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The Media Mentioned Biden More Than All The 2020 Primary Candidates Combined Last Week

The story about President Trump’s call to Ukraine dominated the airwaves last week, and along with it came a lot more mentions of former Vice President Joe Biden. Two weeks ago, when the Wall Street Journal broke the news about the whistleblower complaint, cable news increased its coverage of Biden, but not online news outlets. But last week, that changed. As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry against Trump and the acting director of national intelligence testified in a public hearing in front of Congress, the share of online news stories that mention Biden also surged. Biden was mentioned in more cable news clips and online news stories last week than all other 2020 Democratic candidates combined, according to data from the TV News Archive1 and Media Cloud.2

The impeachment inquiry has crowded out 2020 coverage

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 9/15/19 9/22/19 diff 9/15/19 9/22/19 diff
Joe Biden 54.8% 74.3% +19.5 44.8% 84.6% +39.8
Elizabeth Warren 21.1 16.3 -4.8 42.3 18.8 -23.6
Bernie Sanders 10.0 5.0 -5.1 34.6 13.7 -20.9
Kamala Harris 7.8 2.7 -5.1 22.3 7.2 -15.0
Pete Buttigieg 4.4 2.3 -2.1 18.7 6.1 -12.6
Cory Booker 4.0 3.0 -1.0 12.6 4.7 -7.9
Tulsi Gabbard 0.5 0.8 +0.3 4.3 3.3 -1.0
Julián Castro 2.4 0.5 -1.9 13.1 3.1 -10.0
Amy Klobuchar 1.8 0.5 -1.3 10.4 3.1 -7.3
Andrew Yang 2.5 0.7 -1.8 11.8 2.8 -9.1
Tom Steyer 0.3 0.4 +0.1 3.4 2.3 -1.0
Beto O’Rourke 6.8 2.3 -4.5 7.6 2.2 -5.4
Michael Bennet 0.5 0.2 -0.4 3.1 1.0 -2.1
Steve Bullock 0.1 0.1 -0.1 1.9 0.8 -1.1
Tim Ryan 0.3 0.1 -0.2 2.6 0.7 -1.9
Marianne Williamson 0.1 0.0 -0.1 3.4 0.7 -2.7
John Delaney 0.2 0.5 +0.3 1.7 0.6 -1.0
Joe Sestak 0.0 0.0 +0.0 1.0 0.3 -0.7
Bill de Blasio 1.7 8.5

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

And it seems like the media isn’t only mentioning Biden more — it’s also mentioning everyone else less. Last week, all of the other Democratic candidates who are still running for president were mentioned less than the week prior, and overall the non-Biden candidates were mentioned in more than a third fewer cable news clips and online news stories compared to the week before. All this suggests that the impeachment story could eat up a lot of the media oxygen that would otherwise have been dedicated to the Democratic primary. We’ll be watching the numbers in the coming weeks to see to what extent Biden continues to be wrapped up in the story of Trump’s impeachment inquiry and how much that affects the amount of coverage the other candidates receive.

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 and online.

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. 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 is a database journalist at FiveThirtyEight focusing on politics.

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