Monday, March 20, 2023
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Media Coverage of Biden’s Documents



In the past six months, documents with classified markings have been discovered at residences and offices associated with both President Biden and former President Trump, along with former Vice President Pence. How have the media covered these stories?

The timeline below shows total mentions of the word “classified” across CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, from Jan. 1, 2022 through Feb. 5, 2023, using data from the Internet archive’s TV News Archive.

Immediately clear is just how differently the stories were told. Coverage of Trump’s document handling begins largely in January and February 2022, peaking on Feb. 10, then quickly fading away until the FBI’s Aug. 8 Mar-a-Lago raid. From that point, it remained in the news until late October, with at least a few mentions a day through the end of 2022.

In contrast, coverage of Biden’s document handling began Jan. 9, 2023, peaked on the 12th, declined through the 21st, then rebounded with the discovery of a second cache of documents and reporting on the Pence discovery. Coverage surged again on Feb. 1 with additional Biden discoveries and has largely faded since.

The timeline below compares the first four weeks of both stories (Jan. 9 to Feb. 5, 2023, for Biden, and Aug. 8 to Sept. 4, 2022, for Trump) across the three channels. The X axis is the number of days from the story breaking, showing that both Trump and Biden’s stories received roughly similar attention in the first two weeks; but coverage of Trump’s dropped faster, with both rebounding around the two-week mark. The biggest difference occurs in the second two weeks, with Trump’s document discovery remaining in the news, while Biden’s quickly fades.

Comparing total spoken mentions of the word “classified” across the three channels during the two periods, Trump’s story received more attention on CNN and MSNBC, while Fox News covered Biden’s story nearly twice as much as Trump’s.

Instead of spoken mentions of the word “classified,” the bar chart below shows the total seconds of airtime in which the word appeared anywhere in the onscreen text during the same time period. The difference in onscreen mentions is even more stark, with MSNBC mentioning the word only slightly more during Trump’s story, while CNN mentioned the word far more during Biden’s story; Fox News, meanwhile, barely mentioned the word during Trump’s story, but mentioned it more than MSNBC during Biden’s story.

Did these differences in media coverage lead to differences in public interest? The timeline below shows total Google search interest in “trump + classified” (blue) versus “biden + classified” (red). Despite the public spectacle of an FBI raid on a former president’s home, Trump’s story yielded just a third of the interest of Biden’s story, though interest in Trump’s documents faded much more slowly than Biden’s one-week peak, after which interest dropped sharply.

In the end, the two stories received very different media coverage, with Fox News being an outlier in its much greater focus on the Biden document story than the Trump story. The story of Trump’s classified documents discovery lingered in the news for far longer than the media’s quick pivot away from the Biden story – but in the end, the public appears to have been far more interested in Biden’s story.

This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.