Hunter Biden in front of a gavel

Molly Butler / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

News outlets gorged on Hunter Biden trial coverage while ignoring Trump’s calls to prosecute foes

  • Major news outlets provided dramatically more coverage of Hunter Biden’s federal gun trial than former President Donald Trump’s repeated declarations this month that, if reelected as president, he may direct prosecutions of his political enemies.

    The Big Three broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) collectively produced 18 times more coverage of the trial than of Trump’s calls for politicized prosecutions, while the A-sections of five major newspapers featured six times more articles about the trial, according to a Media Matters review.

    In the days after a jury convicted him on 34 counts of falsifying business records in his New York hush money trial, Trump gave at least five interviews in which he floated unleashing federal law enforcement on his political foes if he returned to office. The former president told Fox News he has “every right to go after” his enemies in that way, said to Dr. Phil McGraw that “sometimes revenge can be justified,” and suggested on Newsmax that “it’s very possible that it’s going to have to happen to them.”

    While Trump, his allies, and media reports have framed such threatened prosecutions as “revenge” or “retribution,” in reality he is explicitly promising politicized justice of a sort that he has not personally suffered — but which he has previously pursued as president.

    Meanwhile, after a weeklong trial, on June 11, a jury convicted Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden’s son, of lying on a federal form by attesting that he was drug-free while purchasing a gun in 2018. Hunter Biden, who is frequently attacked by right-wingers seeking to damage his father, became the target of a federal probe during Trump’s presidency and was ultimately charged with federal gun charges that experts say are virtually never brought. Hunter Biden’s trial featured salacious details of his drug addiction, and the prosecution of a sitting president’s child is obviously unusual and newsworthy. 

    But the stakes of the Hunter Biden trial are nonexistent for anyone outside the Biden family.

    At stake in Trump's threats of “revenge” is whether or not the U.S. justice system will continue to turn on anything other than a president's personal grievances. 

    And yet, viewers of national news broadcasts and readers of the nation’s most influential newspapers received much more coverage of the Hunter Biden trial than Trump’s recent comments about prosecuting his foes.

  • Broadcast networks gave the Hunter Biden trial 18x more coverage than Trump’s comments

  • The three major broadcast news networks' morning news, evening news, and Sunday morning political talk shows discussed the Hunter Biden trial in 83% of episodes for a total of 2 hours and 25 minutes from June 3, 2024, when jury selection began, through June 12, 2024.

    By contrast, the networks covered Trump's vows of revenge, expressed in multiple interviews that same week, for just 8 minutes from June 2, 2024, when Trump aired his “‘revenge’ strategy” in a Fox & Friends Weekend interview, through June 12, 2024.

    NBC News aired the most trial coverage, 52 minutes, against 4 minutes covering Trump’s calls for politicized prosecutions. ABC News aired 47 minutes of trial coverage and 4 about Trump’s comments. CBS News ran 46 minutes of trial coverage and did not discuss Trump’s remarks at all during the period of the study.

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  • Major papers gave Hunter Biden trial 6x more coverage than Trump comments

  • Media Matters also reviewed coverage of both stories in the A sections of the print editions of five of the top U.S. newspapers by circulation — The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Times.

    We found that the papers published 50 articles combined about the Hunter Biden trial from June 3, 2024, through noon on June 12, 2024. By contrast, from June 2, 2024, through June 12, 2024, those top papers published only 8 articles about Trump's calls for supposed retribution.

    The Washington Post published 17 articles about the trial, The Wall Street Journal published 11, The New York Times published 10, and USA Today and the Los Angeles Times published 6 apiece. 

    By contrast, the Post and New York Times each ran 4 print articles about Trump’s remarks while the other three papers we reviewed did not report on them at all during the review period.

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  • News outlets also ignored Trump’s alleged witness tampering

  • Trump’s purported “retribution” wasn’t the only story to get short shrift as news outlets gorged on the Hunter Biden trial. 

    A ProPublica investigation published on June 3 found that “nine witnesses in the criminal cases against former President Donald Trump have received significant financial benefits, including large raises from his campaign, severance packages, new jobs, and a grant of shares and cash from Trump’s media company.” According to the outlet:

  • These pay increases and other benefits often came at delicate moments in the legal proceedings against Trump. One aide who was given a plum position on the board of Trump’s social media company, for example, got the seat after he was subpoenaed but before he testified.

    Significant changes to a staffer’s work situation, such as bonuses, pay raises, firings or promotions, can be evidence of a crime if they come outside the normal course of business. To prove witness tampering, prosecutors would need to show that perks or punishments were intended to influence testimony.

