Joe Biden channels Trump 2016 as he dominates media coverage – Washington Examiner
Joe Biden is not only the front-runner in 2020 Democratic presidential polls but also the front-runner in media attention, dominating coverage in a way that echoes President Donald Trump’s media saturation after he announced his candidacy in 2015.
The most recent Fox News Democratic primary poll, conducted May 11-14, found Biden leads with 35% support, but he gets an even larger portion of media coverage.
On the cable news networks, the former vice president has received almost as much attention as all the other Democratic presidential candidates combined, according to the political website FiveThirtyEight. The week of April 28, his first full week of campaigning after his April 25 announcement, Biden was mentioned in 2,232, clips while all the other candidates were mentioned in 2,259 clips. The following week, he was mentioned in 1,411 clips while other candidates were mentioned in 1,785 clips.
A Media Research Center analysis of ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news coverage similarly found that Biden dominated broadcast news, commanding 77% of airtime devoted to Democratic candidates in April.
For most of April, Biden wasn’t even a candidate. But Biden led coverage well before he got in the race. The analysis found that he soaked up 23% of airtime before he announced his candidacy from January through March.
Rich Noyes, the research director at the Media Research Center who complied its news coverage data, told the Washington Examiner that Biden’s dominance “is reminiscent of the way Donald Trump became the dominant focus of the media’s coverage of the GOP race in 2015.”
Trump, like Biden, was well-known among voters, due in part to his reality TV television show “The Apprentice.” Both entered a crowded field of lesser-known candidates.
After announcing his campaign in June 2015, Trump received 55% of broadcast coverage of GOP candidates from July 24-Aug. 6 and 72% of coverage from Aug. 7-20, according to the according to the Media Research Center. Another analysis of broadcast coverage in 2015 though Nov. 30 that year by the Tyndall Report, as reported by the Washington Post, found that Trump received more minutes of coverage than the entire Democratic presidential field combined.
Like Trump, who received a hostile media reception from the start, part of Biden’s dominance was driven by negative stories. Multiple women came forward with allegations of unwanted contact from Biden at the beginning of April. Anita Hill made headlines shortly after Biden’s campaign announcement when she criticized Biden for not adequately apologizing for her experience testifying against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in 1991 with allegations of sexual harassment.
“Both candidates surged in the polls as they dominated coverage, and the negativity of the media coverage didn’t seem to affect how likely primary voters regarded them,” Noyes said.
However, Matthew Littman, a Democratic strategist and speechwriter for Biden during his years in the Senate, argued that coverage of Biden in this cycle is fundamentally different that of Trump in 2015.
“Trump dominated the coverage because he made news,” Littman told the Washington Examiner. “Trump fed the audience a constant diet of controversy, so he kept his name out there. Biden is dominating coverage without making news. That will change as the media gets bored of the same story.”
Littman also noted that Trump has publicly criticized Biden, contributing to the boost in attention.
Biden is also known as a “gaffe machine,” and those in the media could also be hoping to capture one of his slip-ups.
“You never know what he’s going to say,” Matt Gorman, a Republican strategist and vice president at consulting firm Targeted Victory, told the Washington Examiner. “There’s an unpredictability there that also appeals to the press.”
The proclivity of the press to focus on certain candidates can favor what becomes an elite group.
“Primary voters are choosing between candidates with essentially similar platforms. Heavy media coverage of just a few of those candidates effectively validates those candidates, so that voters may not consider the broader field,” Noyes said.
Whether Biden can maintain media dominance could depend on how he interacts with the press moving forward and how he performs in the Democratic debates.
Gorman said that Biden is “much more guarded” from the press than Trump, who would often call in to TV shows for live interviews.
“I think that, in the long run, is going to hurt him,” Gorman said. “What’s going to be crucial for him is the first debate … That’s when people are going to start taking shots at everybody else, especially Biden.”
The question, according to Noyes, is “will Biden choose to be just as controversial, as a way to steal the headlines away from his challengers — and, if he does, will it work?”