Until Bill Clinton came along, the Federal Communications Commission imposed a strict limit on coverage of active candidates for national office, called the equal time rule.
If you gave five minutes to one candidate’s positions, his rivals were entitled to equal time.
But the Clinton neoliberal regime decided to lift the restraints, and it was Donald Trump who would be the biggest beneficiary, as revealed in a new study from Harvard University Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.
Two charts covering the 2015 calendar year tell the story quite succinctly:
So there you have it.
At the expense of other candidates, the mainstream media handed Trump exposure that would have cost him millions, and the coverage was remarkably favorable.
Only now, it seems, have Trump’s most dangerous qualities come to the fore, a case of neglect that will further diminish whatever respect Americans had left for their mass media.
So what about Bernie Sanders?
From the report:
Sanders’ initial poll position meant that, when he was reported in the news, the coverage was sure to have a negative component. He was in the unenviable position of a “likely loser.” At the same time, his initial poll standing proved advantageous as the year unfolded. As his poll numbers ticked upward, he was portrayed as a “gaining ground” candidate, a favorable storyline buttressed by reports of increasingly large crowds and enthusiastic followers. “The overflow crowds Sanders has been drawing in Iowa and New Hampshire,” said USA Today, “are signs that there is ‘a real hunger’ for a substantive discussion about Americans’ economic anxieties . . . .” The “real hunger” extended also to journalists, who are drawn to a candidate who begins to make headway against an odds-on favorite. It’s a David vs. Goliath story, the same story that helped propel Gary Hart’s challenge to Walter Mondale in 1984 and John McCain’s challenge to George W. Bush in 2000. A challenger also gives journalists what they relish most—a competitive race. “Hillary Clinton can’t afford to ignore Bernie Sanders any longer,” said a CNN piece. “She has a serious problem on her hands. Sanders is showing that his campaign poses a genuine threat. He is drawing massive crowds months before the caucuses and primaries begin and without much of a staff to speak of.”
Strictly in terms of tonal balance—good news vs. bad news—Sanders was the most favorably reported candidate—Republican or Democratic—during the invisible primary. Figure 5 shows the month-to-month balance of Sanders’ coverage excluding statements that were neutral in tone. In the first four months of 2015, befitting a “likely loser,” Sanders was not getting much coverage and what little of it he got was almost evenly balanced between positive and negative. Thereafter, his coverage shot into positive territory, rising rapidly before slipping somewhat as a result of his less-than-stellar performance in the early pre-primary Democratic debates.
Sanders’ issue positions also netted him positive coverage. Although they accounted for only about 7 percent of his coverage, they were a source of “good news.” News statements about Sanders’ stands on income inequality, the minimum wage, student debt, and trade agreements were more than three-to-one positive over negative.That ratio far exceeded those of other top candidates, Republican or Democratic.
Here’s how the coverage played out: