Broadcast Networks Ignored Democracy Awakening, Democracy Spring Protests

A Media Matters analysis of the broadcast evening and weekend TV news coverage of mass protests against money in politics organized by Democracy Awakening and Democracy Spring revealed that the networks devoted only two segments -- a total of 29 seconds of airtime -- between April 11 and April 18 to the week-long demonstrations.

Democracy Awakening And Democracy Spring Organized Thousands Of Protesters In Washington, D.C., Against “The Influence Of Money In Politics”

Democracy Spring Urges Congressional Action On Specific Bills To “Save Our Democracy.” An April 19 Vox article explained that a group called Democracy Spring organized mass protests in Washington, D.C., to “demand that Congress listen to the People and take immediate action to save our democracy,” according to the group’s website. Vox further explained that Democracy Spring has four specific legislative demands: passing legislation to overturn the 2010 Citizens United decision, passing an update to the Voting Rights Act to restore provisions of the law struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013, passing the Voter Empowerment Act to make voter registration easier, and passing the Fair Elections Now Act to create a public financing system for Senate candidates. [Vox, 4/19/16]

Democracy Awakening Mobilized Protesters To “Protect Voting Rights, Get Big Money Out Of Politics,” And Demand Action On President Obama’s Supreme Court Nomination. An April 19 CNN Politics story explained the goals of Democracy Awakening, which led protests April 16 through 18 in Washington, D.C.:

“Democracy Awakening,” which is closely aligned with the “Democracy Spring” protests earlier this month, mobilized protesters April 16-18 to “protect voting rights, get big money out of politics and demand a fair hearing and an up or down vote on President Obama's Supreme Court nominee,” its website said.

They are protesting for action on climate change, racial justice, workers' rights and fair pay, safe food and water, health care, peace, immigration reform and improvements in education, according to the website. They believe that voters aren't included in the political process and that Congress has failed to act. [CNN Politics, 4/19/16]

Hundreds Were Arrested At Capitol During Week-Long Protests And Sit-Ins By Democracy Spring And Democracy Awakening. USA Today reported on April 18 that the week of protests against “the influence of money in politics” in Washington, D.C., organized by Democracy Awakening and Democracy Spring had amassed thousands of participants and led to hundreds of arrests. The protests and sit-ins also targeted “the Supreme Court's 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case” and “laws [Democracy Awakening] considers discriminatory, such as Voter ID laws” :

Police have calmly arrested hundreds of people in Washington, D,.C. protesting the influence of money in politics during the last week, in what several participants described as a striking display of restrained law enforcement.

More arrests are expected Monday, the final day of protests when the focus of the non-violent protests turn to voting rights and timely consideration of the Merrick Garland's nomination to the Supreme Court. U.S. Capitol Police have arrested more than 900 protesters through Saturday.

Mass demonstrations by a group called “Democracy Spring” began last Monday. A related group, “Democracy Awakening,” joined the efforts on Saturday and are holding often integrated sit ins and other demonstrations to protest laws it considers discriminatory, such as Voter ID laws.

[...]

The Democracy Spring effort started in Philadelphia, where thousands began a 140-mile walk to the U.S. Capitol to “demand Congress take immediate action to end the corruption of big money in our politics and ensure free and fair elections in which every American has an equal voice.”

[…]

Many protesters held up signs protesting the Supreme Court's 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case. The case opened the door for the rise of newer super PACs — political action committees that can raise unlimited amounts from virtually any source  — and contributed to corporate influence in campaigns, critics say. [USA Today, 4/18/16]

STUDY: Protests Received Only 29 Seconds Of Broadcast News Coverage

Evening Broadcast News Programs Devoted Less Than Half A Minute To Demonstrations. A Media Matters analysis found that of the four broadcast network evening shows -- ABC's World News Tonight, CBS' CBS Evening News, NBC's NBC Nightly News, and PBS's PBS NewsHour -- only PBS NewsHour devoted any airtime to covering the Democracy Awakening and Democracy Spring protests in Washington, D.C., from April 11 to 18. The coverage on PBS was scant, however, with only two segments totaling 29 seconds devoted to the demonstrations.

Weekend Network Programs Entirely Ignored The Protests. The analysis found that the five network weekend programs -- ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, NBC's Meet the Press, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, and PBS' PBS NewsHour Weekend -- entirely omitted coverage of the demonstrations and sit-ins in Washington, D.C., during their April 16 and 17 broadcasts.

Limited Coverage Emphasized Arrests, Ignored Specific Goals Of Protests. The minimal coverage garnered by the protests made no mention of the goals of Democracy Awakening and Democracy Spring, instead emphasizing how many protesters were arrested. On the April 18 edition of PBS’ PBS NewsHour, Hari Sreenivasan said of the protests: “Meanwhile, 300 people were arrested at the U.S. Capitol. It’s the latest in a week’s worth of protests against big money in politics.” The April 11 edition of PBS NewsHour had similar coverage:

JUDY WOODRUFF (HOST): And, finally, a news update. More than 400 protesters were arrested for demonstrating on the front of the U.S. Capitol today. Capitol Police said the group organizing the sit-in, Democracy Spring, said they were protesting -- quote -- “the corruption of big money in our politics.” Most are being charged with unlawful crowding and obstruction. [PBS, PBS NewsHour, 4/11/16, 4/18/16]

Methodology:

This report analyzed coverage of “Democracy Awakening,” “Democracy Spring,” “money in politics,” “money,” “money” and “politics,” “campaign finance” and “campaign finance reform” between April 11, 2016, and April 18, 2016, on four Sunday morning political talk shows (ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, NBC's Meet the Press, and Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday), two editions of PBS' PBS NewsHour Weekend, and four evening news programs (ABC's World News Tonight, CBS' CBS Evening News, NBC's NBC Nightly News, and PBS' PBS NewsHour).

Our analysis included any segment devoted to the Democracy Spring and Democracy Awakening protests and sit-ins in Washington, D.C., as well as any substantial mention of money in politics or campaign finance directly pertaining to the protests. Discussions of campaign finance reform or money in politics not pertaining to the protests were excluded. Reruns, teases for upcoming segments, and passing mentions were excluded.

Timestamps, segment duration, and number of segments were acquired through iQ Media, SnapStream, and LexisNexis. Coverage that counted toward the totals included discussions where the stated topics were Democracy Spring, Democracy Awakening, or protests over money in politics that took place in Washington, D.C.