November 19, 2008

What Cable Channels Are Covering After the Election

New Obama Administration Financial Crisis Congressional Election Results
MSNBC 47 7 7
CNN 46 20 1
Fox News 29 19 8
Media Overall 28 18 3

7%—Amount of MSNBC airtime devoted to the financial crisis since Nov. 4 

The three major cable news networks—Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN—can sometimes have differing news agendas, as was most recently demonstrated in the PEJ study The Color of the News. And an early snapshot of coverage since Election Day suggests some significant differences in news priorities—differences that are not simply about what is being covered, but also about what isn’t.

For example, from November 5 – 16, MSNBC has devoted 7% of its airtime studied to coverage of the deepening economic crisis, according to PEJ’s News Coverage Index. This is less than half the attention its two rivals have devoted to that subject. Financial meltdown stories filled 20% of CNN’s newshole, and Fox News spent 19% of its airtime on the subject. Overall, for all the media outlets studied, the economic crisis accounted for 18% of the newshole.

In the days since the election, Fox News has separated itself from its competitors in its relative lack of coverage of the new Obama administration. Since Election Day, MSNBC (47%) and CNN (46%) filled nearly half of their airtime with coverage of Barack Obama’s transition to power. Fox News spent 29% of the time studied on the incoming administration. Yet, while Fox News’s coverage is far less than that of its counterparts, it is in sync with the coverage in the media overall (28%).

Another striking difference between the three cable networks is coverage of the Congressional election results, with much of the focus on the three nail biting Senate races in Alaska, Minnesota and Georgia. From November 5-16, Fox and MSNBC spent 8% and 7%, respectively on subjects relating to Congressional elections. Conversely, CNN, devoted just 1% of its airtime on the topic, one-third the level of overall media coverage (3%).

Tricia Sartor and Dana Page of PEJ