Broadcast news programming — weekday and weekend morning and evening news, and Sunday morning political talk shows — covered the bombshell reports regarding former President Donald Trump’s potentially criminal mishandling of official government records, including classified materials, for approximately 28 minutes in the week after the story broke on February 7.
If the major broadcast news shows would devote so much time to the Clinton story, which turned out to be much ado about nothing, then going forward, we expect them to commit at least as many resources to this very real scandal surrounding Trump. The broadcast networks air more than 60 hours of news programming, combined, each week. Surely, the Trump document scandal ought to become a fixture in the regular viewer’s news diet, just as the pretend scandal that hounded Clinton throughout her presidential campaign did back then.
On Monday, February 7, The Washington Post was first to report that the National Archives and Records Administration had recovered 15 boxes of documents from Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, which had been illegally removed from the White House during the presidential transition. Trump and his team absurdly excused their seeming theft of these protected government records, which they fought for months to keep custody of, as an honest mistake stemming from the chaos of Trump’s attempt to overthrow the government.
Over the coming days, more primary reporting from the Post and secondary reports from The New York Times and other outlets added key details to the story: The Department of Justice was asked to review possible crimes committed by Trump, some of the illegally mishandled documents contained classified and even “top secret” information, and, perhaps most shockingly, then-President Trump had clogged White House toilets attempting to destroy documents while in office.
According to a Media Matters analysis of broadcast news coverage last week, media discussed the story in 12 segments across 53 morning, evening, weekly, and Sunday news programs from ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, and Fox Broadcasting Co.
The time dedicated to Trump’s latest scandal accounted for roughly 28 minutes of programming, with the lion’s share of coverage coming from PBS’ NewsHour.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Sunday morning political talk show Fox News Sunday neglected to mention the scandal. In fact, no Sunday morning political talk show on any broadcast network covered the story despite having had a full week to prepare. (NBC did not air its premiere political news program last week, opting to pre-empt the February 13 edition of Meet the Press in favor of the network’s exclusive coverage of the Winter Olympics and pre-game preparations for the Super Bowl.)
Anyone who remembers living through the nearly two-year spectacle of mainstream and right-wing media outlets obsessing over every imaginable detail of Hillary Clinton’s emails — a story which amounted to nothing — should see that this document scandal is deserving of proportionate wall-to-wall coverage. In 2015, the three major broadcast outlets — ABC, CBS, and NBC — committed 83 minutes of combined coverage to Clinton’s emails, and in 2016, they devoted at least another 125 minutes, which was more than three times what they offered to coverage of her entire proposed policy agenda that year.
The Trump document story has only just begun to be vetted by major newspapers, which were the first to promote the supposed scandal involving Clinton. As their reporting continues breaking new ground and uncovering more details of Trump and his staff’s potential criminal behavior during his presidency and after leaving office, major broadcast news programs should follow suit with continued coverage and analysis.
Media Matters searched transcripts in the Nexis and SnapStream databases for all original episodes of ABC’s Good Morning America, World News Tonight, and This Week; CBS’ Mornings, Evening News, and Face the Nation; NBC’s Today, Nightly News, and Meet the Press; PBS’ NewsHour and Washington Week; and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday for any of the terms “National Archives,” “Presidential Records Act,” “document,” “record,” or “toilet” within close proximity to either of the terms “Trump” or “White House” from February 7, 2022, through February 13, 2022.
We timed all segments about Trump’s presidential records, which we defined as instances when the story was the stated topic of discussion or when we found “significant discussion” of it. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed Trump’s presidential records with one another. We did not include mentions of the White House documents, which we defined as instances when a single speaker discussed the story without another speaker engaging with the comment, or teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host a segment about the story scheduled to air later in the broadcast.
We rounded all times to the nearest minute.