This week is a test for those in the television news business: Are they still trying to deliver “news,” which means letting their audience actually witness important events for themselves (albeit with analysis and commentary from the networks)? Or are they in the “we’ll-only-show-what-liberals-want-us-to-show” business?
Last week, CNN and MSNBC let their audiences see roughly 90 percent of the Democratic video show that stood in for this year’s national convention, without any meaningful interruptions. ABC, CBS and NBC showed their viewers about 30 percent of the convention as produced by the party, including 9pm ET hour highlights shown during these broadcast networks’ 10pm ET hour of coverage.
If those organizations are still in the news business, that’s exactly how much of the Republican Convention you’ll see on those networks, too.
If you watched the entire show on C-SPAN, the four nights totalled 583 minutes of party-produced content, gavel-to-gavel. On the two liberal cable networks, the only real omissions — about eight to ten minutes each night — were the final minutes after the evening’s main speeches, when viewers could have seen a musical performance and the closing prayers delivered by clergy. Otherwise, every speech, every video, every lame joke was shown exactly as planned by the party.
Between roughly 9pm and the end of the main speech each night, CNN never interrupted the DNC proceedings for any kind of commentary or analysis, breaking only for a few commercials tucked into the 9pm ET hour. MSNBC didn’t even do that, eschewing commercials. The only time the convention feed stopped, for 21 seconds on Tuesday, co-anchor Rachel Maddow quickly apologized: “We’re actually not interrupting. We’re going right back to it. We were just having a moment. Sorry! Right back. Sorry!”
From Monday through Thursday, MSNBC delivered 525 minutes of Democratic-produced content, while CNN relayed 520 minutes to their viewers, 90 and 89 percent of the entire Biden campaign infomercial, respectively.
If you watched the broadcast networks, which began their coverage at 10pm ET, CBS spent a bit more than half (54.5%) of their airtime showing the Democrats’ speeches and videos: 159 minutes out of a total of 292 minutes of coverage over the four nights. The rest of the time was devoted to interviews, analysis, and many more commercials than cable viewers faced.
NBC offered a bit more (173 minutes of Democratic content out of 296 minutes of total airtime, or 58.4% of their total), while ABC spent the most of its airtime letting viewers see for themselves: 191 minutes of Democratic-produced material, out of 285 minutes (or 67%). All three presented more than an hour of coverage each night, allowing coverage past 11pm ET so the Democrats’ final speaker of the evening was not interrupted.
So what will happen this week? Will ABC, CBS and NBC devote about 60% of their nightly coverage to showing the Republican program exactly as produced, even if they’re worried about the “wild unpredictability” of a Trump convention? Will CNN and MSNBC dim the lights and let viewers watch virtually the entire program for themselves before the spin starts?
Or will they decide, as they have done before, and as CNN’s Brian Stelter all but declared yesterday, that this week’s Republican content is somehow not fit for their viewers? By Thursday night, we’ll see who’s left in the news business, and who’s abandoned it for the political advertising business.
We’ll be watching.
Special thanks to Scott Whitlock and Curtis Houck for their late nights spent tallying the numbers in this report.