about cuts to special education programs in public schools

    CNBC reported that out of approximately 11.2 million children in the U.S. who have special needs, “nearly 5 million rely on coverage from Medicaid and its Children’s Health Insurance Program, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.” The BCRA’s cuts to Medicaid, made by phasing out the ACA’s Medicaid expansion program, threaten the funding for this program. The Washington Post noted trepidation among school districts that say that in order “to fill the hole they anticipate would be left by the Republican push to restructure Medicaid, they would either have to cut those services or downsize general education programs that serve all students.” There were no statements made about these cuts on CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC.

    There were no statements on any network about cuts to mental health treatment

    Cuts to Medicaid and a rollback on essential health benefits (EHBs) means that people with mental illness would be receiving “less coverage for more money,” according to HuffPost. As the Center for American Progress (CAP) noted, “The CBO’s prediction matches the reality of the pre-ACA insurance market,” when “a significant number of people did not have coverage for … mental health services.” There were no statements about these cuts on CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC.

    MSNBC aired no statements about the one-year freeze on federal funds to Planned Parenthood

    The GOP Senate bill called for freezing federal funds to Planned Parenthood for one year, blocking access to family planning and related women’s health services that the clinics offer to millions of Americans. Defunding Planned Parenthood on a state level has had detrimental effects on public health. When Indiana shuttered five Planned Parenthood facilities -- at least one of which did not offer abortion services -- in 2015, the state experienced “an unprecedented HIV epidemic caused by intravenous drug use” due to a lack of access to preventative and testing measures. In Texas, after cuts to Planned Parenthood funding, fewer women “received contraceptive services, fewer use highly effective methods, some have had unintended pregnancies, and some have had abortions they would not have had if not for these policies." There were nine statements about this freeze on CNN and two on Fox News. There were no statements about it on MSNBC.

    There were no statements on any network about the detrimental impact on those with HIV

    Three members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA) resigned in the wake of the proposed Senate bill. One of the former members, Scott Schoettes, told BuzzFeed News that the bill will “kill people” and force more Americans into bankruptcy due to high medical emergency costs. The National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) condemned the bill, calling it “catastrophic for our nation’s health care system,” specifically by causing people living with or at risk of HIV and STDs to suffer and by impeding efforts to end the HIV and STD epidemics. There was no statement made about this impact on CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC.

    Statements about increases in premiums for low-income people were scarce

    As CBS reported, the CBO found that “for low-income people ... ‘the premium for a silver plan would typically be a relatively high percent of income,’ while the deductible for a bronze plan ‘would be a significantly higher percentage of income. As a result, despite being eligible for premium tax credits, few low-income people would purchase any plan.’” Vox noted that this would result in “making poor people pay more for less health insurance.” Additionally, The Washington Post pointed out that “by adjusting subsidy numbers and implementing policies that are projected to increase premiums, low-income people by and large end up with higher health-care costs.” There were seven statements made about these increases on CNN, one on Fox News, and five on MSNBC.

    Fox News and MSNBC did not mention potential cuts to essential health benefits

    The Senate bill “allows states to use a waiver to opt out of covering the essential health benefits package” that was put in place by the ACA, The Washington Post reported. The ACA provision requires insurers to cover things such as ambulatory care, hospital visits, and maternity care. Vox explained that in order for a state to opt out of a certain essential health benefit requirement under the ACA, it “has to show that its alternative plan would allow it to cover as many people, with coverage as generous, without increasing federal spending.” But the Senate bill “removes the guardrails that ensured state-based alternatives would offer strong coverage.” Without these standards, many patients “are likely to drop their coverage,” which, as one health care expert noted, would not serve to reduce costs because cost burden would shift entirely to the individuals who need the coverage. CNN made two statements about these cuts, and Fox News and MSNBC made zero.

