Evening newscasts have spent just 32 minutes covering substantive policy issues this election year, according to data from the Tyndall Report, which tracks coverage by weekday nightly news programs.
So far in 2016, the three main evening newscasts – ABC’s “World News Tonight,” “NBC Nightly News,” and “CBS Evening News” – have spent a fraction of the time they spent in previous election years covering policy issues.
Compared to the 32 minutes spent on policy coverage this year – which the report defined as taking a public policy, outlining the social problem it addresses, covering the candidates’ individual positions on the policy, and evaluating the effectiveness of their solutions – evening newscasts spent 114 minutes covering policy issues in 2012, and 220 minutes covering them in 2008.
The sharp decline in policy coverage this year is an “accurate portrayal” of this election’s landscape, according to the report, because there is more concern surrounding the candidates’ fitness for office, based on qualities like temperament, stamina, ” honesty, trustworthiness, [and] judgment.”
Further, the report said that since the candidates themselves are not focusing on the issues as much as they are on the traits of their opponent, the media would be “misrepresenting” the election if it spent more time on the issues than the candidates are.
With less than two weeks to go before election day, nightly newscasts have spent 17 minutes covering terrorism; seven minutes on unrest in the Middle East in areas like Syria, Iraq, Israel, and the rise of the Islamic State; and they have mentioned issues like LGBT rights, policing, and immigration only in passing, according to the report.
Issues that have gotten minimal or no coverage include drugs, healthcare, poverty, gun control, and climate change, among others. And if these issues were mentioned, “it has been on the candidates’ terms, not the networks’ initiatives,” the report said.
As far as news coverage of the candidates themselves, of the 1284 total minutes spent by all three networks’ evening newscasts on campaign coverage, 26% – 333 minutes – has gone to Donald Trump, while Hillary Clinton has pulled a total of 89 minutes, or 6%.
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