It is probably safe to assume that you have been following the midterm elections closely. You decided to click on this link, which would indicate that you have at least a passing interest in the coming national vote in which Americans will determine which party controls the upper chamber of Congress for the remainder of the Obama presidency. If, however, you have been closely following the coverage of the coming midterms, you might have noticed that network news outlets do not appear to share your enthusiasm. You’re not imagining things.
According to an exhaustive study performed by Media Research Center analysts, between September 1 and October 20, the three major broadcast networks only bothered to mention the fact that there is a critical election coming up only 25 times. Of those mentions, only 16 of them were in the context of packaged report.
By contrast, in the same period in 2006, when Democrats were believed to be likely to take control of both the House and Senate, the three major networks mentioned the coming midterms 159 times with 91 of those mentions broadcast as part of detailed reports.
“Amazingly, since September 1 ABC’s newly-renamed World News Tonight has yet to feature a single mention of this year’s campaign, let alone a full story, the MRC report revealed. “In contrast, eight years ago ABC’s World News aired 36 stories that discussed that year’s midterm campaign, including a weekly Thursday night feature that then-anchor Charlie Gibson promised would look at the ‘critical races.’”
“CBS and NBC have scarcely been more comprehensive,” the expose continued. “In 2006, CBS aired a total of 58 evening news stories that discussed the campaign, while NBC Nightly News aired 65 stories. This year, those numbers have fallen to just 14 and 11 as of October 20, declines of 76% and 83%, respectively.”
MRC did not investigate how the press covered the 2010 midterm cycle, when Republicans were believed to be in a competitive position to retake control of the House if not the U.S. Senate, but I would guess that there was more substantial coverage of that race in the nightly network newscasts than there has been in 2014. Perhaps the coverage disparity has something to do with the fact that the outcome in the 2006 race – a Republican loss of control of both chambers – was widely expected for months ahead of the vote.
That attempt to exculpate the media does not hold water. The potential for juicy speculation provided to broadcast news editors and story planners by the prospect of flipping the House and/or Senate is just as potent today as it was in 2006 or 2010. There is no reason why the nightly newscasts would deprive their combined 23 million nightly viewers of details on the coming race unless broadcast news editors and producers were equally unenthusiastic about the coming election. Or, more accurately, the likely blunting effect the coming vote will have on Barack Obama’s waning efficacy in office.