CNN Trump plane coverage 2022
Screenshots via CNN

Research/Study Research/Study

Study: CNN gave more airtime to Trump’s plane than the GOP’s debt ceiling plot

From Oct. 18-24, CNN spent 14 minutes on the former story and only 11 on the latter

  • CNN devoted significantly more airtime over a seven-day period to the new paint job on former President Donald Trump’s plane as it did to the Republican Party’s plan to risk economic catastrophe by requiring huge spending cuts to programs like Social Security and Medicare as a condition for raising the debt ceiling after midterms. The network devoted roughly 14 minutes to the former story compared to 11 minutes for the latter, according to a Media Matters review.

    Bloomberg Government reported earlier this month that “Social Security and Medicare eligibility changes, spending caps, and safety-net work requirements are among the top priorities for key House Republicans who want to use next year’s debt-limit deadline to extract concessions from Democrats.” The plan, detailed by House Republicans who would seek to chair the House Budget Committee in a GOP-controlled Congress, is to catch Democrats in a no-win situation: Social safety net cuts would devastate American families who depend on those programs, while experts say that failure to act on the debt ceiling would result in an economic catastrophe.

    The GOP plan to threaten a global financial crisis in order to secure spending cuts initially received virtually no attention from mainstream news outlets. But more journalists began paying attention after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who is likely to become speaker of the House if Republicans gain control, signaled his support for it in an interview with Punchbowl News published October 18. 

    On CNN since then, commentators have described the GOP plan as an “absolutely irresponsible” policy that would “risk the U.S. defaulting on its debt.” They’ve warned that the result could be an “economic disaster” in which “the world economy would fall apart.” They’ve described the plan as promoted by an “extreme group” without “public support.” And they’ve pointed out that the GOP would be “holding the full faith and credit of the United States hostage for ideological aims just because the president is from a different party” in a manner “massively destabilizing for the U.S. and the world.” 

    But CNN isn’t giving the Republican plan to leverage the debt ceiling the airtime those descriptions would suggest it should. The network gave the story approximately 11 minutes of attention in the week following Punchbowl News’ October 18 report that McCarthy had signed on to the plan. The network dedicated only a single correspondent report to the topic, on the October 24 edition of New Day. Notably, anchor Jake Tapper asked two congressional guests about the debt ceiling plan during Sunday’s edition of State of the Union (Media Matters had previously singled out that program and other Sunday morning political talk shows for ignoring the story).

    By contrast, CNN devoted about 14 minutes over the same period — including four full reports featuring White House correspondent Kate Bennett — to the network’s exclusive story about how Trump’s “fabled Boeing 757” had returned to the airport near his Mar-a-Lago residence following repairs and could be out on the campaign trail soon. That report, which speculated that “the return of so-called ‘Trump Force One’ to its home base could provide a jolt to Trump’s fans,” drew on “flight data studied and analyzed by CNN and aviation experts consulted by CNN” as well as an extensive review of the social media activity of figures in the Trump orbit to detail the plane’s new paint job.

    CNN’s on-air coverage featured the same breathless tone about the updated plane and what it means for a potential future Trump run:

  • CNN’s 2016 election coverage was marred by its obsessive fixation on the spectacle Trump produced, including seemingly endless footage of his plane and the empty podia awaiting his speeches. Under new management six years later, the network appears to be reverting back to that standard.


    Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on CNN for either of the terms “debt” or “deficit” within close proximity of any of the terms “entitlement,” “spending,” “social security,” “Medicare,” “work requirement,” “limit,” or “ceiling” from October 18, 2022, through October 24, 2022. We also searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on CNN for the term “Trump” within close proximity of any of the terms “Boeing,” “plane,” “force one,” “aviation,” “jet,” “flight,” or “757” from October 18, 2022, through October 24, 2022.

    We timed segments, which we defined as instances when the GOP’s plan to link entitlement spending to the debt ceiling or Trump’s Boeing 757 was the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of either story. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed either with one another.

    We also timed passing mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker in a multitopic segment mentioned either without another speaker engaging with the comment, and teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about either scheduled to air later in the broadcast. We rounded all times to the nearest minute.