CNN Focuses on Trump's Health, But Says Biden's Is Off-Limits

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Earlier this week CNN took aim at Fox News for raising “baseless” questions about Joe Biden’s health, arguing that such speculation “crosses the line” from “journalism [to] activism.” Yet a closer look shows that CNN has long covered similar questions about Donald Trump’s health.

Just months after his inauguration, CNN’s Brian Stelter asked, “Is the president … suffering from some sort of illness?” A few days later the news channel ran the headline “Yes, it’s OK to question Trump’s mental health” followed in early 2018 by “Doctors want President Trump's head examined”; the latter piece argued that “the president may be struggling with some mental health challenges.” One day before its Fox News criticism, CNN ran the headline “George Conway: President is ‘mentally unwell.’”

The timeline below shows the total number of monthly mentions of the word “unhinged” on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC from June 2009 to present using data from the Internet Archive’s Television News Archive as processed by the GDELT Project. Jeb Bush first popularized the image of an “unhinged” Trump in December 2015 and the word seems to have stuck.

In addition, since June 2009, the 25th Amendment’s provisions for forcibly removing a president for “inability to discharge the powers and duties” of that office received virtually no attention until the month after Trump’s inauguration. To date, MSNBC has mentioned it at least 1,569 times, Fox 1,217 times and CNN 1,051 times.

Trump’s mental and physical health has been a source of extensive coverage by the three channels -- though Fox’s is often to criticize other outlets’ coverage of the topic. The timeline below shows the subject receives considerably more mentions per month on MSNBC and CNN, excluding the three major spikes in coverage on all three channels when the president’s health examinations take place.

Putting this all together, if speculation about the health of Trump – who this week turns 73 -- warrants dozens or more mentions a month, why should the fitness of other candidates -- including one who would be 78 on the next Inauguration Day -- be off-limits?

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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