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Study: Broadcast networks have spent almost no airtime discussing issues during this election cycle

The study monitored the television coverage given to the presidential race this year and differentiated between "issues coverage" and "candidate coverage."

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If you got the sense that the television media in America were almost totally ignoring coverage of any actual issues during this presidential campaign, a new study suggests that you might be right. According to the Tyndall Report, which monitors the weekday nightly newscasts of the three American broadcast television networks, the flagship news programs for ABC, CBS, and NBC have spent less time talking about issues this year than in previous years — much less, in fact.

AP fileAP file

The study monitored the television coverage given to the presidential race this year and differentiated between "issues coverage" and "candidate coverage." According to the report:

Issues coverage is differentiated from candidate coverage thus: it takes a public policy, outlines the societal problem that needs to be addressed, describes the candidates' platform positions and proposed solutions, and evaluates their efficacy.

According to the study, the networks have devoted only a scant 32 minutes of total airtime this year to "issues coverage," in spite of the fact that overall coverage of the race has been higher than in previous years. This represents the least coverage devoted to "issues" of any election since 1988, by far. In fact, the previous low was 98 minutes of "issues coverage" in 1996. In at least three recent election cycles (1992, 2004, and 2008) the networks devoted more than 200 minutes of airtime to "issues coverage."

Other studies have shown that both Clinton and Trump have received healthy amounts of news coverage this cycle relative to years past, with Trump gaining a clear majority of "earned media." However, the overwhelming majority of coverage devoted to both candidates has focused on either scandals or controversial remarks — almost none has focused on issues.

It's clear that both candidates face glaring questions about their fitness for the office, as reflected in multiple polls. What's less clear is whether the media have followed the public's determination that this election is mostly about the candidates (as opposed to the issues), or whether the media have directly participated in creating that impression in the public's mind.

One last thing…
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