The First 100 Days of the Trump Administration may have seemed like all-Donald-all-the-time. Yet it turns out that the coverage of our Golfer President has only been a little more than par-for-the-course.
These First 100 Days mark the fifth arrival of a brand new administration in Tyndall Report's database. We can compare the amount of attention lavished to inside-the-Beltway politics by the network nightly newscasts with the arrival of Barack Obama in 2009, with George W Bush in 2001, with Bill Clinton in 1993, and with George HW Bush in 1989.
Federal domestic politics in the age of Trump turns out to have been in the middle of the pack: slightly more newsworthy (933 mins) than Clinton (891) or GW Bush (902), slightly less newsworthy than GHW Bush (979) or Obama (947). Trump's only major legislative initiative -- to repeal and replace Obamacare -- fizzled. His major appointment to high office -- Justice Neil Gorsuch -- was confirmed with few headlines and none of his Cabinet nominations attracted prolonged opposition in the Senate.
Trump's foreign policy, by contrast, has been unusually prominent. True, foreign has been less newsworthy domestic (648 mins vs 933) -- but traditionally that disparity is even more pronounced. Foreign policy during Trump's First 100 Days (648 mins) received twice as much attention as it did for GHW Bush (301) or Clinton (333) or Obama (342). Only the incoming GW Bush Administration was close (566): remember the stand-off with Beijing 16 years ago over a USNavy spy plane forced down after flying over the South China Sea.
Based on Trump's campaign rhetoric, one would think that the major foreign story to kick off his Presidency would have been that wall on the border with Mexico. But coverage of the wall since Inauguration Day (36 mins) has been overshadowed by Trump's attempt to put a freeze on travel from seven Islamic-majority countries (139), by the investigation into the Kremlin's interference in last year's election (137), by his response to the nerve gas attack in Syria (102), and by his plans for North Korea's nuclear missiles (98).
In total then -- domestic and foreign policy combined -- Trump's First 100 Days were indeed more newsworthy than that of his predecessors, but not overwhelmingly so (1581 mins vs GW Bush 1468, Obama 1289, GHW Bush 1280, Clinton 1224). These numbers measure federal coverage on the broadcast networks' weekday nightly newscasts (ABC, CBS and NBC combined). A bookkeeping note here: historical data, strictly speaking, represent a proxy for the hundred days (actually 89 days), namely the three full calendar months of February, March and April each year; data for coverage of individual stories and deployment of correspondents start at Inauguration Day.
Yet, even with the context that this history provides, President Trump's arrival at the White House seems unprecedented. I suggest two factors:
First, there is the contrast between the frenzy of the new arrival with the excessively languid lame duck status of the Obama Administration. In 2016, the networks provided unprecedentedly low levels of federal coverage, both domestic and foreign. So the reversion from dormancy to activity inside the networks' DC bureaus -- especially at the White House -- is all the more startling. In just the first three months of his Presidency, Trump attracted almost three-quarters as much federal domestic coverage (933 mins vs 1292) as in the whole of 2016. The foreign policy contrast was yet more startling: coverage during Trump's three months outnumbered Obama's entire lame duck year (648 mins vs 617).
Second, there has been a remarkable lack of substance to the coverage. Trump's First 100 Days were newsworthy not because of major political conflicts or legislative initiatives, but despite them. As a result, it has been Trump the Phenomenon that has attracted headlines, rather than the public policies that the new administration represents. In terms of volume of coverage devoted to individual aspects, as noted, the failed repeal-&-replacement of Obamacare (160 mins) was ranked first, followed by the blocked travel ban (139), followed by the Kremlin investigation (137) -- and then a story that literally does not exist: the wiretapping of Trump Tower (130). Over two hours of network news time was devoted to the President's unproven -- apparently unproveable -- fantasy.
After the doldrums of the late Obama years, the arrival of President Trump has renewed the careers of the networks' White House correspondents. ABC World News Tonight and CBS Evening News have both deployed a double team to chronicle the action: since Inauguration Day, ABC has given the White House pride of place, assigning over four hours of airtime to its team (Jonathan Karl 146 mins, Cecilia Vega 127); CBS has been less White House heavy (Major Garrett 85 mins, Margaret Brennan 82) even though its total amount of federal coverage has been heavier.
On the basis of the busyness of its White House team, NBC Nightly News appears to have made the same commitment. NBC's triple team, too, has logged at least four hours of coverage since Inauguration Day (Hallie Jackson 95 mins, Kristen Welker 82, Peter Alexander 66). Yet NBC's coverage has been the most top heavy -- more focused on the phenomenon that is Trump and less on the federal scene as a whole. That distinction is most glaring when it comes to assignments for the three Capitol Hill correspondents: NBC's Kasie Hunt has been barely visible (13 mins) compared with ABC's Mary Bruce (100) and CBS' Nancy Cordes (75).
So even though NBC has kept very busy covering Trump's White House in his First 100 Days, it finds all other aspects of the federal government less newsworthy than either ABC or CBS. Total federal coverage -- domestic and foreign combined -- for the last three calendar months looks like this: NBC 469 mins, ABC 527, with CBS the leader 585.
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