If journalists were interested in fairness, there's nothing more basic than giving a similar amount of airtime to each major party convention. An MRC analysis finds that's exactly what CBS and ABC did, giving virtually identical airtime to the Republican and Democratic conventions on their morning and evening news shows.
But NBC skewed in favor of the Democrats, donating 25 percent more coverage to the Democratic National Convention (121 minutes) than they did the previous week's Republican convention (97 minutes). Most of the disparity is accounted for by the Today show, which gave 30 percent more coverage to the Democrats (87 minutes vs. 67 minutes), although the NBC Nightly News also favored the Democrats, albeit by a slighter margin (34 to 30 minutes).
In contrast, ABC and CBS gave nearly matching amounts of coverage to the two parties. CBS gave the Republicans 163 minutes of total airtime, vs. 161 for the Democrats; ABC gave 73 minutes to the Republicans vs. 72 minutes for the Democrats. In both cases, the difference amounts to barely one percent.
On August 30th, Matt Lauer touted the President's campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, and her dismissal of Paul Ryan's speech: "[She] said, 'Forty minutes of vitriol and half a dozen previously debunked attacks.'"
Today co-host Savannah Guthrie teased an interview with Paul Ryan by pushing "criticism that he's played fast and loose with the truth."
The very same Guthrie offered up a softball interview to Democratic convention speaker Elizabeth Warren, wondering, "Is it your job here, as you understand it, to argue that Mitt Romney is the personification of that Wall Street greed and excess?"
On August 29th, Today panelist Donny Deutsch panned GOP speaker Chris Christie as a "bully."
The journalists of Today were much more thrilled with Democratic speakers. On September 6, guest David Gregory gushed over Bill Clinton: "Bill Clinton simply owned the room here, stayed longer than he was supposed to, but nobody seemed to mind....it was an appearance that was the height of political stagecraft."
Even Joe Scarborough, who is supposed to represent the right on NBC and MSNBC, appeared on the September 7 Today to gloat that the Democratic convention creamed the GOP like Muhammad Ali's victory over a little-known boxer.
On September 5, Chuck Todd appeared on Today to marvel that Michelle Obama "had a hold on the delegates in this hall in a way that no speaker was able to do in Tampa."
ABC and CBS provided no contrast when it came to the time devoted to the conventions. CBS offered 161 minutes for the Democrats and slightly more for the Republicans, 163 minutes.
ABC showed the least interest in the conventions, a mere 72 minutes for the Democrats and 73 for the Republicans. CBS more than doubled the convention totals of ABC.
Good Morning America's convention coverage would often feature six to seven minutes recapping the previous night and that would be it. The supposedly serious news show would then move to crime, fashion or promoting the latest ABC entertainment program.
When George Stephanopoulos joined GMA in December of 2009, the AP insisted that ABC would be shifting towards more serious coverage: "[Stephanopoulos'] selection coincides with a mission by 'GMA' to shift more toward harder news, particularly in the show's first 45 minutes..."
Clearly, that has not happened.
However, it is NBC that stands out the most, both in the amount of coverage and the hostility towards the Republican speakers.
This analysis looked at the morning and evening newscasts of all three networks. This included Today, NBC Nightly News, CBS This Morning, the CBS Evening News, Good Morning America and World News. The dates included were August 27-31 and September 3-7.
Thanks to MRC analysts Matt Balan and Kyle Drennen and intern Jeffrey Meyer for their assistance.