Epstein, Weinstein, Kavanaugh Coverage: What the Numbers Show
AP Photo/Richard Drew
Epstein, Weinstein, Kavanaugh Coverage: What the Numbers Show
AP Photo/Richard Drew
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Project Veritas’ release earlier this week of a recording of “Good Morning America” anchor Amy Robach raising concerns over ABC’s treatment of the Jeffrey Epstein story in 2015 has led to a flurry of discussions about how media outlets handled the #MeToo allegations against Epstein, Harvey Weinstein and Brett Kavanaugh. What are the facts regarding how much attention each network and news channel paid to the three stories?

The chart below shows how many times CNN, MSNBC and Fox News have mentioned “Epstein,” “Weinstein,” or “Kavanaugh” since Oct. 1, 2017 (right before the Weinstein story broke) using data from the Internet Archive’s Television News Archive processed by the GDELT Project. (Click to enlarge.)

Unsurprisingly, the Kavanaugh story received considerably more attention than the other two due to his appointment to the Supreme Court and its impact on the liberal-conservative balance of the bench. Fox News covered both Weinstein and Kavanaugh more than its two peers, though MSNBC covered the Epstein story almost twice as much either of its peers.

Given that the Weinstein story touched off the #MeToo movement, it seems at first counterintuitive that it would have received less attention than the Epstein story except on Fox News.

One possible explanation is that a central theme of the Epstein story became the involvement of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta in Epstein’s plea deal on sex-crime charges a decade ago, thus tying the story to the Trump administration. (Acosta resigned from his Cabinet post in July.) In all, 22.7% of MSNBC’s coverage of the Epstein story also mentioned either “Acosta” or “Trump” within 15 seconds, with CNN devoting a similar 19.5% of its Epstein coverage to the Acosta connection. In contrast, Fox News devoted just 12.7% of its Epstein coverage to mentions of Acosta or Trump.

In short, the Epstein story became not about a non-politician accused of a crime, but rather yet another Trump administration corruption story.

Turning to network television, the chart below shows the number of mentions of the three stories on the evening news shows of ABC, CBS and NBC over the same time period.

In contrast to Robach’s comment that ABC suppressed the Epstein story in 2015 – she voiced the belief that Prince Andrew’s ties to Epstein prompted network reluctance to air her piece, since a network interview with Prince William and his wife was in the works -- ABC has covered it almost as much as NBC and almost twice as much as CBS since fall 2017.

CBS covered all three stories far less than its peers, though this difference was most acute regarding the Epstein story.

Despite one story involving a future Supreme Court justice and the other involving an ordinary -- though prominent -- citizen, NBC actually spent almost identical time on the Kavanaugh and Epstein stories, while CBS mentioned Kavanaugh 1.8 times more often and ABC mentioned him 2.4 times as often as Epstein.

In all, 21.5% of CBS’ Epstein coverage mentioned Acosta or Trump, compared with 18.6% of ABC’s and just 10.6% of NBC’s Epstein coverage. NBC thus both covered the Epstein story the most and had the least focus on its connection to the Trump administration.

The chart below shows the percentage of each network’s mentions of Epstein that also mentioned Acosta or Trump, ranking them in order of how much they emphasized the Acosta connection.

As for the Weinstein story, it received less coverage on CBS and NBC than the Epstein story, with ABC emphasizing Weinstein more than its peers.

Putting this all together, while ABC may have not run its Epstein material in 2015, in the end it spent almost as much time as NBC on the story and almost twice as much as CBS. NBC stands alone as the only one of the six not to devote dramatically more attention to the Kavanaugh story, covering it on par with the Epstein story and minimizing mentions of Acosta or Trump. CBS only mentioned Kavanaugh 1.8 times as often as it mentioned Epstein, compared with the up to 3.5 times more attention paid by CNN, MSNBC and Fox News.

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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