The major networks’ nightly newscasts don’t command the national mindshare that they did a couple of decades ago. They have a short, anti-viral tail on the Internet. And they commonly explore stories that many folks sampled on their smartphones hours before. All that said, their choices sometimes say a little something about the mainstream media’s coverage values.
In the case of Andrew Tyndall’s 2016 year in review, the mainstream media valued stories on Donald Trump. The Tyndall Report indicates that the weekday newscasts — NBC Nightly News, CBS Evening News and ABC World News Tonight — devoted a full 1,144 minutes to Trump’s campaign compared with 506 minutes for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, though the analysis splits out Clinton’s email crisis into a separate basket of 130 minutes. The discrepancy, argues Tyndall, rubbed both ways for now-President Trump — “both unprecedented free publicity and unprecedented scrutiny,” he writes.
From there, the minutes crater. After Clinton coverage, the next-most-covered story was the Zika virus, with 255 minutes. On many of the year’s stories, the newscasts tally similar coverage numbers; however, as Tyndall notes, CBS devoted 139 minutes to the siege of Aleppo, against 26 for ABC and 74 for NBC.
The Tyndall numbers pose an interesting juxtaposition to the findings of a study released in December by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. The last in a series of analyses by Thomas E. Patterson, the Harvard study found a false-equivalency epidemic afoot in the final months of a grueling 2016 contest. It included this analysis about Clinton’s drawbacks:
Clinton’s controversies got more attention than Trump’s (19 percent versus 15 percent) and were more focused. Trump wallowed in a cascade of separate controversies. Clinton’s badgering had a laser-like focus. She was alleged to be scandal-prone. Clinton’s alleged scandals accounted for 16 percent of her coverage—four times the amount of press attention paid to Trump’s treatment of women and sixteen times the amount of news coverage given to Clinton’s most heavily covered policy position.
That observation appears to draw corroboration from Tyndall’s compilation. The 130 minutes devoted to the email scandal, after all, represent about a quarter of the attention paid to the Clinton campaign writ large.
Whatever the particular media-dork conclusions, Trump won’t likely ask for a recount of numbers showing that he drubbed Clinton by a greater-than-2-to-1 margin on the nightly news shows. Winning!