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Media Outlets Paid Way More Attention To Kamala Harris After The Debate

Sen. Kamala Harris won; former vice president Joe Biden lost. That’s the media narrative that emerged after last week’s Democratic primary debate. According to data from the TV News Archive, which chops up cable news into 15-second clips,1 Harris more than doubled the number of clips that mentioned her across the three networks that we monitor — CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC — compared to the week prior. Harris was also mentioned in a third of online news stories that mentioned a Democratic candidate last week, compared to only about 22 percent the previous week, according to data from Media Cloud.2 Biden on the other hand, saw a reduction in cable and online news coverage.

Kamala Harris got more media mentions last week

Share of 15-second cable news clips mentioning each candidate vs. share of online stories mentioning each candidate in a Media Cloud search

Cable TV clips the week of … online stories the week of …
Candidate June 16 June 23 diff. June 16 June 23 diff.
Joe Biden 55.6% 37.9% -17.7 56.6% 45.1% -11.5
Elizabeth Warren 15.5 15.3 -0.3 32.4 42.2 +9.9
Bernie Sanders 14.6 14.4 -0.2 33.8 41.4 +7.7
Kamala Harris 7.0 16.8 +9.8 22.1 33.4 +11.3
Cory Booker 12.6 6.1 -6.5 25.2 25.8 +0.5
Pete Buttigieg 5.5 6.9 +1.4 22.3 24.7 +2.3
Julian Castro 0.6 4.8 +4.2 6.9 20.1 +13.2
Amy Klobuchar 0.9 2.3 +1.3 8.6 15.6 +7.0
Bill de Blasio 1.2 2.3 +1.1 9.3 15.5 +6.2
Kirsten Gillibrand 0.9 0.6 -0.3 7.0 12.7 +5.7
Eric Swalwell 0.8 1.7 +0.9 4.5 12.4 +7.8
Marianne Williamson 0.2 1.2 +1.0 4.0 12.2 +8.2
Jay Inslee 0.7 1.5 +0.9 4.4 12.1 +7.7
Tulsi Gabbard 0.3 1.5 +1.2 3.3 11.8 +8.5
John Delaney 0.3 1.4 +1.1 3.7 10.6 +6.9
Tim Ryan 1.2 1.8 +0.6 3.4 10.5 +7.1
Andrew Yang 1.0 0.9 -0.1 4.1 9.9 +5.8
Beto O’Rourke 2.3 6.1 +3.8 3.5 9.0 +5.5
Michael Bennet 0.4 0.7 +0.4 3.6 8.6 +5.0
John Hickenlooper 0.5 0.7 +0.2 4.2 8.5 +4.2
Seth Moulton 0.2 0.1 +0.0 3.0 2.5 -0.5
Steve Bullock 0.4 0.4 +0.0 3.6 2.2 -1.4
Mike Gravel 0.0 0.0 +0.0 1.2 1.1 -0.1

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 name is counted as one mention. For both cable and online news, our search queries look for an exact match for each candidate’s name, except for Julian Castro, for whom our search query is “Julian Castro” OR “Julián Castro”. Media Cloud searches use two of the database’s publication lists: “top online news” and “digital native” publications.

Sources: Internet Archive’s Television News Archive via the GDELT Project, Media Cloud

That table is a bit misleading, though. Biden was mentioned in 48 percent of cable news clips in the two days after the debate, and Harris was mentioned in 32 percent. Presumably, that’s because of their exchange on Thursday night. A similar dynamic was apparent in online stories: Biden was mentioned in 61 percent of stories that mentioned Democratic candidates in the two days after the debate; Harris appeared in 57 percent.

It’s no surprise that Harris got more media coverage after she pointedly criticized Biden in the debate for having boasted about being able to work with segregationist senators and for having opposed federally mandated bussing to integrate schools, but it is unclear whether her increase in media attention will come at the expense of Biden’s. Two weeks ago, Cory Booker attacked Biden about the same remarks that Harris took issue with, and Booker saw an increase in coverage, but the share of coverage in cable and online news that Biden received didn’t decrease. In the coming weeks, we’ll be checking to see if Harris can sustain her increased media coverage, whether Biden will retain his dominance, or if someone else will grab the spotlight away from either of the two. Stay tuned!

Check out the data behind this series and check back each week for an update on which candidates are getting the most coverage on cable news.


  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. Our search queries are the full names of each candidate, except for Julian Castro. Since his name is sometimes spelled with an accent mark and sometimes without, our search query for him looks for “Julian Castro” OR “Julián Castro”. We aggregate the data from Sunday through Saturday of each week to match the queries of TV News. Media Cloud dates articles based on when the article page says the story was published, which means that it is insensitive to time zones and its cutoff times each week may be slightly different than the times used for the cable news data.

Dhrumil Mehta was a database journalist at FiveThirtyEight.