On May 18, a 17-year-old student opened fire at Santa Fe High School in Texas, leaving 10 people dead and 13 people injured. It took less than a week for CNN, Fox, and MSNBC to drop mentions of the school shooting and its aftermath almost entirely from their news cycles. What started as wall-to-wall coverage on cable news on the day of the shooting dropped to less than five minutes of coverage a week later on all three channels combined.
Wall-to-wall coverage: The day of the shooting, May 18
News of the shooting first emerged across cable networks at around 9:20 a.m. on May 18, and the networks gave frequent updates on the emerging details throughout the next hour and a half. By 11 a.m. all networks were covering the shooting continuously. Fox News quickly blamed the seemingly never-ending cycle of school shootings on violent video games and mental health and called for installing armed guards at schools and giving guns to teachers. MSNBC’s initial coverage tapped into local news outlets periodically and mostly focused on the unfolding facts of the shooting. CNN’s coverage was similarly focused on the emerging facts, with some speculation about the mental health of the shooter.
The networks continued their wall-to-wall coverage throughout most of the day, and it dominated CNN’s prime-time and evening shows as well. MSNBC’s coverage started to wane during the 4 p.m. hour: The shooting was still dominating the discussion, but it wasn’t the sole story covered. Similarly, Fox News started to cover other stories during its 5 p.m. show. Fox News and MSNBC devoted significantly less time to the shooting during their evening programming than CNN did.
A drastic drop: Weekend coverage, May 19-20
By the next day, coverage of the shooting had drastically declined. CNN went from over nine hours of coverage of the massacre on Friday to just under one hour of coverage on Saturday -- in large part due to the network’s coverage of the wedding of Britain’s Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle. Fox News, which covered the shooting for over seven hours on Friday, dedicated just over two and a half hours to the story on Saturday. And while MSNBC spent nearly seven hours on the shooting on Friday, the channel dedicated a little less than three hours to it on Saturday. On Sunday, Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC covered the shooting for 1 hour and 33 minutes, 2 hours and 15 minutes, and 1 hour and 20 minutes, respectively.
The royal wedding seemed to suck the oxygen from the coverage of the shooting, and the focus on Santa Fe never quite recovered. CNN’s coverage on Saturday consisted solely of hourly segments between noon and 7 p.m. And while Fox and MSNBC devoted more attention to the shooting and its aftermath than CNN did on Saturday, there was still a significant drop in coverage.
Fading from the news cycle: The next week, May 21-24
The following Monday, just three days after the Santa Fe shooting, each cable news network devoted just a little over an hour to the shooting, totaling 3 hours and 50 minutes. By Tuesday, the networks spent just under 37 minutes combined on the shooting. On Wednesday, the coverage was down to under nine minutes combined. And by Thursday, less than a week after the shooting took place, Fox, MSNBC, and CNN devoted less than five minutes combined to the shooting and its aftermath.
Out of the three cable channels, MSNBC has been the worst in giving continuing coverage to the shooting and its aftermath. The network’s coverage from Tuesday to Thursday totaled just 1 minute and 36 seconds. On Thursday, MSNBC didn’t mention Santa Fe at all.
One would think that with questions about how to stop the epidemic of school shootings still unanswered, coverage of the massacre would last more than several days. One would be wrong.
Just one week has passed since the attack -- which was the 22nd school shooting this year -- but the sense of urgency and alarm about this ongoing crisis has already faded. Networks have moved on to covering fake “spy” scandals, other happenings in the Trump/Russia investigation, and other stories de jour. It says a lot about our society when a mass school shooting fades from our national dialogue in less than a week. In part, it reflects and contributes to the normalization of and desensitization to mass shootings in America. In January, when 16 students were shot in a school shooting in Kentucky, cable news devoted just 16 minutes to covering the rampage the day it happened. There was speculation in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, FL, in February that news coverage would take mass shootings at schools more seriously. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case.
Methodology: Media Matters searched SnapStream transcripts of CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC for mentions of the word “school” within 10 words of any variation of “shoot,” “Santa Fe,” or “Texas” between 4 a.m. and midnight starting on May 18, the day of the shooting, and ending on Thursday, May 24.