When it comes to cable news attention, not even a deadly, multibillion-dollar natural disaster can compete with a controversy drummed up by President Donald Trump.
According to a study carried out by Media Matters for America, prime-time cable news gave the NFL controversy set off by Trump’s incendiary comments more than triple the segments it gave California’s historic wildfires in the week following each event.
In the week after Trump criticized NFL players who’ve kneeled during pre-game national anthems to protest racist police brutality, CNN, MSNBC and Fox News devoted a combined 136 segments to discussing those Sept. 22 comments he made during a campaign rally in Alabama, his further remarks on the protests and the resulting controversy.
CNN aired 62 segments, MSNBC did 28 and Fox devoted 46 segments to the NFL story.
By comparison, the study found, the networks aired a combined 38 segments the week after the worst wildfires in California history began ravaging the northern part of the state on Oct. 8.
CNN aired 19 segments on the wildfires, MSNBC did nine and Fox News 10.
That amounts to 358 percent more coverage for the NFL controversy set off by Trump, the study found.
While the players’ protests “raise important concerns about racism and police brutality,” Media Matters noted, Trump’s inflammatory comments suggesting NFL owners “get that son of a bitch off the field right now” when a player kneels during the anthem did not address the issues they were protesting.
Even in the week following the start of the fires, when Trump’s initial comments about the NFL players were 17 days old and the wildfires were at their most destructive, Fox News still devoted twice as many segments to the NFL controversy than to the deadly blazes, which have since killed more than 40 people.
That coverage focus, Media Matters argued, highlights a problem with cable news channels prioritizing Trump coverage because of the ratings boost it has brought them.
″[T]he fact that coverage of a Trump-triggered controversy going into its third week can still compete with and even exceed coverage of historically devastating wildfires puts a fine point on just how bad the problem is.”
Even without a new controversy coming out of Trump’s White House, cable news coverage of the president may still take precedent over that of devastating natural disasters. Upon the news in late August that Hurricane Harvey would make landfall in Texas, Politico noted at the time, cable news led with stories about probes into Russian interference into the 2016 election, questions about who would pay for Trump’s Mexico border wall and the removal of Confederate monuments.