From [HERE] With midterm elections just 14 days away, you might not think that a group of migrants more than 1,000 miles away from the nearest U.S. border would be a leading story across all three cable news networks. You would be wrong.
What started out as one of Fox News’ pet issues has become a major media narrative thanks to the feedback loop between the network and President Donald Trump. CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC spent a combined 15 hours covering the migrant caravan between Monday, October 15, and Sunday, October 21. Fox News led the charge, covering the story both first and the most -- for nearly eight hours. In the same week-long period, CNN covered the issue for four and a half hours, while MSNBC devoted two and a half hours to the migrant caravan. While the tone of the coverage varied among the networks, one thing is clear across all three: Their priorities just two weeks out from midterms elections are skewed.
Fox had spent 20 minutes over the mornings of October 15 and 16 talking about the migrant caravan before Trump first tweeted a threat to take aid away from Honduras if the caravan wasn’t stopped. He tweeted a similar message Tuesday night. Trump’s tweets -- which were undoubtedly spurred by Fox News’ coverage of the caravan -- are what first gave this issue life on CNN and MSNBC. CNN’s and MSNBC’s first mentions of the migrants occurred Tuesday night, when a host on each network reacted to Trump’s tweets about cutting aid.
By Wednesday, October 17, Trump was already trying to use the caravan to try to benefit Republicans. In a tweet that morning, the president called the caravan a “Great Midterm issue for Republicans!” Wednesday night, Newt Gingrich appeared on Fox News and stated, “I think two words are going to define the night of the 2018 election in the next three weeks. One is Kavanaugh and the other is caravan,” referring to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Trump picked right up on that talking point, echoing it at a rally the next day in Montana, after falsely tweeting that there are “MANY CRIMINALS” in the group of migrants and threatening to use the military to “CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!” As the days passed, Trump continued to tweet misspelled lies about the caravan creating “a National Emergy” and somehow blamed Democrats for the issue even though Republicans have control of all three branches of the federal government.
As Trump’s focus on the caravan ramped up, so did the networks’ coverage:
Not only did Fox News successfully spur coverage of the caravan across the other networks by getting Trump to tweet about it, but it also managed to frame the conversation around the midterms. MSNBC repeatedly aired clips of Gingrich’s “Kavanaugh” and “caravan” comments to drive conversation about immigration and the midterms.
While all the networks overplayed coverage of the caravan, their tones varied. CNN and MSNBC were more likely to highlight Trump’s lies and fear tactics, as well as the plight of the migrants, while more often than not Fox’s coverage was aimed at stoking fear. Nonetheless, the sheer amount of time devoted to the topic across all three networks is disproportionate, creating the false impression of a real crisis.
The wall-to-wall coverage is reminiscent of the networks’ treatment of the federal government response to Ebola in 2014. Shortly before that year’s midterm elections, Republicans settled on a strategy of using the diagnosis of Ebola in a handful of U.S. patients to inflame fears about the Obama administration’s management of the disease. Television media played into the GOP’s hands, running nearly 1,000 frequently alarmist segments about the virus in the four weeks before the election. [MORE]