    CNN and Fox News each aired only one statement about the Senate bill’s impact on patients with pre-existing conditions

    As The Atlantic pointed out, decreasing the requirements that a state must meet to waive coverage for essential health benefits would create a “backdoor way” to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. Los Angeles Times columnist Jon Healey wrote that, while the bill does not “directly” remove coverage for pre-existing conditions, it “would leave” those with pre-existing conditions “open to indirect attack by state officials eager to cut insurance premiums the easy way: by allowing insurers to cater to the customers they really want to serve, which are the ones who don’t need healthcare.” As CAP’s Topher Spiro summed up, under the Senate bill, “coverage would be eviscerated for millions of people with preexisting conditions.” There was one statement about these impacts on CNN and one on Fox News, and there were seven on MSNBC.

    Fox News didn’t mention cuts in funding for substance abuse treatment

    Time reported that if the Senate bill’s proposed changes to state essential health benefits waivers were implemented, “insurers may not continue to cover … out or inpatient substance use disorder services.” And while the BCRA “offer[s] $2 billion in funding to help combat the ongoing opioid epidemic,” lawmakers and activists for addressing substance use disorders have said that “much more money is needed”; one health economics professor told Mother Jones that the opioid epidemic funding allocation is merely “a joke.” Mother Jones also pointed out that slashes to Medicaid, which is “the largest payer for addiction services across the country,” would be “crippling,” particularly “for many of the communities that voted Trump into office.” CNN made 13 statements about these cuts, and MSNBC made nine. Fox made none. 

    Fox News made just two statements about the bill's major tax cut for the most wealthy

    PBS reported that under the Senate bill, the wealthiest Americans will receive an average annual tax cut of nearly $52,000, according to analysis by the Tax Policy Center. The bill would repeal the Obama-era tax on wealthy investors, as well as repeal a Medicare payroll tax on high-income families. There were 20 statements about these tax cuts on CNN, two on Fox News, and 22 on MSNBC.

    Cable news aired only a handful of statements about the bill's potential to reinstate lifetime caps on coverage

    NPR reported that the Senate bill “could even bring back lifetime caps on how much an insurer would pay for such services for a particular patient.” According to an estimate by CAP, “About 20 million people with employer-based coverage would face lifetime limits on coverage.” There was one statement about these caps made on CNN and there were five on MSNBC. There were no statements made on Fox News.

    Fox News made only four statements about cuts to Medicaid

    The CBO report projected that the Senate health care bill would cut $772 billion in federal money from Medicaid over a 10-year period. Between 14 and 15 million people would reportedly lose their health insurance under this drastic cut. According to CAP, under the Senate bill, “many states would face serious funding shortages for their Medicaid programs.” There were 58 statements about these cuts on CNN, four on Fox News, and 54 on MSNBC.

    Fox News made only 15 statements reporting that millions more would be uninsured under the Senate bill

    According to the CBO report, under the Senate bill, the number of people without health insurance would increase by 22 million over the next 10 years. There were 66 statements made about the increase in uninsured people on CNN, 15 on Fox News, and 67 on MSNBC.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched news transcripts in the Nexis database on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC for the following programs: CNN’s The Situation Room, Erin Burnett Outfront, Anderson Cooper 360, and the 10 p.m. hour of CNN Tonight; Fox News’ The Fox News Specialists, Special Report with Bret Baier, The Story with Martha MacCallum, Tucker Carlson Tonight, The Five, and Hannity; and MSNBC’s Meet the Press Daily, For the Record with Greta Van Susteren, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, and Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell. We searched for any of the following terms in the body of the text: health care, Better Care Reconciliation Act, BCRA, Senate health, GOP health, Republican health, Affordable Care Act, ACA, Obama care, or Obamacare.

    Segments were included in the study if the Better Care Reconciliation Act was the stated topic of discussion or if two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed the BCRA with one another. If a speaker mentioned the BCRA in a multitopic segment and no other speaker in that segment engaged with the comment, then it was excluded from the analysis as a passing mention. All teasers of upcoming segments about the BCRA were also excluded from the analysis.

