Donald Trump didn't announce his candidacy until mid-June of last year, but still managed to be covered as the second biggest news story for all of 2015 on the network evening newscasts.
Between ABC's World News Tonight, the CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News, Trump's campaign captured 327 minutes of airtime, according to television news analyst Andrew Tyndall (ABC: 121, CBS: 84, NBC: 122 minutes, respectively). That figure doesn't include the network newscasts' coverage of the Republican debates, which garnered an additional 123 minutes of airtime.
Context: ABC's evening news broadcast produced almost as much Trump coverage last year as it did for the Ebola panic in 2014.
How does Trump's 327 minutes compare to other candidates this year and to coverage for previous campaign cycles? Trump's figure is off the charts. Over the last decade, the networks' evening newscasts have never showered a presidential campaign with the kind of attention they gave Trump one year before the White House vote even takes place.
More context: Trump received 327 minutes of evening network airtime one year before the general election campaign. In 2012, during the general election campaign, President Obama's re-election run garnered just 157 minutes of airtime.
Trump has famously had to spend very little money on his campaign to date, in part because of the orgy of free media he receives in the form of news coverage. Media Matters recently calculated that, thanks to over 24 hours of Trump interviews Fox News hosted between May and the end of 2015, the conservative cable channel provided the Republican with nearly $30 million in free media.
Last year, the Republican frontrunner received nearly three times as much coverage as the Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton: 327 minutes for Trump, compared to 121 minutes for Clinton (ABC: 35, CBS: 24, NBC: 62.) Note that the controversy over Clinton's personal emails last year received 88 minutes of airtime, while the Republican-fueled Benghazi story grabbed 29 minutes. That means the network newscasts devoted nearly as much time to emails and Benghazi in 2015 as they did to Clinton's entire campaign.
As for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, Media Matters previously highlighted that from January through November, ABC World News Tonight dedicated just one minute to the Sanders campaign, an astonishing oversight. For Tyndall's final, year-end tally, ABC bumped that one minute up to four minutes. Sanders received a total of 20 minutes of network newscast coverage in 2015, compared to Trump's 327.
Combined, the Republican field of candidates, and their debates, received 701 minutes of airtime, compared to 248 minutes for Democrats in the field.
But note that a big chunk of that Democratic tally, 73 minutes, was set aside for political speculation surrounding Vice President Joe Biden, who decided not to run. So in terms of Democrats who entered the race and who participated in the debates, the network evening news total for 2015 was 175 minutes, compared to 701 minutes for Republicans, or a 526-minute gap.
With the networks setting aside so much time for Trump, other areas of news were cut back. (i.e. There's a finite number of minutes for each newscast.) According to Tyndall, “Foreign policy received less than half its average annual coverage; domestic policy barely more than half.” Specifically, economic news last year received the least amount of coverage in 28 years.
The Beltway media have been crowing a lot about the unfolding "Trump phenomenon." Guess who played a crucial role in creating it?