Before the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump was gaveled into session, Chief Justice John Roberts presided over a swearing-in ceremony where all 100 senators pledged to be impartial jurors. The liberal media zeroed in on that pledge and decried Senate Republicans who seemed to be siding with the President.
But a Media Research Center study of broadcast evening news coverage of the opening arguments of both sides, found ABC, CBS, and NBC did not live up to the standard they demanded of Republicans. They gave Democrats double the airtime and showered their arguments with mostly praise, while expressing only criticism of the President’s legal team.
Between Wednesday, January 22, when Democratic House impeachment managers launched their opening arguments, and Tuesday, January 28, when the President’s defense team rested, evening newscast reporters and anchors made a total of 34 evaluative statements about the merits and effectiveness of both sides.
Democratic impeachment managers received a total of 21 evaluative statements from ABC, CBS, and NBC journalists. Of that total, 95 percent of those (20) touted their efforts and presentations, which means only one of their evaluative comments were negative. ABC’s World News Tonight had eight positive comments, CBS Evening News had five, and NBC Nightly News seven. NBC had the lone negative comment.
In stark contrast, every evaluative statement from reporters and anchors about the merits and effectiveness of Trump’s defense team were negative. Of the 13 total statements, ABC and CBS each had five with NBC pitching in with three.
The networks would roundly tear down the arguments Trump’s legal team was making despite the evidence they would present. When Trump lawyer Michael Purpura argued with evidence that the President was long interested in burden-sharing when it came to Ukraine’s defense, CBS chief congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes tried to shoot it down by saying, “Those claims run counter to witness testimony.” A common assertion by the networks.
After the manuscript of former National Security Advisor John Bolton was leaked, Holt announced that the book “contradicts his defense.” Moments later, NBC chief White House correspondent Hallie Jackson seemed to poke at how Trump’s lawyers were addressing senators by not “the elephant in the room.”
On day one on the Democratic arguments, they roundly praised how prosecutors were using the words of the President’s defenders against him. “But Chairman Jerry Nadler tried to dismantle that argument using one of the President’s top defenders to make the case,” said ABC senior congressional correspondent Mary Bruce. CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell echoed: “House managers laid out their case to remove Mr. Trump from office, at times using his own words against him.”
NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt opened the segment for day two of Democratic arguments by suggesting they were “painting a damning portrait of the President.”
The lone negative evaluation for Democrats came from NBC News political director Chuck Todd on Saturday, January 25, when he shared his frustrations with how the managers seemed to be unable to convince Senate Republicans to vote for more witnesses:
You don’t really any shifts. And if anything, I think before this trial began, I thought they had a good shot at getting witnesses and maybe at least extending this a little bit … I think it’s pretty clear that Mitch McConnell has convinced them … it’s not worth it.”
In all, the networks covered the Democratic managers for almost 25 minutes (24:57). That’s compared to the 11 minutes and 34 seconds they gave to President Trump’s defense team. The most wildly imbalanced was CBS Evening News, which gave seven minutes, 42 seconds for Democrats and skimped on Trump’s team with two minutes and 26 seconds.
ABC gave Democrats the most time at nine minutes, 25 seconds. Contrast that with the five minutes and 21 seconds they gave the Trump team. NBC allocated seven minutes, 50 seconds for Democrats, while giving three minutes, 47 seconds to the defense.
Editor’s Note: A spokesman for CBS News contacted NewsBusters to insist that the minutes-and-seconds count for CBS did not mention CBS had the only interview with a group of Trump-defending House members.