Perhaps the problem with Politico’s media analysis of election coverage this week is mainly in its headline. Jason Schwartz’ report carries a title that promises a rather comprehensive look at the Right, with the original [see update] headline “The Conservative media: What Virginia results?” The subhead carries the same theme: “For Fox and other conservative outlets, the Democratic romps on Tuesday didn’t merit much attention.” Unfortunately, the article ends up embarrassingly short of material for that broad brush, and suggests that Politico’s editors have very little familiarity with conservative media.
Half of the article focuses on Fox News, or rather its prime-time opinion lineup. That focus is certainly legitimate, given the role and reach FNC has in the televised media and its domination in ratings. Editorial bias is a rich vein for media analysts across the political spectrum, and one significant type of bias is in the stories media outlets don’t cover.
But was that the case with Fox? Not really. With the exception of Sean Hannity’s show, each of the programs he cites did cover the results, although not in as much depth as competing networks. There is still some bias at play here, obviously, but it’s clear that the election did merit some attention, at least for Fox’s opinion leaders to apply their spin to it. When discussing the newsier 11 pm hour, Schwartz gets a little more disingenuous:
During Shannon Bream’s 11 p.m. newscast, the elections received greater coverage, though still not the same amount of wall-to-wall attention CNN and MSNBC were giving them. Instead, Bream discussed Donna Brazile’s new book, which focuses on problems within the Democratic Party, as well as Democratic funding of the research firm Fusion GPS.
“Instead”? It sounds more like “also.” The next morning, Schwartz reports, Fox and Friends spent several minutes discussing the election results — a total of 14 minutes over a three-hour chatty broadcast, where each hour likely has 38 minutes of actual live time. The story deserved more than 12% of the talk time on the show, but it’s not as if they ignored the story either. It’s tough to credit Schwartz’ citation of CNN senior editor, who claimed that “a whole universe of people … won’t be told about important news” as an objective statement — from Fox’s competitor, no less.
What about the rest of the “conservative” media? Er ….
On conservative websites, the election results did receive some coverage, but by midmorning Wednesday, most had moved on. Breitbart had covered the elections Tuesday night, but its lead story Wednesday morning was a reflection on Trump’s 2016 election, a year ago Wednesday. A link to Breitbart’s page on Tuesday’s elections was listed at the bottom of its news stack. …
Further down the conservative spectrum, by midmorning Wednesday, The Gateway Pundit and InfoWars were all but ignoring the elections—the only stories related to them on the site focused on the notion that Gillespie’s mistake was not embracing Trump enough.
Aaaaand … that’s it. There is not a single mention of talk radio, which for decades has been a conservative media bastion, and which has tens of millions of listeners. How well were they informed? This analysis never addresses it. Schwartz doesn’t include any conservative print outlets such as the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Examiner, just to name two. Nor (ahem) does it include any traditional conservative online outlets, such as the Townhall Media Group set of websites, The Federalist, National Review, and so on. In fact, the three websites cited by Schwartz are now much better known as populist outlets, rather than traditional conservative platforms.
If Politico wasn’t prepared to analyze the full spectrum of conservative media, they should have just stuck to Fox News, both in their headline and in their analysis. Rather than give their readers real insight, they mainly just exposed their own ignorance.
Update: Kudos to Politico VP Brad Dayspring, who agreed that the headline was not tailored enough:
— Brad Dayspring (@BDayspring) November 9, 2017
The new headline and subhead read: “Major conservative media: What Virginia results?
For Fox and other conservative outlets, the Democratic romps on Tuesday didn’t merit much attention.” I’d still say that’s problematic, but it’s a step in the right direction.