    For each segment we included in the study, two researchers independently coded the number of statements -- defined as a single sentence -- that included:

    1. Mentions of a personal narrative that contextualized how the BCRA would impact the subject of the narrative.

    1. Mentions of the process, e.g., how the bill would pass, how members of the Senate would or would not vote, how Senators would negotiate for votes, the optics of the bill, and anything that could influence a Senator’s vote for or against the BCRA.

    1. Mentions of the following negative impacts of the BCRA:

    • Mentions of cuts to Medicaid.

    • Mentions of the increase in premiums or out-of-pocket costs for low-income Americans.

    • Mentions of the potential elimination of essential health benefits.

    • Mentions of the impact of persons with pre-existing conditions.

    • Mentions of potential cuts to mental health care.

    • Mentions of cuts to substance abuse treatment.

    • Mentions of how cuts to Medicaid would impact special education programs in schools.

    • Mentions of cuts to Planned Parenthood.

    • Mentions of the impact of the BCRA on persons with HIV.

    • Mentions that the BCRA would provide significate tax cuts to wealthy or high-income Americans.

    • Mentions that the BCRA would allow insurers to reinstate lifetime caps.

    • Mentions of the reduction of the total number of insured Americans.

  • STUDY: Sean Spicer’s first 48 press briefings

    More right-wing outlets, shorter briefings, and obsessive cable coverage

    Blog ››› ››› ROB SAVILLO


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    During 48 press briefings as White House press secretary, Sean Spicer has elevated reporters from conservative outlets and drastically decreased both the number of follow-up questions granted and the amount of time devoted to answering journalists’ questions compared to Josh Earnest, his Obama administration predecessor. The three major cable news outlets have also exponentially increased the amount of time spent airing Spicer’s press conferences live compared to those at the end of the Obama administration, broadcasting nearly all of Spicer’s briefings in their entirety.

    In this study: 

    • The three main cable news networks have obsessively covered the Spicer briefings. CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC each aired at least 93 percent of Spicer's briefing time, compared to only 2 percent of Earnest's.

    • Spicer's briefings were significantly shorter than Earnest's -- 42% shorter. Spicer's briefings averaged 45 minutes compared to Earnest’s, which averaged 1 hour and 18 minutes.

    • Spicer's top five, most-called-on reporters were all from conservative-leaning outlets. Five of Spicer's 10 most-called-on news organizations were conservative-leaning.

    Politico reported in mid-May that in light of the “crises that are engulfing his administration,” President Donald Trump is considering upending his communications department, including potentially replacing Spicer at briefings with deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and/or largely scaling back on the number of live, on-camera briefings. (News broke May 30 that Communications Director Mike Dubke has resigned.) Trump has also suggested canceling the briefings entirely.

    Given reports about what might happen to Spicer’s role in the administration, Media Matters, which has tracked all of Spicer’s formal press briefings since inauguration, is looking back at Spicer’s first four months as press secretary.

      Which reporters and outlets were called on most often?

      Spicer set the tone for how the administration planned to deal with the press during his first briefing to reporters on January 21, where he claimed -- contrary to all available evidence -- that President Donald Trump’s inauguration had “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.” (It did not.)

      Since then, the press secretary has had multiple clashes with reporters in the briefing room, notably with ABC’s Jonathan Karl, NBC’s Kristen Welker, and American Urban Radio Network’s April Ryan. After Spicer told Ryan to “stop shaking [her] head” on March 28, he has called on her only two other times, and he hasn’t given her a question since March 30. (Homeland Security adviser Tom Bossert and deputy press secretary Sarah Sanders did call on Ryan during the May 11 briefing. And Ryan attempted to ask a question at the May 8 briefing, but Spicer ignored her.)

