One year ago Tuesday, with Election Day looming in the contentious 2016 presidential race, Donald Trump was consumed with rebutting allegations that threatened to derail his candidacy. The New York Times had reported that multiple women claimed to have been sexually assaulted by the candidate in the past, contrary to Trump’s insistence during the second presidential debate — an insistence that was offered in response to questions about the leaked “Access Hollywood” tape which had come out 10 days before.
“Can’t believe these totally phoney stories,” Trump tweeted on the morning of Oct. 17, “100% made up by women (many already proven false) and pushed big time by press, have impact!”
As the next few weeks would show, whatever impact those stories had — even as the number of stories increased and even as they remained largely credible — was not enough to prevent Trump from winning election to the White House. After the election on Nov. 8, the stories of assault faded into the background, as had so many other seemingly devastating actions and revelations about Trump.
BuzzFeed recently interviewed a number of the women who came forward with allegations about Trump, asking them about how they viewed that experience in light of the new revelations against film producer Harvey Weinstein. One woman said that she was glad Weinstein was fired from his production company, but was disappointed about how the allegations against Trump had been “brushed . . . under the rug.”
The last month of the 2016 — like so many periods over the last two years — was choked with new revelations and surprises. On the day the “Access Hollywood” tape was released — right after it was released, in fact — WikiLeaks also began to dump a set of emails stolen from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. Later in the month, then-FBI Director James B. Comey announced that his agency was investigating newly discovered emails from Clinton, a revelation that some have credited with dooming Clinton’s candidacy.
That was the main rug under which the allegations against Trump were swept: Stories about Clinton’s email server. Analysis of closed captioning from news programs over that period, compiled by the TV News Archive, makes that clear.
News programs covered the “Access Hollywood” tape heavily after its release and on an ongoing basis through the rest of the election.
But discussion of Clinton and WikiLeaks was much heavier.
This is an imprecise measure of coverage, we’ll note, dependent on selecting particular terms that may or may not appear in all news broadcasts — nor are all newscasts included. It doesn’t include other media formats, either.
But the graph above comports with how the month unfolded. Day after day, WikiLeaks released new emails which were often seized upon by news outlets regardless of how pertinent they might have been to the election itself. Those releases also often covered a number of different subjects, giving those interested in doing so an opportunity to dive into a number of facets of Clinton’s campaign over the course of the month.
There was a flurry of allegations against Trump as well, but those revelations garnered less attention and lacked the same ongoing sense of novelty.
Then there was the letter from Comey to Congress, announcing the discovery of the new emails.
We can compare those mentions with the mentions of WikiLeaks and the Trump assault allegations.
Trump and his team pushed back hard against the allegations from his accusers. But it seems likely that the two people who did the most to distract from those allegations before Election Day were James B. Comey and Wikileaks’s Julian Assange.