Impeachment has dominated news coverage of the Trump presidency in recent weeks, but the administration’s pullout from northern Syria and the ensuing Turkish military incursion there have quickly equaled and even eclipsed impeachment talk. Combined, the two topics now account for as much as 70% of coverage of the administration in recent days.
The timeline below shows the percentage of combined airtime on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News since Sept. 1, 2019 that mentioned “impeachment” or “impeach” or “impeachable” or “impeached” or “impeaching” or “Ukraine” or “whistleblower” or “whistleblowers,” compared with “Turkey” or “Turkish” or “Kurds” or “Kurdish” or “Syria” or “Syrian,” compared with “Trump” using data from the Internet Archive’s Television News Archive processed by the GDELT Project. (Click on the chart for a larger view.)
Impeachment has been mentioned more than President Trump since Sept. 23, briefly reaching more than double the number of mentions on Sept. 25. Mentions of impeachment have steadily waned in the weeks since, but the U.S. withdrawal from northern Syria and subsequent Turkish invasion led to a surge of coverage of that emerging conflict beginning on Oct. 7.
The juxtaposition of those numbers shows the sharp decrease in impeachment coverage coincides with the media’s shift toward the Turkish invasion story. Indeed, the timeline below shows the percentage of combined airtime over the same period that mentioned “Trump” that also mentioned one of the keywords above within 15 seconds.
Combined, the impeachment and Turkish invasion stories account for at least 30%-40% of the airtime mentioning Trump over the past month. While this percentage has decreased slightly over the past week, the decline is much lower than for impeachment alone, showing that rather than growing bored of impeachment, the fixed amount of television airtime has necessitated less impeachment coverage to allow for the new focus on Syria.
In short, President Trump’s withdrawal from northern Syria has diverted TV media attention away from impeachment proceedings.
Looking to online news, the two stories now solidly dominate coverage of the administration.
The timeline below shows the percentage of worldwide online news coverage monitored by the GDELT Project mentioning “Donald Trump” that also mentions any of the keywords from above.
Since Sept. 25, between 60% and 70% of online news coverage of President Trump has mentioned either the impeachment proceedings or the Syria story or both, showing just how much stories on these topics are dominating coverage of his presidency.
As with television, the surge in coverage of the Turkish invasion has coincided with a drop in coverage of impeachment, as seen in the timeline below.
Here impeachment coverage can be seen to decrease by half just as coverage of the Turkish invasion increases by nearly the same amount. The overall increase in mentions of President Trump reflects the unlimited space available for online news, which means Syrian coverage does not have to displace impeachment coverage as is the case with TV airtime.
In the end, the Trump presidency has come to be defined over the past month by two stories accounting for as much as 70% of coverage of his administration. Whether intentionally or not, Trump’s actions in Syria have managed to partially divert the media’s attention away from impeachment, at least for the moment.
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.