Casey Anthony Trial Got More News Coverage Than GOP Candidates
The biggest news story of the past six weeks was something completely trivial.
Until yesterday’s verdict, which prompted posts from myself, James Joyner, and Dodd Harris, we haven’t covered the Casey Anthony trial here at OTB. Not surprisingly you cannot say the same thing for the broadcast and cable news media:
A Smart Politics study of Lexis-Nexis transcripts from CNN, FOX, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and NPR found more news reports mentioned the Casey Anthony trial at least one time than any of the 10+ major and minor Republican presidential candidates since opening statements were delivered on May 24th.
The Anthony murder case was covered in 899 reports overall, with Mitt Romney mentioned in 764, followed by Michele Bachmann at 609, Tim Pawlenty at 454, Newt Gingrich at 438, and Herman Cain at 321.
Trailing further behind were 2012 newcomers and long-shot Republican candidates Jon Huntsman at 299 reports, Ron Paul at 269, Rick Santorum at 251, Thad McCotter at 30, Gary Johnson at 19, and Buddy Roemer at one.
It’s worth noting that this study only counts the number of times a subject matter was mentioned and doesn’t reflect the amount of time spent on the topic. However, given the obsessive analysis I saw last night on the verdict, I think we can assume that each mention of Casey Anthony was likely accompanied by a news story that lasted longer than the average news story on, say, Jon Huntsman.
Not surprisingly, CNN and its sister network HLN came in first with some 567 mentions over the past 42 days. ABC News was second with 173 reports about the case, Fox News was next at 122 mentions, and then CBS at 36 mentions. Oddly, MSNBC is only credited with one mention of the trial in 42 days, but this doesn’t seem right. Just from my own anecdotal experience it seems like the story was covered much more than that, but that may be reflection of the fact that MSNBC does not make all of its programming transcripts available to LEXIS/NEXIS.
In any case, while this is depressing in some sense, it is hardly surprising. The television media, especially the cable networks, tends to focus obsessively on trivialities like the Anthony trial, and the audience seems to eat it up. Ed Morrissey looks at the numbers and sees a case of misplaced priorities on the part of the media:
Yesterday, we heard from a number of commenters and readers about their frustration with the blanket coverage of the trial. The numbers show that they have a point, and that the national media has a problem with its priorities.
Really? I’m not so sure. Certainly people like Ed and I, and probably most of the people who read our respective blogs, would prefer it if the cable networks spend less time on nonsese like this (or other stories like the Natalee Holloway case or, to go back further in time, Jon Benet Ramsey). However, it’s clear that the networks cover these stories because they bring in viewers in numbers that political coverage doesn’t, especially this far out from an election. As much as I’d like to think I lived in a country where people focused only on important issues, we most clearly don’t and, since the networks are money making enterprises, they have to appeal to their audience.
You need look no further for proof of that than the ratings of HLN, which usually plays the role of CNN’s forgotten stepchild, as trial frenzy heated up:
The case’s robust ratings, both locally and nationally, were fueled not only by tabloid-ready details, but also by social media, which routinely hummed with the trial’s inner workings, according to media experts. During the trial, local ratings showed that more than half of TV sets in Orlando were tuned into the trial’s live coverage at any given time.
But far away from the Disney-dominated tourist hub, trial coverage ratings set new records as well. Viewers latched onto the salacious case and its shocking conclusion, boosting the wall-to-wall coverage on cable channel HLN to the best ratings in its history.
The network, second only to Fox News in June, saw dramatic jumps in its audience, as much as 86% in prime time thanks to extensive trial coverage, with spikes that initially came from the Midwest (Chicago) and South (Atlanta) but expanded to major markets like Los Angeles and New York.
Meanwhile, the Miami Herald, Washington Post, RadarOnline and the Daily Beast were among the outlets to live-stream the case, as did local stations around the country such as WSPA in Spartanburg, S.C. And two media companies, Progressive Lifestyles and Orlando’s WESH-TV parent Hearst TV, even launched digital apps with live streaming, news stories, case files and updates — both of which instantly became big sellers.
Don’t blame the media completely for this. As the old saying goes, we have met the enemy and he is us.
Update: Brian Stetler confirms the Casey Anthony trial ratings spike:
The conclusion of the Casey Anthony trial in Florida prompted spikes in television viewership on Tuesday, especially for the cable news channel HLN, which drew its biggest total audience in its 29-year-old history.
Between 2:15 and 2:30 p.m. Eastern, when Ms. Anthony and viewers learned that she was found not guilty of murdering her daughter Caylee, 5.2 million people were watching HLN, an increase of 1,700 percent over the channel’s usual audience of 283,000 people at that time of day.
About two million people had been watching HLN earlier in the afternoon in anticipation of the verdict. When the court announced at 1:30 p.m. that the verdict was about to be read, the audience quickly more than doubled, presumably thanks in part to social media Web sites like Facebook and Twitter, where people alerted their friends to the news.
Audiences for other cable news channels also more than doubled between 1:30 and 2:15. HLN’s sister channel CNN, for instance, had about 404,000 people watching between 1:15 and 1:30 on Tuesday, and that number more than quintupled to 2.3 million between 2:15 and 2:30 p.m. (The Nielsen Company shares ratings averages in 15-minute chunks with its clients.)
The Fox News Channel, normally the highest-rated of all the cable news channels, had about 1.08 million viewers between 1:15 and 1:30, and that number nearly tripled to 2.9 million between 2:15 and 2:30. MSNBC’s audience also nearly tripled, from about 359,000 viewers between 1:15 and 1:30 to 920,000 viewers between 2:15 and 2:30.
And that’s just for the verdict announcement. Don’t blame the media, they’re just giving the people what they want.