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The Media Frenzy Around Biden Is Fading

When news about President Trump’s call to Ukraine first broke in late September, it seemed like former Vice President Joe Biden would be inextricably linked to the story. Biden was mentioned in more cable news clips and online news stories that week than every other 2020 Democratic candidate combined, according to data from the TV News Archive, which chops up cable news across the three networks we monitor — CNN, MSNBC and Fox News — into 15-second clips1 and Media Cloud, a database of online news.2. That week, Biden was mentioned in 74 percent of cable news clips, while Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the next most-mentioned candidate, was only in 16 percent of clips.

In the past two weeks, however, as the initial flood of impeachment coverage has ebbed, so has the extra attention for Biden.

Last week, almost all candidates were mentioned in a smaller share of cable news clips and online news stories, per a query run early Monday afternoon. That’s likely because of the Oct. 15 primary debate — we’ve noticed that the share of coverage for candidates who participated in debates in the past seemed to go up on debate week and down the week after, just as we see in the table below.

Tulsi Gabbard was mentioned more on cable 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 10/13/19 10/20/19 diff 10/13/19 10/20/19 diff
Joe Biden 44.1% 39.7% -4.4 59.2% 59.0% -0.2
Elizabeth Warren 26.3 23.0 -3.3 42.1 38.0 -4.1
Bernie Sanders 16.5 17.0 +0.5 34.9 30.0 -4.9
Pete Buttigieg 5.9 6.0 +0.1 19.9 18.2 -1.8
Tulsi Gabbard 7.6 15.4 +7.7 12.9 13.0 +0.1
Kamala Harris 3.8 3.8 +0.0 15.6 12.5 -3.1
Amy Klobuchar 3.8 3.3 -0.6 13.7 8.8 -4.9
Cory Booker 2.3 1.5 -0.8 11.4 7.6 -3.9
Andrew Yang 1.4 0.5 -0.9 9.9 6.0 -3.9
Beto O’Rourke 3.6 2.0 -1.7 5.6 4.0 -1.6
Tom Steyer 2.4 1.8 -0.6 9.6 3.4 -6.3
Tim Ryan 0.0 1.1 +1.1 0.9 2.4 +1.4
Michael Bennet 0.0 0.1 +0.1 1.5 2.1 +0.6
Julián Castro 0.7 0.9 +0.2 3.2 1.9 -1.3
Marianne Williamson 0.2 0.2 +0.0 2.0 1.6 -0.4
John Delaney 0.1 0.2 +0.1 1.2 1.2 -0.1
Steve Bullock 0.1 0.1 +0.0 1.1 0.9 -0.2
Joe Sestak 0.0 0.0 +0.0 0.8 0.3 -0.5

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 Julián 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. Percentages are calculated as the number of stories or clips mentioning each candidate divided by the number of stories or clips mentioning any of the 2020 Democratic contenders for that week.

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

While most candidates who participated in the October debate got fewer mentions last week compared to the prior week (the week of the debate), there was one notable exception. Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was mentioned in almost twice as many cable news clips this week compared to last. Much of the cable news attention came when former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton suggested that Gabbard was being groomed by the Russians for a third-party run to undermine Democrats’ chances in 2020. In fact, the most common words mentioned in 15-second clips mentioning Gabbard were “Hillary,” “Clinton,” “Russian” and “asset.”

But Gabbard didn’t get the same amount of attention across networks last week. She was mentioned in 66 clips on CNN and 71 clips on MSNBC, but 339 clips (almost five times as many) on Fox News.

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 written 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.