CNN Spends 78 Percent of Prime Time GOP Campaign Coverage on Trump

When the GOP candidates assemble on CNN's stage Wednesday night, they will be appearing on a network that has virtually ignored most of them, while spending vast amounts of time covering the now-frontrunner, businessman Donald Trump.

Back on August 23, CNN’s own senior media correspondent Brian Stelter on CNN’s Reliable Sources acknowledged, “Trump is the media's addiction. When he speaks, he is given something no other candidate gets. That's wall-to-wall coverage here on cable news. He sucks up all the oxygen.” Yet, even after that admission, CNN continued to elevate Trump far beyond his GOP peers.

A Media Research Center study finds that, over a two week period, coverage of Donald Trump’s campaign took up nearly 78 percent of all CNN’s prime time GOP campaign coverage – 580 minutes out of a total of 747 minutes. All 16 non-Trump candidates got a combined total of just 167 minutes, much of which was spent comparing them to Trump. More than half of the remaining candidate coverage went to Jeb Bush with almost 12 percent (88 minutes). Twelve of the 17 candidates didn’t even break one percent of the coverage (although Rick Perry has since dropped out of the race, he was still a candidate during the time period analyzed). 


To put that in perspective, Trump’s 580 minutes of coverage averages out to more than 25 percent of total programming for the ten days analyzed (after you subtract commercials, each hour-long broadcast takes up roughly 45 minutes).

This study looked at prime time (7pm through 11 pm) weekday news coverage on CNN for the two week period from August 24 to September 4, including Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360 and CNN Tonight with Don Lemon (the 9pm hour was either a second hour of CNN Tonight or a second hour of AC360, depending on the day).

Three Trump campaign events were broadcast in their entirety during these two weeks, not including replays of press conferences that had already occurred. No press conferences for any of the other 16 candidates were broadcast. CNN even bumped its own special commemorating the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina to cover a Trump press conference in Iowa.

Even when other candidates were interviewed live on the network, Trump still dominated the air time. On the August 28 OutFront, Scott Walker was interviewed for 6 minutes, before a 12 minute, 34 second Trump press conference was broadcast live. Besides the press conference, Trump got more than 15 minutes additional minutes of coverage during that broadcast, while Walker only received an additional 7 seconds.

In addition to the coverage of his campaign events, Trump had two interviews with CNN during this time frame, while Jim Gilmore, Ben Carson and Scott Walker had one each (listed in order of appearance).

While Jim Gilmore’s 6 minutes of air time might seem like a lot for such a low-profile candidate, all of that time consisted of an interview he did with CNN in his capacity as former governor of Virginia, in order to weigh in on the shooting of two journalists in Roanoke. His campaign was only briefly referenced during this segment. Meanwhile, the entire 6 seconds of coverage each given to Huckabee and Santorum consisted of references to their earlier presidential campaigns.

This CNN coverage mirrored the campaign coverage on the broadcast networks. During the same time frame, the evening news shows on ABC, CBS and NBC spent almost 75 percent of the total campaign coverage on Trump, with nearly 15 percent for Bush and just under 5 percent for Carson. Since he announced his candidacy on June 16, Trump has dominated the network coverage. Through August 31, Trump alone had received 233 minutes of coverage on the three broadcast evening newscasts, or 48 percent of the GOP candidate total so far this year.

Mike Ciandella
Mike Ciandella
Mike Ciandella is a research analyst for the MRC's News Analysis Division