      While Spicer has repeatedly skirmished with critical journalists from mainstream outlets, he has also shifted the briefings to include many more conservative-leaning reporters. His top five go-to questioners were all from right-leaning outlets: Fox News’ John Roberts, Fox News Radio’s Jon Decker, Newsmax’s John Gizzi, Fox Business’ Blake Burman, and One America News Network’s Trey Yingst.

      In addition to the 48 Spicer briefings analyzed, Media Matters also collected data on a corresponding number of briefings by Obama White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, beginning with his last time in the press briefing room on January 17 of this year backward to August 22, 2016. (We assessed press briefings at the end of the Obama era as opposed to the beginning because it allowed for a comparison of more similar media environments.) Earnest’s most frequented reporters were more ideologically diverse and mainstream: Fox News’ Kevin Corke, CNN’s Michelle Kosinski, NBC’s Ron Allen, CBS Radio’s Mark Knoller, and Agence France-Presse’s Andrew Beatty.

      How did Spicer handle follow-up questions compared to his predecessor?

      Earnest allowed journalists to continue questioning through follow-ups until their line of inquiry was exhausted while Spicer often appeared ready to move on the moment he finished his answer. Earnest’s top five reporters averaged approximately 192 follow-up questions over the 48 briefings studied while Spicer’s top five averaged approximately 53 follow-up questions over the same number of briefings. In total, Earnest allowed 2,574 follow-up questions while Spicer allowed only 1,919 over the same number of briefings.


      Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

      Spicer used his position to elevate conservative outlets

      Spicer has also elevated conservative outlets that had a limited or nonexistent presence in the briefing room during the last portion of Earnest’s tenure. The biggest beneficiaries were One America News Network, Fox Business, Newsmax, The Daily Caller, Washington Examiner, and Fox News Radio. Between the Earnest and Spicer briefings analyzed, One America News Network and Fox Business jumped from zero questions each under Earnest to 32 questions each under Spicer. Newsmax went from 10 questions to 34, The Daily Caller from zero to 24, Washington Examiner from one to 24, and Fox News Radio from 12 to 34.

      In addition to One America News Network, Fox Business, and The Daily Caller, other conservative-leaning outlets have asked questions in the press briefing during Spicer’s tenure that were either not present or did not ask a question during Earnest's last 48 briefings. These include LifeZette, Christian Broadcasting Network, and Townhall, all of which Spicer has occasionally called upon for questions. Other conservative outlets have appeared, if only for a few questions, including CNS News, Independent Journal Review, Intermountain Christian Newspaper, Jobe Publishing, The Lars Larson Show, Salem Radio Network, and UNF News.

      Conservative-leaning outlets also make up half of the top 10 news organizations called upon most often in the briefing room. Fox News Channel, Fox News Radio, Newsmax, Fox Business, and One America News Network all made the top 10 organized by number of times Spicer called upon their reporters. (NBC News has multiple reporters from both NBC and MSNBC in the briefing room at any given time.)

      By contrast, Earnest’s top 10 most called-on news organizations in his last 48 press briefings were more mainstream and more diverse, including broadcast news, cable news, wire services, radio news, and members the foreign press. While Earnest's top 10 included several of the major wire services, Spicer's top 10 included none. 

      From Earnest to Spicer, The Associated Press dropped down to 11th in the rankings, CNN fell to 14th, Reuters fell to 12th, CBS Radio fell to 24th, and Agence France-Presse went all the way down to 47th.

      How frequently did Spicer hold briefings, and how much time did he devote to answering questions?

      Spicer’s days in the briefing room have dropped dramatically since early April -- and briefings, which were a largely regular occurrence during the beginning of the administration, have become sporadic at best.

