There are still more than two weeks left in the year 2017, which means any attempt to summarize the year at this point will not only necessarily exclude 4 percent of it but will willfully ignore that two weeks of 2017 is basically the news equivalent of the 1950s. By the time this story is published, the country will experience, if 2017 keeps 2017-ing, the same number of major news stories as we saw during the period of, say, January to July 1994. Nothing to do but embrace it.
There’s a great tool from the Internet Archive that catalogues the closed-captioning from news programs every hour of every day. In other words, it allows us to generate actual data on the madness of the 2017 news year, by network and day. So we did.
Here, for example, is the chart for the word Russia when considered in the context of President Trump. In other words, this is how often five national news networks — Bloomberg News, CNBC, CNN, Fox Business, Fox News and MSNBC — mentioned the Russia investigation on-air. The data are presented as a percentage of all of the sentences spoken during the day, so if CNN is particularly verbose and CNBC generally quiet, the same measure of pervasiveness applies.
The peak day was Jan. 2, oddly, with Fox Business mentioning Russia in the context of Trump in more than 3 percent of its sentences. Overall, though, notice the two networks that mentioned it the most were CNN and MSNBC, with Fox News generally not mentioning it quite as much.
Notice, too, the lull in September and October. That will come up again later.
Discussion of the Russia investigation was pretty consistent throughout the year. Other subjects were more specific to certain moments.
Like the Supreme Court, which was discussed heavily when Trump nominated Neal Gorsuch to fill the seat left open by the death of Antonin Scalia and the machinations of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). He was nominated at the end of January (producing the peak on MSNBC) and confirmed in early April.
The political conversation soon moved to the attempt to repeal Obamacare. The media had been talking about it consistently, really, spiking in late March when the House attempted to pass legislation overhauling the health-care law. The subject spiked again during the summer, when the Senate nearly passed a measure that would have done the same.
North Korea, too, was a constant subject over the course of 2017. The spikes below generally correlate to missile tests, as in mid-February. There’s also a peak in August, when Trump disparaged its leader, Kim Jong Un, on Twitter.
In May, mentions of the FBI spiked, as Bureau director James B. Comey was fired and, a few weeks later, former director Robert S. Mueller III was tapped to serve as special counsel to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Discussion of the FBI surged again in December (though to a lesser degree) as pressure mounted on the Bureau.
Climate change was not discussed much on network news, with the exception of early June, when Trump announced he was planning to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord. Notice this subject got a significant amount of attention on Bloomberg, which generally, given its focus on financial news, discussed major news stories less frequently than other networks.
In August, racists marched in Charlottesville, eventually participating in a massive protest that led to various violent incidents and the deaths of a counterprotester and two Virginia state troopers whose plane crashed. MSNBC mentioned the white nationalists at the heart of the protests more often than did other networks — though as a relatively small percent of its coverage.
By September, the major story was the spate of hurricanes that swept through the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Coverage of the hurricanes was steady during September and probably helped dampen discussion of other stories in the news.
On Oct. 1, the mass shooting in Las Vegas occurred. An interesting bit of data here: While the subject wasn’t as dominant as other news events, Fox News returned to it more regularly than did other networks.
During the fall, the major news story was allegations of sexual assault against various prominent figures. The allegations varied in nature, so tracking one phrase is a little tricky. The eruption began in mid-October with stories about producer Harvey Weinstein and were reinvigorated at various points with other prominent men facing similar stories.
By this month, another type of story. The soaring price of bitcoin meant a great deal of attention on the financial networks (though less on the more mainstream news outlets).
There were, of course, thousands of other stories over the course of the year that aren’t included on the charts above. As I was writing this story, it became apparent the tax reform bill championed by Trump and congressional Republicans will probably pass. Major news story. I bet the chart for it looks great. At some point, we just need to call it a year.
Oh, fine, here’s the tax reform chart.