“It’s Not The Polls, It’s The Ratings”: The Staggering Numbers Behind The Media’s Trump Obsession
2-to-1. 5-to-1. 10-to-1.
Those are some of the lopsided ratios that appear when you start examining just how imbalanced the campaign coverage has been in favor of Donald Trump this election cycle. And it’s not just that front-runner Trump is getting way more media time and attention than front-runner Hillary Clinton. It’s that Trump’s getting way more than Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
During March, the network evening newscasts on ABC, CBS and NBC devoted a jaw-dropping 143 minutes to the Trump campaign, compared to just 26 minutes to the Clinton and Sanders runs, according to an analysis compiled by Andrew Tyndall, who’s been monitoring the evening newscasts for years. Specifically, on NBC Nightly News, 51 minutes were set aside for Trump last month, but just six minutes for Clinton and Sanders. (Two minutes for Clinton, four for Sanders.)
Meanwhile, in the last 30 days, CNN has mentioned Trump approximately 25,000 times according to the GDELT Project using data from the Internet Archive’s Television News Archive. Clinton and Sanders? A relatively paltry 13,000 CNN mentions in comparison.
In terms of free media, Trump’s wall-to-wall coverage has earned him $1.9 billion worth of free media in nine months of campaign, according to the New York Times’ analysis, compared to $746 million for Clinton and $321 million for Sanders.
And during a one-week survey of online news campaign coverage overseen by University of Southern California researcher Ev Boyle, nearly 70 percent of the Washington Post homepage mentions of presidential candidates were for Trump, while the remaining five candidates — Republican and Democrat — accounted for just 30 percent of the mentions.
“Trump’s name appeared on the homepage 112 times across these 7 days, while Hillary Clinton’s name only appeared 13 times,” Boyle noted. “That’s almost 10 times more mentions of Trump than any other single candidate.”
There’s been lots of debate about whether the press “created” Trump’s front-runner status via its obsessive (and often subservient) coverage, or if voters themselves are solely responsible for his campaign success. But it’s also important to focus on the sheer tonnage of the Trump coverage and the wild inequity on display. (Even Fox News marvels at the “clear imbalance.”)
Overeager to portray Trump as a political phenomenon, the press has gorged on his campaign while often losing sight of the fact that perhaps the only true phenomenon has been just how much time and attention the press has decided to give to the Republican. (That, and how Trump has completely “bent television to his will.”)
The staggering imbalance comes in the face of new polling that shows Americans by a huge, bipartisan margin think Trump’s getting way too much press attention.
The disparity is also leading to tensions between supporters and the press. Over the weekend, hundreds of Sanders supporters protested outside CNN’s Los Angeles studios, demanding the candidate get more airtime. “Stop showing Trump so much,” one protester urged. “Stick to the issues.”
Keep in mind this endless buffet of Trump coverage comes at a time when the Republican campaign itself has essentially declared war on the media. When not allegedly assaulting the press, Trump’s team is herding them into pens while the candidate hurls endless insults their way.
We’re witnessing two extraordinary occurrences play out simultaneously: Nobody has ever treated the White House campaign press as badly as Trump, and nobody has ever been rewarded with more coverage than Trump.
So here’s the simple question that won’t go away: Why is the Republican front-runner often deemed to be four or five times more newsworthy than the Democratic front-runner? And why is the Republican front-runner constantly getting way more news coverage than both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, combined?
Statistics like the ones cited above badly undercut a favorite journalist defense that Trump’s massive amount of free media simply reflects his front-runner status. Note CNN chief Jeff Zucker has brushed off claims that the channel’s Trump coverage has been badly out of whack. “The front-runner of the party is always going to get a disproportionate amount of attention,” he said. (There’s too much “handwringing” about Trump coverage, Zucker reportedly told CNN employees.)
But again, why does the likely Republican nominee land almost twice as many mentions on CNN as Clinton and Sanders combined? Especially when current polling indicates Clinton and Sanders have a much better chance of becoming president.
The answer clearly seems to revolve around the short-term profits Trump helps generate. “I go on one of these shows and the ratings double, they triple,” Trump recently told Time. “And that gives you power. It’s not the polls. It’s the ratings.”
But newsroom executives seem reluctant to acknowledge that fact.
“I think that taking candidate rallies unedited is actually a valuable service,” CNN Washington Bureau Chief Sam Feist recently explained, when pressed about the Trump tsunami. “I think that taking those rallies live, unedited, without commentary is useful,” he added
In theory, that’s great. If CNN wants to turn itself into C-SPAN during the campaign season and just televise rally after candidate rally in their entirety, more power to them. But have you seen lots and lots of Clinton and Sanders rallies aired uninterrupted? (Veteran journalist Jeff Greenfield compared the regular airing of “unvetted” Trump events to state-run television under Fidel Castro.)
Meanwhile, the numbers are still hard to make sense of. As mentioned, Trump received 143 minutes of network evening news time during the month of March. By comparison, Obama’s reelection campaign garnered 157 minutes of evening network news time during all of 2012.
Seen another way, Trump in just three months this year has received more than 250 minutes of network evening news time, which far surpasses all of Obama’s 2012 re-election coverage.
And there’s still seven months left until November.
By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters For America, April 6, 2016