Donald Trump on January 18 gave political reporters plenty to talk about: threats of “bedlam” if the Supreme Court doesn’t overrule state decisions and place his name on state ballots and a claim that “total immunity” gave him free rein to subvert the results of the 2020 election. All three major broadcast outlets’ evening news shows failed to cover these incendiary remarks.
In a legal brief filed to the U.S. Supreme Court on January 18, Trump attorneys implored justices to keep Trump’s name on state ballots for the 2024 presidential election, writing that disqualifying Trump “promise[s] to unleash chaos and bedlam.” The court is scheduled to hear oral arguments regarding Colorado’s removal of Trump from its primary and general election ballots beginning February 8. Trump himself echoed the language in the brief while speaking to reporters: “It’ll be bedlam in the country. … It’s the opening of a Pandora’s box."
Earlier that day, in an all-caps post on Truth Social, Trump railed against the federal prosecutions related to his role in inciting the January 6 insurrection. “A PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES MUST HAVE FULL IMMUNITY,” Trump wrote. “EVEN EVENTS THAT ‘CROSS THE LINE’ MUST FALL UNDER TOTAL IMMUNITY, OR IT WILL BE YEARS OF TRAUMA TRYING TO DETERMINE GOOD FROM BAD.”
Even Trump’s right-wing media sycophants have disputed his outlandish claims of “total immunity” in the past.
Instead of covering Trump’s unhinged social media rant or his threats of “bedlam,” evening network news broadcasts took a business-as-usual approach. Election segments framed the upcoming New Hampshire primary as a two-person horse race between Trump and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, with NBC Nightly News discussing “how the crisis at the border is impacting the race." NBC also chose to include a Truth Social post from Trump urging Republicans not to compromise on a border security deal but failed to mention his post arguing the law doesn’t apply to him as president. This editorial decision is particularly baffling since NBC News was the only broadcast outlet that covered Trump’s “total immunity” claim on its website.
Meanwhile, ABC World News Tonight aired a segment on the New Hampshire primary that mostly focused on Haley and Trump accusing each other of being bigger drags on the Republican ticket. The program also aired a report on Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis’ alleged misconduct regarding a relationship with a special prosecutor working on Trump’s election interference case, followed by a brief mention of Hunter Biden’s upcoming deposition. Indeed, all three networks favored mentioning Hunter Biden’s legal woes instead of Trump’s threatening and undemocratic claims.
Failing to report on Trump’s threats and incendiary remarks – effectively sanitizing Trump for a mass audience – is exactly the sort of coverage decision that spurred Media Matters to name legacy media our Misinformer of the Year for 2023. If these major news outlets continue this trend, we’re in store for a repeat of 2016.