Bongino helpfully included a clip from Stelter’s show in which the journalist accuses the conservative media of doing the distracting. He pointed out that Trump’s interview on Friday with Fox News began with 20 minutes of discussion about Flynn and the administration of President Barack Obama, only then transitioning to the coronavirus pandemic.
“In what right mind is any scandal, any political scandal, any Department of Justice story more important to ask the president about than the pandemic that’s raging?” Stelter asked. “Look, ultimately, that’s about news judgment, about lack of judgment, but I find it befuddling that some people are acting like this death toll is just normal and accepted and common and just another day now.”
“Imagine if 1,000 to 2,000 Americans were dying a day from terror attacks,” he added. “Imagine the president’s response.”
This sentiment, Bongino claims, is a reflection of Stelter being “totally humiliated and embarrassed” about his reporting on the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Stelter’s point, broadly, is that it’s the Flynn news and the renewed focus on the Russia investigation that’s serving as a distraction. Although motivations are hard to evaluate in that regard, there certainly is evidence that Trump and his allies would rather talk about Flynn than the virus.
In the 24 hours after his elevation of Stelter’s argument, Trump tweeted or retweeted comments about the virus and the pandemic eight times. He tweeted or retweeted about Flynn, the FBI or Obama five times as much.
That’s just Trump, of course. But his interview with Fox News on Friday wasn’t an aberration in reflecting the priorities of the networks with which he operates in symbiosis. Closed-captioning data compiled by the Internet Archive and analyzed by GDELT show that, in recent days, Fox News and Fox Business have mentioned Flynn and the FBI more often than the virus (as either “virus” or “coronavirus”).
On Friday, for example, the day after the charges against Flynn were dropped, Fox News mentioned Flynn or the FBI in 13.5 percent of all 15-second segments over the course of the day. It mentioned the virus in 3.3 percent of segments. On Fox Business — ostensibly a business network — Flynn and the FBI got twice as many mentions as the virus (10.3 percent of segments vs. 4.4 percent).
It wasn’t the first time that the two Fox networks talked about Flynn and the FBI more than the virus. When notes and emails documenting the FBI’s interview of Flynn were released late last month, both networks prioritized discussion of those documents over the virus. On April 30, Fox News mentioned Flynn about twice as often as the virus. On May 1, Fox Business mentioned Flynn and the FBI about twice as often as well.
By comparison, neither CNN nor MSNBC spent as much time on the Flynn developments. On CNN, the virus occupied far more attention than did the new developments in the Flynn case. On Friday, the network discussed the virus about seven times as much as Flynn.
Bongino seems to speculate that this is a function of CNN’s eagerness to avoid some sort of accountability about its coverage of the Russia investigation. It’s worth noting, though, that CNN’s coverage of the virus has been consistently a significant part of what it talks about. On other networks, particularly Fox Business, the virus has not been discussed as frequently.
You may evaluate for yourself which story is more pertinent to business news.
The argument from Trump and his allies is that the shift in Flynn’s fortunes is evidence that the FBI was overzealous in its approach to him and, further, that this validates the idea that the Russia investigation in general was overheated and unfair. That this hinges upon a hotly contested decision by Trump’s attorney general — a member of his Cabinet with a demonstrated affinity for coming to Trump’s political assistance — is either glossed over or itself set aside as evidence of bias against the president.
Whatever your view, it seems obvious that Flynn is a better topic of conversation for Trump and his supporters than the virus. Since charges were dropped against Flynn, more than 4,000 people have died of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.
In his tweets over the weekend, Trump did not offer any condolences to the families of those who had died.