      Since April 11 -- when Spicer caused a firestorm by claiming that Adolf Hitler "didn't even sink to using chemical weapons" -- Spicer has helmed only 12 briefings, which averaged approximately 36 minutes in length. By contrast, Spicer’s first 36 briefings, on and before April 11, averaged approximately 49 minutes in length. (Altogether, Spicer’s 48 briefings averaged approximately 45 minutes in length.) Earnest, on the other hand, averaged a briefing length of approximately 1 hour and 18 minutes for all 48 briefings analyzed. Overall, Earnest’s 48 briefings totaled 63 hours and 24 minutes while Spicer’s totaled just 36 hours and 36 minutes.


      Sarah Wasko / Media Matters


      Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

      After not airing Earnest press conferences, cable news networks aired almost all of Spicer’s press briefings in their entirety

      The three major cable news networks have been unable to resist airing Spicer's briefings live and -- aside from a few exceptions -- largely in their entirety. While some disparity in airtime should have been expected due to the fact that Spicer’s original press briefings likely featured more news than ones at the close of the Obama administration, the gap in airtime is still striking.

      All three cable networks aired some portion of all of Spicer’s 48 briefings live. CNN has aired 97 percent of Spicer’s briefing time thus far; Fox News, 96 percent; and MSNBC, 93 percent. (All three networks, MSNBC in particular, broke from briefings to cover the House Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia with then-FBI director James Comey on March 20, then-Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch’s Senate confirmation hearing on March 21, the Westminster, London, terror attack on March 22, Gorsuch’s confirmation vote on April 3, and the San Bernardino, CA, school shooting on April 10).

      By contrast, over the same number of Earnest briefings, each network aired only about 2 percent of their total time. This even includes instances where a network played a clip from “moments ago” as the briefing was still underway.

      Over Earnest's more than 63 hours of press briefings, CNN spent 1 hour and 26 minutes, Fox News spent 1 hour and 4 minutes, and MSNBC spent just 1 hour and 16 minutes televising the briefings. But for Spicer's more than 36 hours of press briefings, CNN televised 35 hours and 33 minutes, Fox News televised 34 hours and 59 minutes, and MSNBC televised 34 hours and 9 minutes.


      Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

      Methodology

      Media Matters reviewed all 48 daily press briefing conducted by White House press secretary Sean Spicer between January 23 and May 15, 2017, and an equal number of daily press briefings conducted by former White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest beginning on January 17, 2017 and going backward to August 22, 2016. Press gaggles were excluded from the analysis. If the deputy press secretary conducted the briefing, those were excluded. Ninety-six total briefings were included in the data.

      We tracked how often the press secretary called on journalists to ask questions, and we also kept track of the number of follow-up questions a journalist was able to ask. If a journalist interjected without a clear indication of being called on by the press secretary, that was counted as being called on if the press secretary heard and answered the question. If the question was ignored, it was not counted. When journalists asked multipart questions or multiple questions without interruption from the press secretary, those questions were counted individually. If a subsequent question rephrased or clarified the prior question for the press secretary, it was not counted as a separate question.

      We counted only those questions fielded by the press secretary. Questions posed to other members of the administration, other cabinet members, or guest speakers at the beginning of briefings were excluded from the analysis.

      For the length of each briefing, we went to the official White House YouTube pages and used the video lengths for press briefing videos uploaded by the White House. We then used video archive services iQ media and SnapStream to scan through CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC to time how much of a briefing was broadcast. Any portion of a briefing broadcast during the time that the briefing was actually taking place was included in the totals. The time lengths include when other members of the administration, other cabinet members, or guest speakers took questions from the press as well.

      Journalists were identified by watching the video in real time. In approximately 4 percent of all times a journalist was called on, we were unable to identify the journalist asking the question. These typically included members of the foreign press pool or members of news outlets who do not have a regular pass to the press room. These unidentified journalists were excluded from the analysis.

    • STUDY: Evening Cable News Devoted Nearly 250 Segments To Wikileaks Emails In The 5 Weeks Before The Election

      Blog ››› ››› NICK FERNANDEZ & ROB SAVILLO

      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.”

      Methodology

      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.”