In the six weeks since then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy authorized the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden for potential influence peddling, the broadcast evening newscasts have shown no interest in adequately covering the investigation. It’s a massive double-standard compared to their ravenous interest into Democrats’ 2019 impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
From the day the inquiry into Biden was authorized (September 12) through October 23, ABC’s World News Tonight provided a grand total of just under six minutes of airtime (5 minutes, 53 seconds), not even one minute per week. NBC Nightly News was barely better — just six minutes, 26 seconds of coverage spread over 42 days — while the CBS Evening News contributed eight minutes, 19 seconds of coverage to the Biden impeachment inquiry.
[During these six weeks, the network evening newscasts also aired a combined 22 minutes, 47 seconds on Hunter Biden’s legal woes without discussing the impeachment investigation. There were also three minutes, five seconds of airtime devoted to Special Prosecutor Robert Hur’s investigation into President Biden’s mishandling of classified documents; none of those stories mentioned the impeachment inquiry, either.]
In contrast, during the first six weeks of House Democrats’ 2019 inquiry into Trump (September 24 through November 5), those same newscasts churned out a staggering 398 minutes of coverage, or about twenty times more airtime than they’ve supplied to the Biden impeachment inquiry this year (a not-so-grand total of just 20 minutes, 38 seconds).
■ Bashing Republicans, Exonerating Biden: In 2019, the networks jubilantly reacted to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s authorization of the inquiry against President Trump. “A rare and historic move,” ABC anchor David Muir proclaimed on September 24, 2019. “This is an historic day, no doubt about it,” correspondent Terry Moran declared a few minutes later. “A momentous step by Speaker Pelosi.”
Fast-forward four years. This time, the networks aren’t saluting the “history” being made by congressional investigators. Instead, reporters are critical because the inquiry is supposedly beginning without evidence of Biden’s alleged corruption.
“House Republicans have alleged that the President has profited off the foreign business dealings of his son, Hunter, and lied about it, but have provided no direct evidence to prove those claims,” NBC’s Garrett Haake claimed on the September 12 Nightly News.
On ABC’s World News Tonight that same evening, correspondent Rachel Scott scoffed that the GOP “spent nine months investigating whether, as Vice President, Joe Biden made decisions to help his son and enrich himself, but they’ve come up empty.”
While the amount of coverage is small, the direction of the media’s spin is easy to calculate: During these six weeks, we found seven statements from reporters suggesting the Republicans were wrong to have launched the impeachment effort, and nineteen statements portraying Biden as innocent due to the supposed lack of evidence against him. (This tally excludes soundbites from Democrats and Republicans.) There were zero pro-Republican or anti-Biden comments from reporters in the stories we examined.
“From the start, the Republicans have faced a problem: Despite months of investigations, they have no concrete evidence of any wrongdoing by the President,” ABC’s Terry Moran argued on September 28, the day of the first public hearings in the investigation.
■ Oh, That Evidence: Media declarations notwithstanding, by the time McCarthy approved the inquiry into Biden, House investigators had already built a strong case that Hunter Biden had made a fortune trading on his father’s name, along with a decent amount of circumstantial evidence that Joe Biden knew about this and likely profited himself.
In May, for example, the committee reported how bank records showed how Hunter Biden and others in the family created 20 shell companies to receive foreign payments. In August, the committee reported that payments to the Bidens via these companies from overseas totalled at least $20 million. By September, the calculated amount had risen to $24 million in identified payments.
Then in June, Fox News reported that a confidential FBI informant related how an executive with the Ukrainian gas company Burisma had talked about giving Joe Biden a $5 million bribe.
That same month, the UK’s Daily Mail published a voice mail from Joe Biden to his son showing that the President’s repeated claim that he “never” talked about Hunter’s foreign business dealings was false.
As MRC’s Geoffrey Dickens documented, the broadcast networks that ridiculed Republicans’ supposed lack of evidence mentioned none of this on either their morning or evening news programs.
And just last Friday (October 20), even more evidence came to light: House Republicans exhibited a copy of a $200,000 check made out to Joe Biden from his brother, Jim. It was made out on the same day Jim Biden received a hefty $600,000 payment from a rural hospital operator “based upon representations that his last name ‘Biden’ could open doors, and that he could obtain a large investment from the Middle East based on his political connections.”
As MRC’s Nicholas Fondacaro detailed, this evidence was also excluded from network newscasts.
■ In 2019, networks pounded Trump with anonymous quotes: While this year the networks are instructing viewers that there is no evidence against Biden, in 2019 the networks enthusiastically criticized Trump using unverified and anonymous information.
Unlike this year, there were no public hearings during the initial six weeks of the Trump investigation. Instead, network news stories were built from second-hand accounts of behind-the-scenes testimony, often recounted to reporters by Democrats. “We begin with what the Democrats tonight are calling the most damaging testimony yet in the impeachment inquiry,” ABC’s Muir told viewers on his October 22, 2019 broadcast, referring to the closed-door deposition of U.S. Ambassador William Taylor.
“Democrats in the room say there were audible gasps and sighs,” correspondent Mary Bruce relayed a few minutes later, even though no reporters had witnessed either the gasps or the sighs.
A week later, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman told his story in private where, once again, no reporter could know for sure what was happening. Nonetheless, CBS Evening News anchor Norah O’Donnell was happy to tell her viewers how “one Democrat is calling today’s testimony ‘the nail in the coffin.’”
Yet even with the lack of on-the-record information, the networks cranked out nearly 20 times more coverage during this phase of the Trump inquiry vs. the current Biden investigation. Our study in 2019 found more than half — 59 percent — of all evening news stories about that impeachment inquiry were based, at least in part, on anonymous quotes.
Imagine if the networks this year ran hours of anti-Biden coverage based on blind quotes from Republican summaries of testimony that reporters weren’t able to confirm for themselves. But that’s essentially what they did four years ago — only to have a complete meltdown after Trump was acquitted.
For more examples from our flashback series, which we call the NewsBusters Time Machine, go here.