Hillary Clinton’s official presidential announcement was a golden opportunity for networks to demand the former Secretary of State respond to unanswered questions about her e-mail scandal. Yet in the flurry of coverage since her official rollout (April 12 - April 20) the e-mail scandal garnered a total of just 3 minutes, 53 seconds* on the Big Three (ABC, CBS, NBC) evening and morning shows.
Even a new angle on the e-mail scandal – the New York Times reported April 14 that Clinton never responded to a congressional inquiry [in December of 2012] that “directly asked” if she had used a private e-mail account – failed to re-ignite the interest networks initially showed when the scandal first broke in March.
Over the past five weeks, all three broadcast networks have essentially walked away from covering the ex-Secretary of State’s secret extra-governmental e-mail server and the possible loss of crucial documents needed by the House Select Committee investigating the 2012 Benghazi attacks, with coverage on ABC, CBS and NBC’s morning and evening news shows falling by more than 93 percent from the levels seen in early March.
When news first broke that Clinton improperly used her own private e-mail account, the Big Three networks actually jumped to cover the story, filling their evening and morning shows with a total of 124 minutes and 55 seconds of airtime (NBC: 53 minutes, 51 seconds; CBS: 36 minutes, 39 seconds; ABC: 34 minutes, 25 seconds) within the first two weeks (March 3-16) of coverage that encompassed Hillary Clinton’s March 10 press conference.
But despite pundits and journalists like NBC’s Chuck Todd insisting that Clinton’s press conference “didn’t satisfy her media critics” a look at the coverage in the ensuing weeks shows they lost a lot of their interest in the story.
In the third week, (March 17-23), the networks reduced their coverage of the latest Clinton controversy to just 1 minute and 59 seconds (NBC: 23 seconds; CBS: 29 seconds; ABC: 1 minute, 7 seconds).
In the fourth week (March 24-30), the stunning news that Clinton’s own attorney admitted her server had been wiped clean caused a brief spike in coverage -- but even that development generated just 11 minutes and 14 seconds of airtime (ABC: 1 minute, 32 seconds; CBS: 4 minutes, 48 seconds; NBC: 4 minutes, 54 seconds).
By week 5 (March 31-April 6) the story was virtually non-existent drawing just 1 minute and 16 seconds total coverage. (ABC: 0; CBS: 29 seconds; NBC: 47 seconds).
During week 6 (April 7-13), anticipation of Clinton’s official announcement, and the announcement itself on April 12, caused some reporters to bring up the e-mail imbroglio but even then the bump was minor, as it garnered just 5 minutes and 1 second of coverage (CBS: 1 minute, 38 seconds; NBC: 3 minutes, 15 seconds). Former Clinton administration press spokesman George Stephanopoulos’s network (ABC) could only manage just an 8 second mention.
And when the e-mail controversy was actually brought up in Clinton announcement stories, it was framed as an annoying issue those pesky Republicans refuse to drop. NBC’s Chuck Todd, on the April 10 Nightly News, noted: “Well, Republicans are trying to do everything they can to hit her and hit her hard. E-mails is something that they want to hit her on. Rand Paul who, of course, announced this week used a lot of his speech to try to go after Clinton and go after on ethics and things like that.”
Even though unanswered questions still persist (Why was her private server wiped clean? Was there incriminating evidence in those e-mails regarding the Benghazi investigation or Clinton Foundation donations? Could a foreign nation, like Russia, have hacked her server?) the networks have essentially discarded the story, reducing their coverage to just a total of 2 minutes and 11 seconds (CBS: 14 seconds, ABC: 42 seconds, NBC: 1 minute, 15 seconds) by the seventh week.
CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley may have signaled the decline in interest when he dismissed the controversy as something that would fall along partisan lines. On the evening of Clinton’s March 10 press conference Pelley huffed: “Well, it’s one of those stories that gets Washington hyperventilating. Today, Hillary Clinton explained why she used private e-mail to conduct official business as Secretary of State....The partisans are going to believe what they want to believe. There’s no chance any minds were changed there today, so what difference does any of this make in Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination?”
The waning interest in this latest Clinton controversy actually follows a familiar pattern of the networks initially covering Obama era scandals (IRS, Benghazi, VA) only to drop them like a hot potato and sadly seems to validate the Clinton strategy of stonewalling until they and their allies in the media can claim a controversy is old news and move on without ever really getting to the bottom of the story.
*UPDATE: An earlier edition of this story read: “Yet in the flurry of coverage since her official rollout (April 12 - April 20) the e-mail scandal garnered a total of just 7 minutes, 12 seconds on the Big Three (ABC, CBS, NBC) evening and morning shows.” That sentence has now been corrected to read: “Yet in the flurry of coverage since her official rollout (April 12 - April 20) the e-mail scandal garnered a total of just 3 minutes, 53 seconds on the Big Three (ABC, CBS, NBC) evening and morning shows.”