The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The caravan has all but vanished from cable news

The Department of Homeland Security is stretching for data to back up the president's assertions. (Video: Meg Kelly/The Washington Post)

Over the final two weeks of the midterm elections, according to closed-captioning data compiled by the Internet Archive, Fox News and Fox Business Channel each mentioned the word caravan in an average of a little over 3 percent of 15-second segments over the course of a day. In other words, the caravan was mentioned an average of almost eight times an hour. On CNN and MSNBC, the mentions were more modest, but not nonexistent.

On Monday, both CNN and Fox News mentioned the caravan more than 80 times. On Tuesday, more than 40. On Wednesday and Thursday, the subject was raised fewer than 80 times across CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and Fox Business combined.

The caravan still exists, in several parts. Having reached Mexico City — still hundreds of miles from the U.S. border — many caravan participants paused for several days, but the procession voted Thursday night to begin walking again Friday morning.

Why did caravan coverage drop off? One reason, certainly, is that there’s been a glut of other news: the midterm elections results, the resignation of former attorney general Jeff Sessions, Trump’s interactions with the press. More pressing news didn’t curtail Fox News and Fox Business from consistently talking about the migrants. In late October, the arrest of a suspect in a series of attempted mail bombings and the mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh prompted CNN and MSNBC to taper off discussion of the caravan. The Foxes didn’t.

So why’d that coverage decline? The caravan was framed by President Trump specifically as a campaign issue in multiple speeches. While his administration Thursday announced a change in policy aimed at stemming the number of caravan participants who could apply for asylum upon reaching the U.S., the caravan itself still didn’t earn much of a place in the conversation, even on Fox News and Fox Business.

We’ve seen this pattern before, a subject that rose to prominence in the last few weeks of a campaign that then dropped off the radar.

In 2016, it was FBI Director James B. Comey’s announcement of the discovery of new emails related to Hillary Clinton.

In 2014, it was the Ebola crisis (something that was a staple of President Trump’s tweeting at the time).

Both Comey and Ebola became central parts of the political debate as the elections came to an end. But each of those examples differs from the caravan coverage in one important way: The stories had largely concluded by Election Day. Comey’s supplementary investigation wrapped up before the campaign ended. A series of cases of Ebola in the United States were successfully treated or contained days before the election ended. In other words, there wasn’t as much reason to keep talking about the subjects, even if there weren’t competing news.

It will be interesting to see whether coverage of the caravan picks back up to pre-election levels in the ensuing days and weeks, as its participants head toward the border with the U.S. If not, the cynics' case will have been proven: Coverage of the caravan was a function of the campaign far more than anything else, coverage driven by Fox networks whose audiences are largely supportive of the president.