In a Month, TV News Gives Less Airtime to VA Scandal Than Christie Controversy Received in Four Days

May 22nd, 2014 4:22 PM

In nearly four and a half weeks, the ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening news shows have offered 110 minutes to an evolving Obama administration scandal involving secret lists designed to keep veterans from receiving proper medical treatment. Back in January, it took those same network shows just four and a half days to churn that much coverage for Chris Christie's Bridgegate. 

Since the VA story broke on April 23 with the news that as many as 40 veterans seeking treatment at one Phoenix facility died while on secret waiting lists, CBS has provided the most coverage, 48 minutes and 46 seconds. NBC allowed 44 minutes and 53 seconds and ABC came in last with a scant 16 minutes and 44 seconds. None of the networks bothered covering the story until May 6, almost two weeks after it broke. (This is despite heavy investigative reporting by Fox News and CNN.)

An analysis last week by the Media Research Center found that through the morning of May 16, a mere five seconds of the coverage included criticism of Barack Obama's handling of the VA hospital scandal. Only this week, as the pressure mounted and new details emerged, the storyline finally shifted to including criticisms of the President.  

Yet, when Bridgegate appeared on the national radar, the networks swiftly zeroed in on Christie as the focal point for criticism. On January 10, Today journalist Kelly O'Donnell opined, "The crisis feeds into critics' perceptions that Christie fosters hardball tactics." On the January 10 Good Morning America, Jim Avila described a Christie press conference as a "political walk of shame." 

In just four and half days, from January 7 through the January 12 morning programs, ABC, CBS and NBC deluged Americans with 112 minutes and 23 seconds of analysis into what Christie knew about an intentional traffic jam created on the George Washington bridge last fall. 

As the details began to leak out, the networks leapt on the story. CBS responded with 34 minutes of coverage for Christie. NBC devoted 43 minutes. Again, all of this was just in four and a half days. ABC produced 35 minutes worth of stories on Christie and possible culpability of the Republican. This more than doubles what that has network managed in nearly four and a half weeks for the VA scandal. 

Members of the United States military dying due to lack of adequate medical care is an outrage and should have received more coverage than the details of an intentionally-created traffic jam. Both are scandals that should be covered. But, one involves the Democratic President of the United States and the other involves a potential 2016 Republican candidate. 

[Special thanks to MRC intern Connor Williams for assistance with research.]