In the effort to cover impeachment inquiry, media ignores 2020 candidates

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There are less than two weeks until the next Democratic debate and mainstream media outlets have seemed to send nearly every reporter to cover the impeachment inquiry at the expense of reporting on the upcoming presidential election.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump has seized the attention of the nation’s largest media outlets, including that of the three highest-circulation daily papers in the U.S. – The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

The top stories on their homepage and “politics” sections – as well as the front pages of their print editions on October 1 – feature a raft of stories on impeachment: how Rudy Giuliani received a subpoena from the House; the Times breaking that the whistleblower is in the CIA and the Twitter debate over whether they should have published that information; Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly being on the now infamous call with Ukraine; play-by-plays nearly every 15 minutes on what is being said about impeachment, the whistleblower and Trump’s reactions

A screenshot of The New York Times’ politics section on October 1, 2019.

There is a lot of recycled content and overstated analysis here. So with new information being sparse, why are media giants turning all of their attention to the issue of impeachment and ignoring the candidates fighting to defeat Trump next year?  Missing from the milieu is coverage of the 2020 candidates.

To be sure, one 2020 candidate is being talked about – former Vice President Joe Biden – due to his son being the subject of Trump’s call to Ukraine’s president. This exposure, though, could bode well for his campaign; Indeed, the exposure effect has been a strong influencing strategy for political campaigns since psychologist Robert Zajonc defined it in this 1968 study.

But as for the other 2020 candidates, they have visibly fallen off the media’s radar in the last week, as our analysis of 32 mainstream online media organizations collected through Media Cloud shows. 

A look into the papers’ own archives reveals a similar demotion of stories on the 2020 election in favor of the impeachment inquiry. The New York Times’ official Guide to the 2020 Election has 365 results for “impeachment” over the past seven days. There are only 189 results for “2020 election” over the same time frame.

It will be interesting to see how long this media trend lasts as impeachment proceedings march on. Stay tuned to Storybench’s 2020 Election Coverage Tracker for updates.

Alexa is a master’s student at Northeastern University’s School of Journalism in the Media Innovation program. She is the digital editor of The Scope.

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