Everything that's wrong with our political press in a single statistic

81:1. That's the ratio of TV airtime ABC World News Tonight has given to Donald Trump vs. Bernie Sanders this year

Published December 12, 2015 3:00PM (EST)

Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders (Reuters/Christopher Aluka Berry/Joshua Roberts/Photo montage by Salon)
Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders (Reuters/Christopher Aluka Berry/Joshua Roberts/Photo montage by Salon)

This article originally appeared on Media Matters.


Does that ratio seem out of whack? That's the ratio of TV airtime that ABC World News Tonight has devoted to Donald Trump's campaign (81 minutes) versus the amount of TV time World News Tonight has devoted to Bernie Sanders' campaign this year. And even that one minute for Sanders is misleading because the actual number is closer to 20 seconds.

For the entire year.

That's the rather stunning revelation from the Tyndall Report, which tracks the various flagship nightly news programs on NBC, CBS and ABC. The Report's campaign findings cover the network evening newscasts from January 1 through the end of November.

The results confirm two media extremes in play this year, and not just at ABC News. The network newscasts are wildly overplaying Trump, who regularly attracts between 20-30 percent of primary voter support, while at the same time wildly underplaying Sanders, who regularly attracts between 20-30 percent of primary voter support. (Sanders' supporters have long complained about the candidate's lack of coverage.)

Obviously, Trump is the GOP frontrunner and its reasonable that he would get more attention than Sanders, who's running second for the Democrats. But 234 total network minutes for Trump compared to just 10 network minutes for Sanders, as the Tyndall Report found?

Andrew Tyndall provided the breakdown by network of Sanders' 10 minutes of coverage, via email [emphasis added]:

CBS Evening News: 6.4 minutes

NBC Nightly News: 2.9 minutes

ABC World News Tonight: 0.3 minutes

But how can they be? ABC News, for instance, clearly devoted more than 20 seconds to covering the Democratic debates, which featured news of Sanders, right?

As Tyndall explained to me, the number "counts stories filed about the Sanders campaign or from the Sanders campaign. Obviously he is mentioned in passing in other coverage of the Democratic field overall, specifically his performance in the debates."

So in terms of stand-alone campaign stories this year, it's been 234 minutes for Trump, compared to 10 minutes for Sanders. And at ABC World News Tonight, it's been 81 minutes for Trump and less than one minute for Sanders.

Other Tyndall Report findings:

*Trump has received more network coverage than all the Democratic candidates combined.

*Trump has accounted for 27 percent of all campaign coverage his year.

*Republican Jeb Bush received 56 minutes of coverage, followed by Ben Carson's 54 minutes and Marco Rubio's 22.

Did you notice the Bush figure? He's garnered 56 minutes of network news coverage, far outpacing Sanders, even though he is currently wallowing in fifth place in the polls among Republicans. And you know who has also received 56 minutes of network news compared to Sanders' 10? Joe Biden and his decision not to run for president.

Meanwhile, I can hear supporters of Ted Cruz complaining that based on Tyndall's analysis, the Texas Republican has only received seven minutes of coverage this year and look where he is in the polls. That's a fair point. But also note that Cruz has only recently risen in the primary polls, whereas Sanders has been a solid second for many, many months. (A new poll this week shows Sanders leading the New Hampshire primary.)

Close observers of trends in network news might also say ABC's paltry Sanders coverage isn't surprising considering the network's flagship news program has recently backed off political coverage, as well as hard news in general.

From the Washington Post this summer:

"World News" devoted half as many minutes to Washington stories as CBS did during the first four months of the year, and about 40 percent less than did NBC, according to Andrew Tyndall, who tracks the networks' newscasts through his eponymous newsletter.

In perhaps a first for a national newscast, "World News" no longer has a full-time correspondent reporting on Congress. Such stories are handled on an ad hoc basis by reporter Jonathan Karl, whose primary beats are the White House and political campaigns.

In this case though, that explanation doesn't work because while World News Tonight might be shying away from news out of Washington, D.C., Tyndall's analysis shows ABC has produced more campaign coverage this year than CBS Evening News; 261 minutes vs. 247 minutes for CBS.

Look at that ABC number again: 261 minutes devoted to campaign coverage this year, and less than one minute of that has specifically been for Sanders. How does that even happen?

So no, Sanders didn't get virtually ignored this year by World News Tonight because the show's cutting back on campaign coverage. Sanders got virtually ignored by ABC because there was a conscious decision to do so.

And before anyone suggests ABC has somehow been in the pocket of the Clinton campaign and that's why Sanders got slighted, note that World News Tonight has set aside roughly the same amount of time this year to cover Republican-fed controversies surrounding Clinton's email and details about the Benghazi terror attack, as it has to cover Clinton's actual campaign.

Any way you look at it, 81:1 is a ratio that means there's something very wrong with the campaign coverage.

By Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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