Trump has recaptured cable TV’s attention

Photo by ALASTAIR PIKE/AFP/Getty Images.

As the 2024 primary season ramps up into full swing, former president Donald Trump is making news both as the front-runner for the Republican Party’s nomination and due to the trials and indictments he is facing. According to closed-captioning data from the Internet Archive’s TV News Archive, Trump has been mentioned in 38 percent more clips on the big three national cable news networks—CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News—than President Joe Biden has this year so far.

Right about now, journalists who covered the 2016 election cycle may be experiencing some déjà vu. But there is one significant difference. Fox News viewers are seeing more coverage about the incumbent Democratic president.

This was not the case before the 2016 primaries. During that cycle, all three networks were more focused on Trump than on Hillary Clinton.

In fact, at this point before the 2016 election, Trump and Clinton received nearly equal amounts of coverage. But after the Iowa caucuses, in the early part of the election year, cable TV’s coverage of Trump quickly outpaced that of Clinton and he continued to dominate the cable news airwaves through the general election.

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We won’t find out until after January 15, the day of the Iowa Republican caucus, whether that pattern will hold this time.

The Internet TV News Archive chops up closed-captioning data into fifteen-second clips, which we queried using GDELT’s API. If a candidate is mentioned more than once in a fifteen-second window, that is still counted as only one clip.

We also analyzed the amount of time Biden’s and Trump’s faces appeared on cable TV news each day via the Stanford Cable TV News Analyzer, which leverages AI facial recognition to compute these totals. This analysis yielded similar results.

Meghnad Bose, Matthew Danbury and Dhrumil Mehta are, respectively, an award-winning multimedia journalist, a physicist-turned-data-journalist, and the deputy director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism.