Several people have been killed in the flooding that has drowned significant parts of Nebraska and Iowa, with estimates of the cost of the damage already topping $1 billion. The floods could have a broad effect over the longer term, too, with some already-struggling farmers in those states now facing ruin.
But floods aren’t, by themselves, a political story, as such. It’s not as central to the political debate of the moment as, say, President Trump’s ongoing disparagement of the late Republican senator John McCain — a disparagement that continued into Trump’s interview with Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo that aired on Friday morning.
There are real reasons that Trump’s ongoing feud with a dead man is important to the political moment, as The Washington Post reported on Friday, given how it overlaps with Trump’s effort to solidify his base ahead of the 2020 presidential election. But it’s hard to see it as inherently more newsworthy than the flooding in Nebraska.
Especially given that the flooding, as the Omaha World-Herald noted earlier this week, bears the fingerprints of climate change. As a political subject, it’s hard to beat climate change, which brings both partisan tension and real discussion about policy and effects.
Cable news networks, though, spent more time on Monday and Tuesday of this week talking about McCain than Nebraska flooding or climate change. In fact, they spent more time talking about George Conway’s feud with Trump than either Nebraska or climate change. (Conway is the husband of presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway.)
Not all of the networks gave a lot of coverage to Conway, mind you. Fox News picked up the McCain story but largely left Conway alone at the outset of this week. (The data available run through Tuesday only.)
Compare that with broadcast news networks, including ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and PBS. They, too, picked up McCain but, on average, spent more time talking about Nebraska and mostly ignored Conway.
America’s favorite news source — newspapers — and wire services spent more time on Nebraska and climate change than either McCain or Conway over the past week (although the ratio of Nebraska to McCain was probably still a little wonky).
America’s favorite source of news, of course, is not newspapers. Particularly among older Americans, television is still the preferred news source, according to Pew Research Center data. And, according to August 2017 Pew data, local news stations are still preferred to cable networks.