Cohen, Not Trump, Dominated Coverage Last Month

Cohen, Not Trump, Dominated Coverage Last Month
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
Cohen, Not Trump, Dominated Coverage Last Month
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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February was a busy month in Washington. President Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the testimony of his former lawyer were highly anticipated events, while the Democrats attempted to break through the news cycle with a conversation around Medicare for All and gun control. While online media focused on both Trump and Michael Cohen, television coverage and web searches centered almost exclusively on Cohen.

The timeline below shows the percentage of worldwide online news coverage in the 65 languages monitored by the GDELT Project that mentioned “Trump” and “summit,” “Cohen,” “Medicare for All,” or “gun” and “Democrats” or “Democrat” from Feb. 1, 2019 through March 8.

Media attention on the summit began picking up steam on Feb. 23 and reached a peak on Feb. 28, the second day of the meeting in Vietnam, as President Trump walked away early without a deal.

Almost a third of online media coverage of the summit on Feb. 28 mentioned “fail” or “failure” or “failed” or “broke down,” rising to almost half by March 3 and staying consistently above 40 percent afterward. It seems the media consensus is that Trump’s vaunted “art of the deal” failed to yield results.

In contrast, Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony surprisingly did not attract substantial attention beforehand but has generated continued conversation since then.

Trump’s ability to saturate the media cycle can be seen in the fact that neither of the Democrats’ major legislative focuses last month, Medicare for All and gun control, received substantial attention.

The results were even starker on television, with the timeline below showing the percentage of airtime on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC from Feb. 1 through March 5 mentioning the same keywords, using data from the Internet Archive’s Television News Archive.

Here the Cohen hearings generated nearly a week of discussion in the lead-up to his testimony and garnered at least 20 percent of airtime on Feb. 27. That day, CNN spent 26 percent of its airtime mentioning his name, MSNBC spent 21 percent and Fox News spent just 16 percent.

It is important to note that since this timeline captures only mentions of “Cohen” it does not account for airtime spent broadcasting his testimony that may not have mentioned him by name.

It seems that CNN, Fox News and MSNBC paid little attention to the Trump-Kim summit.

Television’s fixation on the Cohen hearings seems to have been mirrored by the general public. The timeline below shows U.S. Google search interest in the four topics over the same time frame. Since Google does not report absolute search volumes, the timeline reports 100 as the peak daily search interest and reports each other day and topic as a percentage of that.

Of the four topics, the Cohen testimony dominated search interest, while the summit was almost invisible, possibly due to the lack of any major stories from it to garner attention.

Putting this together, last month represented a rare moment when Trump himself was unable to dominate the news cycle, ceding that honor to his former lawyer. His own North Korean summit received substantial online media coverage but was largely absent from television or web searches. Yet, the Democrats fared little better, unable to shift attention from the media circus around Cohen to their Medicare for All and gun control efforts. (They were, no doubt, happy to use the Cohen hearing to cast negative light on the president they hope to oust from office in 2020, if not sooner.)

In the end, even if Trump himself doesn’t saturate the news, it seems stories about him will do so instead.

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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