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Biden Was All Over Cable News Last Week — And So Was Anita Hill

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who declared his 2020 presidential candidacy last week, is distinguishing himself as an early favorite. He has high name recognition and favorability ratings, he’s polling ahead of other primary candidates in multiple surveys of both the country and Iowa, he’s leading the competition in FiveThirtyEight’s endorsement tracker, and he almost always does better than the other candidates in polls of head-to-head matchups against President Trump. Last week, Biden also showed that he could get more attention from cable news than any other candidate in the race.

Biden’s announcement got a lot of coverage on cable news

How often each Democratic candidate was mentioned each week in news programming on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC, counted by the number of 15-second clips that include each person’s full name

Number of Clips
Candidate Last Week This Week
Joe Biden*
3,393
Bernie Sanders 970
1,099
Elizabeth Warren 292
626
Kamala Harris 159
412
Pete Buttigieg 501
373
Beto O’Rourke 163
155
Amy Klobuchar 65
102
Cory Booker 114
92
Seth Moulton*
76
Eric Swalwell 96
45
Julian Castro 22
40
Tim Ryan 31
28
Tulsi Gabbard 5
23
Andrew Yang 39
18
Kirsten Gillibrand 19
16
John Delaney 9
12
Jay Inslee 9
9
John Hickenlooper 7
1
Marianne Williamson 5
0

Includes all candidates that qualify as “major” in FiveThirtyEight’s rubric. Each network’s daily news coverage is chopped up into 15-second clips, and each clip that includes a candidate’s first and last name (found by running a search seeking an exact match for their name) is counted as one mention.

*Not a declared candidate last week

Source: Internet Archive’s Television News Archive via the GDELT Project

According to data from the TV News Archive processed using the GDELT Television API,1 Biden’s full name was mentioned 3,393 total times last week across the three cable news networks we monitor — CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. Sen. Bernie Sanders was the second most talked-about candidate with 1,099, followed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who had been enjoying the spot as the second most talked-about candidate over the past two weeks, saw a drop in coverage, moving him to fifth place. Rep. Seth Moulton, who also declared his candidacy last week, was only the ninth most talked-about candidate, with 76 clips on cable news.

Biden obviously got a surge in coverage because he just announced his candidacy, but even when compared to how often other candidates were mentioned in the weeks that they declared, Biden got an unusually high level of coverage. On Thursday alone, when he jumped into the race, Biden’s name was mentioned in 1,209 clips, accounting for just under 9 percent of all clips that day on the three networks we looked at. That’s more than twice as much coverage as Sanders got when he entered the race on February 19th. Until Biden joined the race, Sanders had the most media coverage of any candidate on announcement day.2

Biden’s media coverage hasn’t all been positive, though. Biden’s past treatment of Anita Hill — who testified to Congress at Justice Clarence Thomas’s 1991 confirmation hearing that Thomas had sexually harassed her when they worked together — was also a big part of the media narrative last week. Biden recently called Hill to discuss what happened, but Hill said she is not fully satisfied with his apology for the way she was treated at the hearing. Biden, as chair of the committee, allowed senators to pursue contentious or inflammatory lines of questioning and declined to call witnesses who could have backed up Hill’s story. The day after Biden declared, Hill’s name was mentioned 266 times — about a quarter as often as Biden. And a few weeks before Biden entered the race, Lucy Flores, a Nevada politician, publicly recounted an uncomfortable encounter she had with Biden, who she says smelled her hair and planted a “big slow kiss” on the back of her head. The week after that story published, Biden’s name was mentioned 2,690 times, almost five times as often as the top declared candidate that week.

Biden has been around long enough to have weathered bad news cycles before, but his increased visibility has renewed the focus on his perceived flaws. It’s up to voters to decide if they’re fatal ones.

Footnotes

  1. The TV News Archive measures coverage by splitting CNN, Fox News and MSNBC’s daily news footage into 15-second clips and finding the clips that contain a mention of our search query. Our search queries are the full names of each candidate. The GDELT Television API, which processes the data from the TV News Archive, measures a week of coverage from Sunday through Saturday. The cutoff for measuring coverage for any given day is midnight Eastern Standard Time (clock changes for Daylight Saving Time are ignored).

  2. Among candidates who entered the race after Dec. 30, 2018.

Dhrumil Mehta is a database journalist at FiveThirtyEight focusing on politics.

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