Policy has all but vanished from the broadcast nightly network news’s election coverage. The network evening news devoted nearly three times more airtime to discussing Hillary Clinton’s emails than they did to all policy issues.
The Tyndall Report broke down the numbers and found that policy has vanished from the network news coverage in 2016:
With just two weeks to go, issues coverage this year has been virtually non-existent. Of the 32 minutes total, terrorism (17 mins) and foreign policy (7 mins) towards the Middle East (Israel-ISIS-Syria-Iraq) have attracted some attention. Gay rights, immigration and policing have been mentioned in passing.
No trade, no healthcare, no climate change, no drugs, no poverty, no guns, no infrastructure, no deficits. To the extent that these issues have been mentioned, it has been on the candidates’ terms, not on the networks’ initiative.
The nightly news broadcasts are on pace to drop from 114 minutes of policy coverage in 2012, down from 220 minutes in 2008, to 32 minutes in 2016. Eric Boehlert of Media Matters pointed out that the networks have spent 100 minutes alone on Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Any voter who is seeking information about the candidates and the issues would walk away less informed if they watched the network news. The reasons the nightly news on the broadcast television networks no longer cover policy are not limited to 2016 and Donald Trump.
Broadcast network news is a for-profit segment of corporate owned news divisions. The corporate managers who are making the decisions about what stories get covered have decided that there is no money in policy. They believe, like Donald Trump, that the American people don’t care about policy. In reality, this is an excuse to hide the fact that covering policy and the impact of policies at home and abroad costs money.
It is cheaper, and more profitable for the networks to talk about scandals. Most reporting on scandals can be done from New York or Washington, DC, and if the scandal is sensational enough it will lead to higher ratings and more profits.
The Clinton email scandal was flimsy, but it was also cheap and easy to cover. Most importantly for the broadcast networks, they hoped it could be spun into an intriguing story that could pop ratings.
Hillary Clinton’s emails were about as boring of a non-story as one could get. Republicans latched on to them because they were looking for anything to use against the Democratic nominee, but the country at large was disinterested.
The broadcast nightly news networks’ decision to no longer cover policy has left voters less informed and played into the hands of a Republican Party that has abandoned facts. Republicans have learned that they can manipulate the voters and the networks by making things up.
Truth doesn’t matter. Policy doesn’t matter. The story just needs to sound good for the networks to bite.
An informed electorate is vital to the nation’s democracy, but one of the institutions that were once trusted with the responsibility of informing voters is now only interested in making money.
Money is the root of all evil. It is also the real reason why the broadcast networks have abandoned covering policy.
Mr. Easley is the managing editor. He is also a White House Press Pool and a Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association