Kerry Finally Wins One
Democrat scored record time on network news
By Andrew Tyndall -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/7/2004 7:00:00 PM
As Democrats cast around for targets to blame for John Kerry's defeat in the presidential election, they'd be well advised not to fall back on the familiar political lament about a lack of exposure on network news. The evening broadcasts on ABC, CBS and NBC gave the Kerry campaign a bigger chunk of their campaign coverage than they devoted to any other nominee of either party in the past five presidential elections.
A comparison of the broadcast networks' coverage of the 2004 campaign with each of the previous four election cycles indicates that coverage of Kerry's campaigning occupied a higher proportion of overall election coverage (19%) than any previous nominee. With the war in Iraq often dominating the news in 2004, this presidential campaign received less total airtime than past political seasons, so the number of minutes that network news spent on Kerry was only the third-highest of the past five elections. Kerry's 433 minutes of coverage put him behind only Bill Clinton (448 minutes) and George H.W. Bush (461 minutes) in 1992.
By comparison, George W. Bush —who, unlike Kerry, sailed unchallenged through the springtime primary season—logged 338 minutes from the hustings this year (a minute less than in 2000). That total accounted for 14% of overall campaign coverage, according to a monitoring of the weekday nightly newscasts of ABC, CBS and NBC. The analysis studied each presidential-election year since 1988, with this year's results ending after the final full week before the election, the end of October.
But while Kerry prospered on the network news, coverage of Senate and House races, statewide contests and propositions withered in 2004. Through the end of October, the total coverage of those subjects drew just 3% (59 minutes) of the overall election news-hole. That's a drop of more than half since 1992 (183 minutes) and more than two-thirds since 1996 (207 minutes). Traditionally, such coverage picks up in election week itself, but even saturation reports would have been unlikely to bring the 2004 total anywhere near parity with coverage in the 1990s.
The vice presidential candidates also found themselves garnering less attention than counterparts from previous campaigns. In 1988, veep candidates Lloyd Bentsen and Dan Quayle were the focus of 398 total minutes of coverage; this year, John Edwards and Dick Cheney clocked in with just 124 minutes.
Obviously, since 1988, the national television news environment has diversified to include broadcast news in different dayparts and 24-hour news on cable. Not making it onto the evening news hardly means dropping out of sight. But looking at the way the Big Three broadcast networks' nightly newscasts allotted their airtime provides a snapshot of the way news directors weighted various elements of this year's campaign.
Among the Big Three broadcast networks, CBS took the lead in issues coverage. Fully 15% of its total campaign news-hole (almost two hours of airtime) was assigned to its issue-by-issue feature series “What Does It Mean to You?” In contrast, ABC and NBC each spent just 5% of their time on issues coverage. In the period since 1988, only ABC's 114 minutes of issues coverage in 1992 rivals the 116 minutes that CBS allotted this year.
Four years from now, Tom Brokaw will be long gone from the NBC anchor chair, and possibly Peter Jennings and Dan Rather will have moved on as well. We don't know who the presidential candidates will be, but they can only hope for the amount of attention that John Kerry enjoyed this year.
|A RACE FOR TIME|
|ABC, CBS, NBC coverage of presidential candidates|
|*Percent of overall campaign coverage
SOURCE: The Tyndall Report
|George H.W. Bush||GOP||1992||461||14%|
|George H.W. Bush||GOP||1988||388||12%|
|George W. Bush||GOP||2000||339||10%|
|George W. Bush||GOP||2004||338||14%|
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