September 30, 2016
The presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on September 26 drew an audience of 84 million, shattering records. It was also a first for the Internet Archive, which made data publicly available, for free, on how TV news shows covered the debate. These data, generated by the Duplitron, the open source tool used to generate counts of ad airings for the Political TV Ad Archive, also is able to track coverage of specific video clips by TV news shows.
Journalists took these data and crunched away, creating novel visualizations to help the public understand how TV news presented the debates.
The New York Times created a visual timeline of TV cable news coverage in the 24 hours following the presidential debate, with separate lines for CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. Below the time line were short explanations of the peaks and how the different networks varied in their presentations even when they all covered roughly the same ground. The project was the work of Jasmine C. Lee, Alicia Parlapiano, Adam Pearce, and Karen Yourish. For much of the day on Sept. 29, it was featured at the top of the New York Times website.
Kate Stohr at Fusion analyzed not just what was covered by TV news networks, but also, tellingly, what was not: “There were long stretches of conversation that did not get picked up in post-debate coverage. Most of these lulls occurred toward the end of the debate when the discussion turned to issues such as cyber-terrorism, our alliance with NATO, and the threat of nuclear proliferation. In other words, substantive issues.” Her analysis included major broadcast and cable TV news coverage during the two hours after the debate and then for several hours the following morning.
Andrew McGill’s approach at The Atlantic looked at the 24 hours of coverage following the debate on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, and found his suspicions were confirmed: “I’ve written before about how Republicans and Democrats pursue news sources that confirm their own beliefs—and yet still have a common trust in the so-called mainstream media. Even so, how a voter remembers Monday’s debate could depend on which channel they switched on afterward. I hesitate to pigeonhole journalistic outfits. But Fox News largely showed Trump triumphant, while MSNBC savored Clinton’s quips. Sometimes they agreed: The fact that all networks gave such priority to the Trans-Pacific Partnership shows Clinton’s shifting position on trade is an issue that cuts across ideology. But so far, the recaps mostly split along three lines: “Trump good,” “Clinton smart,” and “Everyone is interrupting.” He also created the chart below.
The Economist drew on Internet Archive data for its “daily chart” feature, and created the timeline below of the top-played clips the evening and morning after the debate, noting: “If Mr Trump made a poor impression on voters during the debate, the press coverage after it surely made things worse. The Internet Archive, a non-profit project, tracked which segments of the debate were replayed on influential American television shows. Sure enough, all three of the most transmitted moments paint Mr Trump in a poor light: critical speculation about his reasons for refusing to release his tax records, an interrogation about his incitement of the “birther” theory that Barack Obama was not born in America and Mrs Clinton’s unsparing parrying of his claim that she did not have the “stamina” to be president.” The project was spearheaded by Idrees Kalhoun.
The Wall Street Street Journal’s Martin Burch concentrated on surfacing the most often aired clips on the major morning shows the day after the debate, concluding that networks focused on the personal over policy: “The first presidential debate took up a broad range of policy topics—taxes, trade, race relations and the U.S. membership in NATO among them. But it was the candidates’ personal qualities—the character traits that they would bring to the presidency–that dominated the post-debate coverage.”
The Internet Archive will make similar data available on the upcoming vice presidential debate, as well as the remaining presidential debates. This effort is part of a collaboration with the Annenberg Public Policy Center to study how voters learn about candidates from debates.