Politics & Policy

Network News Loves Covering Trump but Not His Liberal Past

Reporters surround Trump after the Las Vegas debate. (Ethan Miller/Getty)

According to Super Tuesday exit polls, between 62 percent and 82 percent of Republican-primary voters in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Virginia, and Vermont described themselves as either “very” or “somewhat” conservative. Yet real-estate mogul Donald Trump won each and every one of these states on Tuesday, despite the businessman’s long and documented record of past support for liberal policy positions, including favoring abortion rights and single-payer health care, and despite his once-fulsome praise for leading liberals, including Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton (a “terrific woman” and a “very, very brilliant person”).

Trump now says he has “evolved on certain issues,” although at a debate earlier this month he continued to express support for a presumably large, though still undefined, government role in health care, to “take care of people that are dying on the street.” And Trump has suggested he’d toss aside his primary persona once it came to a general election against the Democratic nominee. “I’m very capable of changing to anything I want to change to,” he told Fox News host Greta Van Susteren on February 10.

RELATED: Les Moonves Exposes the Trump Media Game

So what explains the seemingly inexplicable gap between the Republican party’s strongly conservative primary voters and their support for a political chameleon with no established record of actual commitment to conservative philosophy? One answer may be found in the establishment media’s coverage of the campaign so far: While there’s been an absolute torrent of coverage about the GOP front-runner, virtually none of it has focused on his past liberalism or potential to abandon conservatives once the GOP nomination is in his hands.

#share#Media Research Center analysts have been reviewing all Campaign 2016 news coverage on the ABC, CBS, and NBC evening newscasts. While these three broadcasts don’t amount to the media monopoly they once were, collectively they still reach more viewers, about 25 million on an average night, than any competing news outlet. More importantly, they are targeted to ordinary voters, not the political junkies who check their phones every five minutes for the latest news from the trail.

What these shows have done over the past eight months is make Donald Trump’s candidacy the only real storyline of the GOP primary campaign. Through Monday night, these three broadcasts have devoted 923 minutes of coverage to Trump’s candidacy. That’s more than four times what they’ve given to Ted Cruz (205 minutes), and more than six times what they’ve given Marco Rubio (139 minutes).

Amid this ocean of coverage, the reporting on Trump’s political philosophy could barely fill a teacup.

But amid this ocean of coverage, the reporting on Trump’s political philosophy could barely fill a teacup. Since July, the Big Three have spent a mere 14 minutes — just 1.5 percent of his overall coverage — on Trump’s liberal past. About half of that coverage (7 minutes, 40 seconds) came in January, after Ted Cruz challenged Trump about his “New York values.” That’s less than 5 percent of Trump’s total coverage that month (157 minutes). Last month, Trump’s total airtime rose to 187 minutes, but coverage of his ideology dropped to just under four minutes, or about 2 percent of his total coverage.

#related#Compare that to an incident that the networks deemed truly controversial, Trump’s refusal to disavow David Duke and the KKK during a Sunday-morning CNN interview. Just on Sunday and Monday, that controversy earned 9 minutes, 35 seconds of coverage on the three evening broadcasts.

Perhaps liberal reporters don’t find Trump’s history of liberal policy positions, or support for liberal politicians, to be especially controversial. But if the broadcast networks are going to pump out hundreds of minutes of coverage of Trump’s celebrity candidacy, it’s not unreasonable to expect that they devote more coverage to letting conservative primary voters know for whom they’re voting.

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