Few would dispute that the first charges in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation qualify as big news, but to the three broadcast networks, almost nothing else mattered Monday.
Prosecutors accuse President Donald Trump’s former campaign chief, Paul Manafort, and his deputy, Rick Gates, of crimes related to their private consulting business from before they joined the campaign. Prosecutors also revealed that former campaign volunteer George Papadopolous had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
The Media Research Center, which tracks liberal bias in journalism, found that ABC,CBS and NBC devoted a combined 33 minutes and 9 seconds on their nightly news broadcasts to the indictments. That is 60 percent of the news hole.
NBC gave the story a comparatively paltry 39 percent of airtime.
But CBS and ABC combined gave 71 percent of their newscasts to the story.
"It's more than just covering it, because there's only so many facts," said Rich Noyes, director of research at the watchdog organization. "It's a massive signal that this is a big story. It's editorializing without editorializing."
Noyes compared the breathless coverage of Manafort and Gates to the blackout of the corruption trial of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.). The trial lasted weeks; testimony concluded Monday with the defense resting its case. Yet the trial has received no coverage on the network nightly news shows, he said.
The cable channels gave the Manafort-Gates indictments their usual overload treatment, hammering away hour after hour on Monday. Noyes said that with so much time and so few facts, coverage inevitably devolved into speculation. This transparently was on display over the weekend, he said, when the channels devoted hours to the story even though they did not know who would face charges and what those charges would be.
"Talk about speculation without known facts," he said.
The Media Research Center report indicates that journalists appeared almost giddy at times.
"It is the biggest break in the case yet," ABC New chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross told viewers, "the strongest evidence yet of possible collusion."
NBC and CBS did not mention the resignation of Tony Podesta, the brother of 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, from his own firm following reports that he was involved in the same type of lobbying Manafort was engaged in on behalf of a pro-Russian president of Ukraine.
All of the networks also cast any mention of Clinton's possible connection to the government's approval of a Russian company's acquisition of U.S. uranium reserves — or the Clinton campaign's role in paying for an anti-Trump dossier culled from Russian sources — as an attempt to distract from possible collusion between Trump and the Russians.
The Media Research Center faulted CBS News justice correspondent Jeff Pegues for conflating Papadopoulos' unsuccessful efforts to set up meetings between Russian government officials and Trump campaign aides with a meeting that Manafort and others had in June 2016 with a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin.
Noyes said the network coverage matters because they still have the biggest audiences in the news business. He noted that the nightly shows on ABC, CBS and NBC attract a combined audience of about 22 million viewers — multiples more than even the highest-rated cable news programs.
"They're shows that a lot of Americans watch, not the junkies," he said. "They're still influential — particularly with people who don't follow the news closely."
Last Modified: October 31, 2017, 5:32 pm