  • But according to a Media Matters review, the ProPublica story was not mentioned by any of the broadcast news programs or major print newspaper A-sections we reviewed from the time of its publication through June 12, 2024.

  • Methodology

  • For coverage of Hunter Biden's gun possession trial, Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original episodes of ABC’s Good Morning America, World News Tonight, and This Week; CBS’ Mornings, Evening News, and Face the Nation; and NBC’s Today, Nightly News, and Meet the Press for the term “Hunter” within close proximity of any of the terms “trial,” “gun,” or “court” from June 3, 2024, when Hunter Biden's gun trial began with jury selection, through June 12, 2024.

    We timed segments, which we defined as instances when Hunter Biden's gun trial was the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of the trial. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed the trial with one another.

    We also timed mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker in a segment on another topic mentioned the trial without another speaker in the segment engaging with the comment, and teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about the trial scheduled to air later in the broadcast.

    We rounded all times to the nearest minute.

    We also searched print articles in the Factiva database from five of the top U.S. newspapers by circulation — the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post — for the term “Hunter” within the same headline or lead paragraphs as any of the terms “trial,” “gun,” or “court” from June 3, 2024, through June 12, 2024.

    We included articles, which we defined as instances when the trial was mentioned in the headline or lead paragraphs in the A section of the paper. We included editorial and op-eds but not letters to the editor.

  • For coverage of Donald Trump's vows of retribution, we searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original episodes of the same broadcast news shows for either of the terms “Trump” or “former president” within close proximity of any of the terms “revenge,” “retribution,” “Newsmax,” “Fox and Friends,” “Phil,” “Hannity,” or “interview” or within close proximity of either of the terms “go after” or “prosecute” also within close proximity of any of the terms “opponent,” “rival,” “enemy,” or “political” from June 2, 2024, when Trump first sat down for several interviews in which he vowed revenge against his political enemies, through June 12, 2024.

    We timed segments, which we defined as instances when any of Trump's vows for revenge and retribution was the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of his calls for revenge. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed the vows with one another.

    We also timed mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker in a segment on another topic mentioned Trump's revenge fantasies without another speaker in the segment engaging with the comment, and teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about the vows scheduled to air later in the broadcast.

    We rounded all times to the nearest minute.

    We also searched print articles in the Factiva database from the same top U.S. newspapers for either of the terms “Trump” or “former president” within close proximity of any of the terms “revenge,” “retribution,” “Newsmax,” “Fox and Friends,” “Phil,” “Hannity,” or “interview” or within close proximity of either of the terms “go after” or “prosecute” also within close proximity of any of the terms “opponent,” “rival,” “enemy,” or “political” from June 2, 2024, through June 12, 2024.

    We included articles, which we defined as instances when any of Trump's vows for revenge and retribution was mentioned in the headline or lead paragraphs in the A section of the paper. We included editorial and op-eds but not letters to the editor.

  • For coverage of Trump's alleged witness tampering, we searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original episodes of the same broadcast news shows for either of the terms “Trump” or “former president” or any variation of the term “ProPublica” within close proximity of any of the terms “employee,” “staff,” or “aide” or any variation of the term “witness” and also within close proximity to any of the terms “bonus,” “benefit,” “tamper,” “bribe,” “raise,” “campaign,” “severance,” “job,” “cash,” “testimony,” “perk,” “promotion,” “money,” “share,” “company,” “committee,” or “finance” from June 3, 2024, when ProPublica's report describing the alleged witness tampering scheme was published, through June 12, 2024.

    We timed segments, which we defined as instances when the alleged witness tampering scheme, reported by ProPublica, was the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of the scheme. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed the scheme with one another.

    We also timed mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker in a segment on another topic mentioned the alleged witness tampering scheme without another speaker in the segment engaging with the comment, and teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about the alleged witness tampering scheme scheduled to air later in the broadcast.

    We rounded all times to the nearest minute.

    We also searched print articles in the Factiva database from the same top U.S. newspapers for either of the terms “Trump” or “former president” or any variation of the term “ProPublica” within the same headline or lead paragraphs as any of the terms “employee,” “staff,” or “aide” or any variation of the term “witness” and also within the same headline or lead paragraphs as any of the terms “bonus,” “benefit,” “tamper,” “bribe,” “raise,” “campaign,” “severance,” “job,” “cash,” “testimony,” “perk,” “promotion,” “money,” “share,” “company,” “committee,” or “finance” from June 3, 2024 through June 12, 2024.

    We included print news articles, which we defined as instances when the alleged witness tampering scheme was mentioned in the headline or lead paragraphs in the A section of the paper. We included editorial and op-eds but not letters to the editor.