Is Ocasio-Cortez's Media Star Already Losing Its Luster?

Is Ocasio-Cortez's Media Star Already Losing Its Luster?
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Is Ocasio-Cortez's Media Star Already Losing Its Luster?
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
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Since achieving overnight stardom last June, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become a news and social media darling of the left, praised as much for her radical socialist ideals as her media savvy. While the newly minted congresswoman entered the nation’s consciousness basking in the limelight, is her media star beginning to dim? 

The timeline below shows the average percentage of airtime (as measured in 15-second intervals) on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News, from June 1, 2018 to present that mentioned Ocasio-Cortez (using data from the GDELT Project’s processing of the Internet Archive’s Television News Archive).

From utter obscurity to overnight star, Ocasio-Cortez’s June 2018 New York primary win over 10-term incumbent Joe Crowley made her the most recognizable member of the incoming class of lawmakers. Yet, when it comes to television, her main benefactor has not been the liberal networks, but rather Fox News. Over the past six months Fox has devoted 0.16 percent of its airtime to her, compared with just 0.04 percent each for CNN and MSNBC. For comparison, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi over the same period garnered 0.93 percent of Fox News’ airtime, 0.6 percent of MSNBC’s and 0.46 percent of CNN’s. 

Between her swearing in on Jan. 3 and Jan. 8, Ocasio-Cortez captivated the attention of all three channels, but as of Jan. 9, that interest seems to have largely faded away -- other than on Fox News. She also never seems to have fully recaptured the interest that immediately followed her surprise primary victory. 

Turning to online news coverage, the timeline below shows the percentage of English-language coverage monitored by the GDELT Project that mentioned her over the same time period, capturing a very similar pattern.

Here the difference in interest between her January 2019 swearing-in and her primary victory six months prior is even more stark, as is the rapid fall-off in coverage over the past 10 days. 

As media coverage has rapidly dropped, are people searching less about her online as well? The timeline below shows the total U.S. search volume on Google about Ocasio-Cortez over the same timeframe. Google does not report the actual number of searches, instead treating the day with the highest number of searches as 100 percent and reporting the other days as percentages of that peak.

Unlike the media’s months-long obsession after last year’s New York primary, it seems the general public took little notice of her after that initial blip until the November elections and quickly grew bored again until her swearing in. As with media coverage, however, search interest has plummeted over the last 10 days. 

It seems one of the few bright spots for Ocasio-Cortez has been on social media. According to at least one analysis, she is the most prominent Democrat on Twitter in terms of retweets and likes, though it remains to be seen whether that too fades over time.

In the end, all fame is fleeting and Ocasio-Cortez will have to transition from the life of Twitter reality star into effective lawmaker who can accomplish things in Congress. Only time will tell whether she is able to harness her early media power into an effective bully pulpit to pressure her colleagues into supporting her initiatives -- or whether, like so many before her, she simply fades into obscurity.

RealClear Media Fellow Kalev Leetaru is a senior fellow at the George Washington University Center for Cyber & Homeland Security. His past roles include fellow in residence at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Government.

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