July 26, 2013

There’s no universal, objective way to determine the appropriate level of coverage for a given news story. It’s always a subjective matter.

On July 18, Rep. Steve King created a legitimate news story when Newsmax reported his remarks regarding young immigrants:

He cites those illegals who were brought to the United States by their parents as young children, for instance.

“Some of them are valedictorians — and their parents brought them in. It wasn’t their fault. It’s true in some cases, but they aren’t all valedictorians. They weren’t all brought in by their parents.

“For everyone who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds — and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert,” King tells Newsmax. “Those people would be legalized with the same act.”

The newsworthiness of those comments is not a partisan thing. House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, both Republicans, slammed the remarks, with Boehner calling them “hateful” and “wrong.” “There can be honest disagreements about policy without using hateful language. Everyone needs to remember that,” Boehner said.

The cocktail of conflict, immigration and politics is generally compelling enough to command repeated coverage on the airwaves of the Fox News Channel. Not in this particular case, however: An analysis by Media Matters for America finds that Fox News has spent 00:00 minutes on King’s comments. (That number applies to programming from July 21 at 5 a.m. Eastern time to July 25 at 5 p.m. Eastern time, according to Media Matters). As the chart above shows, CNN has spent around 13 minutes and MSNBC has devoted a not-surprising one hour and 12 minutes to this intramural Republican embarrassment.

Much has been written on how Fox News decides which stories to hype and which stories to suppress. In 2011, Rolling Stone took a swipe at explaining the approach, noting that Fox News chief Roger Ailes had a chat with a key lieutenant who later distributed a memo to producers on how to proceed. “There’s a chain of command, and it’s followed,” a former news anchor told Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson. “Roger talks to his people, and his people pass the message on down.”

In his book “An Atheist in the Foxhole,” former “Fox mole” Joe Muto reaches a parallel conclusion: “The ideology at Fox was strictly a top-down affair. Roger was a conservative. All of his deputies were conservatives. Most of the hosts were conservatives, or at least were good at pretending to be while on television, if they knew what was good for them.”

It’s unclear just what happened in the case of King’s comments, but the story has been everywhere. The fact that it appears to have skipped Fox’s airwaves has to result from one of the following dynamics:

1) A felicitous coincidence in which all Fox News producers decided on their own that management wouldn’t appreciate a segment on an intramural Republican dustup;

2) A high-level suppression directive;

3) A Fox News-wide computer malfunction that kept news stories about King from the screens of the network’s producers.

Fox News didn’t respond to an inquiry about Media Matters’s findings.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.