Network TV News Reporting Biased in Kavanaugh Coverage, Study Finds

September 26, 2018 Updated: September 26, 2018

News shows on major television networks have devoted almost six hours of coverage to accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, while spending less than one-tenth of that time reporting on Kavanaugh’s unequivocal denials and that the accusers’ accounts of the alleged events have gone uncorroborated, according to a study by the Media Research Center (MRC).

Since Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) announced the existence of a letter on Sept. 13 accusing Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, newscasts on ABC, CBS, and NBC spent 344 minutes repeating the allegations, with only 8 percent of the coverage focused on the fact that the claims haven’t corroborated by witnesses and that Kavanaugh had denied the allegations, under penalty of perjury.

Most of the coverage has been focused on the allegation by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the first accuser to come forward. MRC tracked 307 minutes of airtime dedicated to Ford’s claims. The account of Kavanaugh’s second accuser drew 37 minutes of coverage, in part because it was published a week after Ford’s.

Kavanaugh’s Denials

While Kavanaugh first denied the accusations in a statement on Sept. 14, coverage of the fact remained “parenthetical” in news reports, according to MRC Research Director Rich Noyes, a senior editor for Newsbusters.

“For most of the coverage that followed, his flat denial was relegated to a few seconds in lengthy stories about the charges—sometimes no more than a parenthetical clause that reporters mechanically inserted in stories that bombarded viewers with the salacious details of each accusation,” Noyes wrote.

Kavanaugh also denied the allegations by Ford and the second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The judge flatly denied the claims again on national television in an interview on Fox News alongside his wife.

ABC, CBS, and NBC ran three minutes of coverage on Kavanaugh’s Fox News appearance on the same night, increasing the total airtime devoted to the judge’s denials to 14 minutes, or 4 percent of total coverage

Lack of Witnesses

Ford claimed that three other people were present at the house where the alleged incident with Kavanaugh took place: Mark Judge, Patrick Smyth, and Leland Keyser. All three eventually issued sworn statements to the judiciary committee denying any recollection of the alleged events. Keyser, who is Ford’s lifelong friend, stated that she never met Kavanaugh.

The statements by the alleged witnesses, despite being central to the story, drew less than five minutes, or less than 2 percent, of total coverage.

“This statistic should embarrass any network which claims to be devoted to fair news coverage,” Noel wrote.

Similar to Ford’s account, Ramirez’s accusation didn’t include corroboration from witnesses, despite allegations that several people witnessed the event. The New Yorker, which published Ramirez’s account, couldn’t find anyone to confirm it, despite contacting dozens of people.

Women Who Knew Him

The broadcast networks dedicated a minuscule portion of their coverage to character witnesses who stepped forward to support Kavanaugh, including 65 women who knew him in high school and 75 women who knew him in a professional capacity.

CBS spent barely more than a minute on these statements, while ABC and NBC spent less than a minute combined.

A total of 75 women came together for a press conference to support Kavanaugh on Sept. 21, including his ex-girlfriend, Maura Fitzgerald. NBC and CBS dedicated less than one minute combined to it, while ABC skipped that altogether.

Second Accuser

The news shows were slightly fairer toward Kavanaugh in their coverage of the claims from Ramirez, spending 16 percent of the 37 minutes covering important questions related to the accuser’s account.

The networks spent two minutes on Ramirez’s admitted memory gaps, two minutes on how Kavanaugh’s college friends disputed the account, and less than a minute each on the lack of eyewitnesses and the fact that other media, including The New York Times, were unable to corroborate the story that was published by the New Yorker.

Ford’s Politics

ABC and CBS spent no time covering Ford’s political background. The California professor is a registered Democrat and has donated to liberal organizations, according to NPR. She attended a march last year to protest President Donald Trump’s cuts to research, and signed a letter in June this year condemning the Trump’s administration’s policy of strict adherence to existing laws that resulted in the temporary separation of illegal alien families at the southern border.

NBC dedicated 12 seconds of airtime to the topic on Sept. 17.

Trump nominated Kavanaugh to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. If confirmed, Kavanaugh could secure a conservative majority on the Supreme Court for decades.

Kavanaugh and Ford are scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 27.

“Both Kavanaugh and Ford will get equal time to tell their side of the story at Thursday’s hearing,” Noyes wrote. “That’s a much fairer forum for Kavanaugh than he’s received from the broadcast networks during the past two weeks.

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