Study: National TV And Cable Networks Mostly Ignore Trump's Gaffes

Study: National TV And Cable Networks Mostly Ignore Trump's Gaffes

Former President Donald Trump and Hungarian President Viktor Orban at Trump's Bedminster, N.J. home

Photo by Library of Congress on Unsplash

National broadcast and cable networks are failing to cover a series of verbal gaffes and incoherent statements recently made by disgraced former President Donald Trump, the front-runner to win the Republican nomination again in 2024.

Trump’s recent campaign stumbles haven’t garnered much attention

As Media Matters has already extensively documented, media outlets have repeatedly obsessed over President Joe Biden's age since he announced his campaign for reelection. The same attention has not been given to his likely challenger, former President Donald Trump, even though the two men are nearly the same age. In fact, in just the last two months, Trump has made a number of nonsensical statements: He has mixed up the authoritarian leaders of Hungary and Turkey; confused his former Republican opponent Jeb Bush and Jeb’s brother, the former president George W. Bush; mixed up a number of his Democratic opponents with former President Barack Obama; and made a garbled statement accusing President Joe Biden of leading the country into “World War II.”On Monday, a New York Times article finally brought some much-needed attention to the dichotomy between Trump’s own attacks on Biden, compared to Trump’s actual behavior:

But as the 2024 race for the White House heats up, Mr. Trump’s increased verbal blunders threaten to undermine one of Republicans’ most potent avenues of attack, and the entire point of his onstage pantomime: the argument that Mr. Biden is too old to be president.Mr. Biden, a grandfather of seven, is 80. Mr. Trump, who has 10 grandchildren, is 77.

An analysis by Media Matters found that TV broadcast news has given no coverage to these false and incoherent statements from Trump, and cable news has barely covered them. Overall, MSNBC has covered the four recent Trump gaffes the most, still just 35 minutes, and the majority of this coverage has come from just one program, Morning Joe. CNN has covered the gaffes a mere 9 minutes. Fox News, meanwhile, mentioned the gaffes just twice for less than a minute total in the periods studied.

Mixing up Hungarian, Turkish strongmen

Trump commented on October 23 during a campaign speech in New Hampshire: “You know, I was very honored — there’s a man, Viktor Orbán. Did anyone ever hear of him? He’s probably, like, one of the strongest leaders anywhere in the world. He’s the leader of Turkey.”

Orbán is the authoritarian prime minister of Hungary; autocrat Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is president of Turkey. This remark also could have brought renewed attention to Trump’s long-established affection for dictators.

Media Matters reviewed transcripts from October 23 thorough 29 and found that the comment received less than 2 minutes of TV news coverage, mostly spread across MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and Deadline: White House, plus a single comment on Fox News’ The Five lasting 6 seconds. Broadcast news didn’t cover it at all.

Warning that Biden might start “World War II”

During a September 15 speech at a right-wing event in Washington, D.C., Trump claimed that Biden was “cognitively impaired” and “in no condition to lead,” while warning that his leadership could imperil the United States in “dealing with Russia and possible nuclear war.” Trump then added: “Just think of it. We would be in World War II very quickly if we’re going to be relying on this man.”

World War II happened 80 years ago, a detail Trump missed while he was calling Biden “cognitively impaired.” During the same speech, Trump also seemed confused about whom he is running against in 2024, and whom he ran against in 2016.

Media Matters reviewed transcripts from September 15 through September 21 and found that the comment received a total of 20 minutes of coverage on MSNBC and 5 minutes of coverage on CNN. The September 17 edition of MSNBC’s Morning Joe accounted for over half of all coverage, spending nearly 15 minutes discussing Trump's comments. Broadcast news didn’t cover it at all.

Confusing Jeb Bush and George W. Bush

During a September 25 campaign speech in South Carolina, Trump fell back on retelling the greatest hits of his 2016 campaign, boasting of how he’d triumphed in the South Carolina primary that year while seeming to confuse his actual opponent, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, for Jeb’s older brother, former President George W. Bush.

“They thought Bush, because Bush supposedly was a military person. Great,” Trump said. “He got us into the Middle East. How did that work out, right? But they all thought that Bush might win — Jeb. Remember Jeb?”

Media Matters reviewed transcripts from September 25 through October 1 and found that this particular statement received a total of 16 minutes of coverage across both CNN and MSNBC, and of that around half occurred on the September 26 edition of Morning Joe. Broadcast news didn’t cover it at all.

Confusing Joe Biden and Barack Obama

Trump first rose to political prominence by spreading the racist conspiracy theory that then-President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. In recent speeches, he has kept returning to the claim that Obama is still his true adversary.

During an October 12 appearance on Fox News host Brian Kilmeade’s radio show, while commenting on the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, Trump claimed, “Obama wants to, he doesn’t want to talk about it. He doesn’t want to mention he doesn’t even mention them in his statements. It’s all coming through Iran.”

“Well, you mean President Biden,” Kilmeade said, seemingly trying to steer the conversation back on track, before Trump then insisted that he really meant to say that “Obama is Biden’s boss. Guess you didn’t really know that.”

Media Matters reviewed transcripts from October 12 through October 18 and found Trump’s conflation of the current President Joe Biden with former President Barack Obama received just over 1 minute of coverage, spread across two separate episodes of Morning Joe. Broadcast news didn’t cover it at all.


Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original programming on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC as well as all original episodes of ABC’s Good Morning America, World News Tonight, and This Week; CBS’ Mornings, Evening News, and Face the Nation; and NBC’s Today, Nightly News, and Meet the Press for either of the terms “Trump” or “former president” within close proximity of either of the terms “Orban” or “Erdogan” (including misspellings) or any variation of either of the terms “Hungary” or “Turkey” from October 23, 2023, through October 29, 2023.

We searched the same transcripts for either of the terms “Trump” or “former president” within close proximity of any of the terms “world war,” “Obama,” “summit,” “Biden,” “Clinton,” or “Hillary” from September 15, 2023, through September 21, 2023.

We searched the same transcripts for either of the terms “Trump” or “former president” within close proximity of either of the terms “Bush” or “Iraq” from September 25, 2023, through October 1, 2023.

We searched the same transcripts for either of the terms “Trump” or “former president” within close proximity of any of the terms “Kilmeade” (including misspellings), “radio,” “Obama,” “Fox,” “host,” or “Biden” from October 12, 2023, through October 18, 2023.

We timed segments, which we defined as instances when any of Trump’s mental gaffes were the stated topic of discussion or when we found significant discussion of any of the gaffes. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed any of the gaffes with one another.

We also timed mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker in a segment on another topic mentioned any of the gaffes without another speaker engaging with the comment, and teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about any of the gaffes scheduled to air later in the broadcast.

We rounded all times to the nearest minute.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

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