Sanders and the Media
What about Bernie Sanders? The Tyndall Report analyzed major-network campaign coverage in 2015. In over 1,000 minutes of national broadcast television airtime devoted to all the campaigns, Donald Trump received 327 minutes, or close to one-third of all the campaign coverage. Bernie Sanders received just 20 minutes. Hillary Clinton got 121 minutes of campaign coverage, six times the amount Sanders received. “ABC World News Tonight” aired 81 minutes of reports on Donald Trump, compared with just 20 seconds for Sanders.
I asked Sanders what he did to warrant a full 20 seconds of coverage on ABC, and he threw his head back, laughing out loud. “We had the misfortune of actually trying to talk about the problems facing America and providing real solutions,” he said, offering his take on the media’s failure. “Trump was tweeting out about how ugly or horrible or disgusting or terrible his opponents were, in really ugly terms. Perfect for the media. That is a great 12-second sound bite. But to talk about why the middle class is in decline or why we have massive levels of income and wealth inequality can’t be done in 12 seconds. And second of all, it’s not something that they are, frankly, terribly interested in.” While the media may not have been interested in Sanders’ message, the voters were. Despite the media blackout, Sanders won 23 primary contests and 46 percent of the pledged Democratic delegates.
At the Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center, Thomas Patterson wrote:
The media’s obsession with Trump during the primaries meant that the Republican race was afforded far more coverage than the Democratic race, even though it lasted five weeks longer. The Republican contest got 63 percent of the total coverage between January 1 and June 7, compared with the Democrats’ 37 percent—a margin of more than three to two.
Sanders in particular struggled to get the media’s attention. Over the course of the primary season, Sanders received only two-thirds of the coverage afforded Clinton. Sanders’ coverage trailed Clinton’s in every week of the primary season. Relative to Trump, Sanders was truly a poor cousin. He received less than half of the coverage afforded Trump. Sanders received even slightly less coverage than Cruz, despite the fact that Cruz quit the race and dropped off the media’s radar screen five weeks before the final contests. For her part, Clinton got slightly less than three-fourths of the press attention given to Trump. Nevertheless, she was, except for Trump, the most heavily covered candidate during the primary period.
Coverage Tone. Our earlier study found that, in 2015, Sanders received the most positive coverage of any of the presidential contenders. That pattern carried into the primaries. During the period from January 1 to June 7, positive news statements about Sanders outpaced negative ones by 54 percent to 46 percent (see Figure 2). In fact, Sanders was the only candidate during the primary period to receive a positive balance of coverage. The other candidates’ coverage tilted negative, though in varying degrees. Clinton’s coverage was 53 percent negative to 47 percent positive, which, though unfavorable on balance, was markedly better than her 2015 coverage when she received by far the most negative coverage of any candidate. During that year-long period, two-thirds (69 percent to 31 percent) of what was reported about Clinton was negative in tone.