THE DEMOCRACY SPRING, a protest movement calling on Congress to “end the corruption of big money in our politics” and “ensure free and fair elections,” converged on Capitol Hill on Monday, staging a nonviolent sit-in that resulted in over 400 arrests — a massive number by Washington sit-in standards.
While the action, dubbed #DemocracySpring, garnered wide coverage on social media and over 136,000 tweets, cable news programs found little time to cover the political protests, instead focusing largely on horse-race coverage of the presidential candidates for most of the day.
During daytime and afternoon news segments, CNN did not devote any coverage to the actions. MSNBC mentioned the protests for approximately 12 seconds, while Fox News mentioned the arrests and discussed the protests for about 17 seconds.
MSNBC and Fox News not only provided minimal coverage, but hosts on both networks misrepresented the protests, claiming they were narrowly focused only on “voting rights issues.” The focus on systemic political corruption, an issue that was widely criticized during the rally yesterday, was ignored.
Later in the day, CNN posted a short item on its website. The protests were widely covered by CSPAN, Al Jazeera, and NPR, among other outlets. But cable news programs, which specialize in American political news, were another story.
Compare the paltry coverage to a lengthy CNN segment last May, when host Wolf Blitzer featured a correspondent reporting from the scene of a fringe anti-Muslim rally in Phoenix. Left-wing protests in particular have often been ignored by mainstream media coverage.
The parent companies of cable news networks are closely tied to the Washington establishment being challenged by protesters on Monday, both spending and receiving some of the big money the protesters are complaining about.
Comcast, parent company of MSNBC, is among the biggest spenders on political lobbying, and its senior management has raised thousands of campaign dollars for congressional Republicans and Hillary Clinton. Other broadcasting companies have lobbied in recent years against reforms that would diminish the role of big money in election campaigns largely because the bulk of campaign funds are spent on television advertisements, a major source of revenue for television programs. Elizabeth Wilner, senior vice president at Kantar, a media analysis firm, estimated that $4.4 billion would be spent on television ads during the election cycle this year.
Network executives have hardly been shy about celebrating the cash windfall, most notably CBS chief Les Moonves.
Before the demonstrators were arrested, the protesters discussed lack of media coverage for their cause and chanted: “Where is CNN?”