On Tuesday, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that 4,645 people died in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria and its aftermath. This estimate is significantly higher than Puerto Rico’s official death total of 64 people. Also on Tuesday, ABC’s Roseanne was cancelled as a result of a racist tweet sent by the star.
One story was covered much more on cable news than the other. Any guesses?
According to research from Media Matters, a liberal media watchdog group, that looked at cable news on May 29 plus the Wednesday morning news programs, the combined time spent on Puerto Rico by the three cable news outlets was less than an hour.
Fox News spent the least amount of time on both stories with 1 hour, 56 minutes, and 54 seconds on Roseanne, compared to 48 seconds on the Puerto Rico report. MSNBC spent the most time on the Puerto Rico report, but that was still 21 minutes and 18 seconds compared to 3 hours, 38 minutes, and 45 seconds on Roseanne. Finally, CNN spent the most time on Roseanne with 4 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds compared to 12 minutes and 3 seconds on Puerto Rico.
While Puerto Rico was scantly covered by the television arms of cable news, CNN, Fox News, and NBC News all had articles online about the report.
CNN’s coverage levels, at least, should not be terribly shocking to anyone who has paid attention to the programming strategy under CNN Worldwide head Jeff Zucker. Under Zucker, the television operation focuses heavily on a handful of stories each day with the assumption that people looking for the rest of the news will find it on CNN’s digital offerings. Zucker himself acknowledged this in article with Variety, “People are not going to come to TV to find a wheel of (stories about) what’s going on in the world. They’re going to find that on their phone.”
“On television we go much deeper on the one, two, or three stories driving the news that day.”