Study: Networks Devote 55 Percent of Trump Coverage to Russia
Evening newscasts spend 353 minutes in five-week period playing up collusion theories
A new study performed by the Media Research Center (MRC) details the incredible amount of time that mainstream-media networks have dedicated to covering the Trump-Russia probe. Between May 17 and June 20, evening newscasts devoted 55 percent of their coverage of President Donald Trump — 353 minutes in total — to the Russia investigation or other allegations of possible collusion.
Tellingly, the investigation revealed that a full third — 34 percent — of networks’ coverage of the Trump-Russia probe was based on anonymous sources, some of whom turned out to be providing false information. “I think that’s something that should suggest to news viewers that there’s people behind the scenes with an agenda,” said Rich Noyes, research director at the MRC.
"You don't know who they are or what their affiliation is — they're leaking out selected bits of what's going on. And the networks are taking that information and running with it without seeming to be skeptical about the motives of those who are leaking," Noyes told LifeZette. "They seem to just have an appetite for these kinds of anonymous sources and not a lot of skepticism."
That same insatiable appetite for anonymously sourced Russia stories ensnared CNN late last week. The network published a report on Trump adviser Anthony Scaramucci and his supposed ties to a Russian investment fund that turned out to be totally bogus. CNN retracted the story, and three journalists resigned.
"We knew just from casually observing that there was a lot of coverage of this story," said Noyes of the Trump-Russia narrative. But, he continued, "I guess I was a little surprised that it was as completely dominating as it was. This is like a hurricane or the Malaysian jet — it has taken over coverage of the Trump presidency, and it really has squeezed out all the domestic policy that the administration wants to pursue."
The MRC report revealed that the Trump-Russia probe has received 20 times more coverage than GOP efforts to replace Obamacare, 100 times more coverage than the administration's drive to repair and replace the nation's crumbling infrastructure, and a whopping 450 times more coverage than the push for tax reform.
"It's not that the mainstream [media have] or will ever find a smoking gun. The stories are merely a means to delegitimize a man they despise."
The report examined the 364 evening news stories that aired on between May 17 and June 20. The Russia investigation was featured or mentioned in 171 of those stories, with 126 of them being full reports on the topic.
Noyes said there was often not even major progress spurring the wall-to-wall coverage.
"A lot of the air time that was spent on this, there really wasn't any big development," Noyes said.
"It wasn't really news, it was just a lot of chatter and speculation," Noyes continued. "The breaking news would be that we have heard that somebody in the White House is under investigation, but we don't know who. Well why is that leading the newscast?" said Noyes.
"They're taking every little tiny tea leaf and making it its own mega-story," he said. "At a certain point it's just I think massive coverage to suggest it's a huge story when the actual concrete facts aren't quite there yet."
Some believe it's clear the media, regardless of the veracity of the Trump-Russia stories, want to undermine the administration's agenda.
"That the mainstream [media] would serve up an endless string of innuendo using unnamed and anonymous sources should surprise no one," said Jay Townsend, a longtime Republican political consultant in New York and former Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in 2010.
"It's not that the mainstream [media have] or will ever find a smoking gun. The stories are merely a means to delegitimize a man they despise," Townsend told LifeZette. "The mainstream press does not, and never will, view Mr. Trump a legitimate president."
Noyes noted the press are putting their credibility and long-term reputation in serious jeopardy.
"If they want to be taken seriously when they have a genuine blockbuster or genuinely important information," said Noyes, "they've got to earn the trust of the audience by not overhyping or overselling things that aren't as important or aren't fully fleshed out."
"If there is, at the end of the day, a real scandal sitting there," he said, "then they'll have exhausted people's trust with these red herrings long before they get to that point."
LifeZette deputy political editor Margaret Menge contributed to this report.