Much has been made of all the free media Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has received, but a watchdog report out Monday finds that much of the coverage has been negative and that ABC, CBS and NBC have covered his controversies more than Hillary Clinton's by a 4-to-1 margin.
The Media Research Center analysis of 1,099 presidential election stories from January 1 to June 7 found that Trump did indeed dominate coverage, getting nearly half of the total airtime. The networks spent 1,068 minutes on Trump out of a total of 2,137 minutes overall on the race.
The report from MRC Research Director Rich Noyes found that much of that time was focused on Trump "scandals" and controversies.
Compared to Clinton, a much higher percentage of Trump's airtime (40 percent, or 432 minutes) was spent discussing the controversies surrounding the Republican's candidacy. Only 18 percent of Clinton's coverage (105 minutes) was spent discussing similar controversies, as network reporters paid scant attention to stories that would have garnered far more airtime had Trump been involved.
For example, the lingering questions about Clinton's handling of the 2012 Benghazi attack drew only 77 seconds of evening news airtime from January 1 through June 7. Clinton's participation in a racially-charged comedy skit with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (about running on CP time — "cautious politician time") was skipped by ABC and NBC's evening broadcasts, getting just 51 seconds of airtime on the April 12 edition of the CBS Evening News.
Sifting through the stories, Noyes said that Clinton's email scandal was the biggest controversy covered.
He produced a Top 20 list of controversies by minutes of TV news and found that Clinton's email scandal was the top story, getting 47 minutes, 21 seconds. The only other Clinton scandal on the Top 20 were reports on former President Bill Clinton's adultery. The rest were devoted to Trump.
And on the adultery issue, said Noyes, "Most of the network coverage was framed not around the controversy of Clinton's actual conduct, but the notion that Trump was going too far by raising the issue of the former president's infidelity. On the May 19 Evening News, for example, CBS's Nancy Cordes labeled it 'harsh' of Trump to bring up the case of Juanita Broaddrick, who in 1999 accused Clinton of raping her in 1978. That same night, ABC's David Muir said Trump was 'proving nothing is off limits,' while NBC's Andrea Mitchell accused Trump of engaging in 'aggressive personal attacks.'"
He also found a pro-Clinton bias even in silly stories, for example when she seemed to suggest support for the believe in aliens from outer space.
When in May Clinton suggested on a radio show that she believed in space aliens ("There are enough stories out there that I don't think everybody is just sitting, you know, in their kitchen making them up"), only ABC's World News Tonight bothered to tell viewers, with a light-hearted one minute, 43 second story on a Sunday night broadcast.
"Clinton's enthusiasm is winning over one part of the electorate," ABC correspondent David Wright wryly noted. "'Finally,' tweeted one sci-fi fan, 'she has my vote."
He added, "If Donald Trump had suggested little green men had visited Earth, his comments likely would have been highlighted as evidence that the Republican candidate is unsuitable for the presidency."
Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org