Fox News’ obsession with AOC crowded out 2020 candidate announcements

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“AOC mocks president’s literacy.” “How AOC became the boss of the Democratic Party.” “Ocasio-Cortez claims Trump ‘hates all immigrants.'”

Those are all headlines that appeared on Foxnews.com in the days following the presidential run announcements of 2020 candidates Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker and Pete Buttigieg. Our analysis of screenshots of the news site found that Fox’s obsession with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez crowded out coverage of every candidate in the week following their announcement.

Our analysis, which was based on screenshots of the website taken by software engineer Nick Jones at 8am ET on each day surveyed, revealed that Ocasio-Cortez dominated the lead stories on the top of Foxnews.com for every one of the 2020 candidates’ announcement weeks.

On their respective weeks, Biden and Sanders appeared on the top of the site most often, followed by Harris and then Warren.

Booker and Buttigieg didn’t make the top of Foxnews.com at all in the seven days after they announced their runs, according to our analysis.

A screenshot of Foxnews.com from February 8, 2019.

Why this obsession?

To be sure, Fox News still covered the 2020 candidates on the days following their announcements. But the candidates just didn’t seem to be making the top of the website as often as Ocasio-Cortez. And, of course, this is also partly a function of the news she was generating: Ocasio-Cortez announced her “Green New Deal” on February 7. Still, months later, arguably less newsworthy things like her tweets and a “fun run” were getting top-billing on Foxnews.com.

A recent Media Matters study looked at Fox’s obsession with Ocasio-Cortez.

But this is not surprising coming from conservative media, which can’t stop talking about Ocasio-Cortez. Fox News and Fox Business, in fact, mentioned her 3,181 times in six weeks, according to a Media Matters study published last month. The tone of those mentions was overwhelmingly critical and continues to be. There are, of course, complex gender and race dynamics at play in the media narratives surrounding Ocasio-Cortez and those are on full display at Foxnews.com.

“For instance, the ‘Step aside, Nancy’ headline plays into a couple of problematic stereotypes and cultural constructs,” says Meg Heckman, an assistant professor at Northeastern’s School of Journalism. “One, that there can be only one strong female character in a narrative. This is often called the Smurfette principle, and once you know about, you’ll start to see it everywhere; and two, that women who disagree with each other are catty as opposed to engaging in substantive debate.”

“While this is a rather stark example of gendered coverage, Fox certainly isn’t the only news organization with content that reflects subtle and not-so-subtle sexism,” Heckman said, pointing to a Columbia Journalism Review piece citing many examples of sexism in candidate coverage, including one from the Boston Globe. 

A look at how often AOC appears in all Foxnews.com coverage

We turned to Media Cloud to estimate how much coverage Foxnews.com was dedicating to each of the six candidates during the time period we surveyed.

Those results show a slightly different picture. By the time Biden announced on April 25, Ocasio-Cortez was getting a lot less coverage on Foxnews.com. But on the other hand, Buttigieg, who also announced in April, saw less Fox News coverage than Ocasio-Cortez over those seven days. Warren and Booker saw less coverage, too. Sanders and Harris receiving slightly more attention.

It’s worth noting that these are purely quantitative results that don’t examine the substance or tenor of AOC coverage on FoxNews.com. But what’s clear from this analysis is that, from the standpoint of Fox, Ocasio-Cortez is worth covering a whole lot more than individual 2020 candidates. Is that an explicit strategy?

Below, every Foxnews.com story published mentioning “Ocasio-Cortez” between January 15 and May 1, 2019, sourced from Media Cloud.

Storybench’s editor is Aleszu Bajak, a science journalist and former Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT. He is an alum of Science Friday, the founder of LatinAmericanScience.org, and is passionate about breaking down the divide between journalists, developers and designers.

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