While conservatives often express frustration at how the mainstream media covers news, often accusing nonconservative outlets of wittingly framing things in a way that’s hostile to their personal politics, the clearest recent demonstration of how the media can frame an issue comes not from an outlet like the New York Times or NPR but, instead, from Fox News.
We probably give Fox News undue credit in shaping how President Trump’s supporters view politics. As has been noted elsewhere, there’s symbiosis between the network — and more specifically its prime-time opinion hosts — and Trump’s team. Trump supporters watch Fox in part because they’re Trump supporters and know what Fox will provide. But Fox also clearly influences Trump’s base, in part by covering Trump as gently as it does.
Here’s what that looks like.
The Internet Archive constantly monitors major cable networks and captures their broadcasts. It captures the lower thirds of the screens, colloquially called chyrons, and runs a program that converts the images to text. It then timestamps and stores the results. They’re often messy; the process of converting all-caps text to words isn’t perfect. But it nonetheless gives a good sense of what the networks are covering.
So, for example, we learn that at 8:32 p.m. Tuesday, as the days’ extensive testimony was wrapping up, the three major networks ran the following text on-screen:
- CNN: EX-WHITE HOUSE AIDE: HIGHLY UNUSUAL EFFORT TO “LOCK DOWN”. TRANSCRIPT OF JULY 25 CALL WAS AN “ADMINISTRATIVE ERROR”
- Fox News: DEMS PRAISE VINDMAN FOR WORKING AGAINST TRUMP
- MSNBC: CONCLUDES AFTER MORE THAN 9 HOURS
At 9:13 p.m. that day, here’s what viewers saw.
- CNN: KEY WITNESSES QUESTIONED IN PUBLIC HEARINGS
- Fox News: SCHIFF STEERS IMPEACHMENT SHAM OFF A CLIFF / DEMS’ UKRAINE HOAX UNRAVELS ON CAPITOL HILL
- MSNBC: VINDMAN REASSURES SOVIET IMMIGRANT FATHER: HE WILL BE FINE FOR TELLING THE TRUTH / HOUSE INTEL COMPLETES 3RD DAY OF PUBLIC IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS
At 10:15 p.m.:
- CNN: SONDLAND TESTIFIES TOMORROW
- Fox News: VOLKER TESTIMONY UNDERMINES DEMS’ NARRATIVE
- MSNBC: IMPEACHMENT HEARING WRAPS AFTER 4 WITNESSES, 9+ HOURS / LT. COL VINDMAN, TRUMP’S TOP UKRAINE ADVISOR, TESTIFIES. TRUMP ACTED “IMPROPERLY” WHEN HE “DEMANDED” A FAVOR
At 10:51 p.m.:
- CNN: REPUBLICANS USE IMPEACHMENT HEARINGS TO QUESTION LOYALTY OF DECORATED ARMY VETERAN SPEAKING OUT AGAINST TRUMP
- Fox News: CHICK-FIL-A CAVES TO LIBERAL MOB
- MSNBC: EU AMB. GORDON SONDLAND TESTIFIES TOMORROW MORNING / SONDLAND WILL FACE QUESTIONS ABOUT PREVIOUSLY. UNKNOWN CALL TO TRUMP FROM RESTAURANT IN UKRAINE
This isn’t necessarily all of the lower-third text that was shown at that time, and we’ve admittedly selected moments when the contrast between the networks was particularly stark. At the bottom of this article, though, you can explore the networks’ on-screen text for the three days of testimony this week and compare for yourself the extent to which they diverge.
That said, the gulf Wednesday was far more dramatic. Sondland testified specifically that he’d witnessed a quid pro quo on Ukraine, even while he said that Trump had told him no quid pro quo was going on — after public scrutiny had emerged. MSNBC spent much of the evening airing the fifth Democratic debate, but the contrast between CNN and Fox is still informative.
- CNN: SONDLAND TIES PRES. TRUMP, VP PENCE, SECY. OF STATE POMPEO. AND WH CHIEF OF STAFF MULVANEY TO PRESSURE CAMPAIGN / SONDLAND: “EVERYONE WAS IN THE LOOP” ON UKRAINE PRESSURE
- Fox News: “NO QUID PRO QUO”
Half an hour later, while CNN was still covering Sondland’s testimony, Fox News was discussing the Clinton Foundation.
At 10:54 p.m., here’s what the two networks were showing viewers.
- CNN: SONDLAND: ‘YES’ THERE WAS QUID PRO QUO. IN UKRAINE SCANDAL
- Fox News: SWALWELL CAUSES A STINK
That latter text referred to a viral video clip that appeared to have captured the sound of flatulence while Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) was appearing on MSNBC the previous day.
On Thursday, similar divides were on display. At 9:53 p.m., here’s what each network showed — perhaps the most representative comparison of any.
- CNN: NO REPUBLICANS BUDGE AFTER ALL THE FACTS, EVIDENCE REVEALED IN 3O+ HOURS OF PUBLIC TESTIMONY / MEMBERS OF PRESIDENT’S PARTY CROSSED AISLE IN NIXON & CLINTON IMPEACHMENT PROCEEDINGS, BUT NOT NOW
- Fox News: FBI OFFICIAL UNDER INVESTIGATION FOR ALLEGEDLY ALTERING DOC RELATED TO PAGE SURVEILLANCE, CNN REPORTS
- MSNBC: NIXON PLEDGED TO FIGHT TO KEEP HIS PRESIDENCY / IMPEACHMENT HEARING WITNESSES WRAP UP WEEK OF EXPLOSIVE TESTIMONY
There’s a reason that Trump’s current press secretary has only given interviews to Fox News and not other broadcast or major cable networks. Why would Trump need a White House communications director when he has a generously friendly cable network that’s already popular with the people he wants to talk to anyway?