The liberal-skewing cable news channel MSNBC missed the biggest left-wing congressional primary upset in a generation. The network failed to provide any news coverage of the populist progressive campaign of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez against entrenched moderate incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley, the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, in the party’s primary for a New York congressional seat.
Not everyone at Rockefeller Center, however, failed to see the writing on the wall. Just as Crowley scrambled amid late-campaign internal polls showing Ocasio-Cortez gaining ground, MSNBC’s parent company donated to the incumbent’s bid to save his seat.
Not everyone at Rockefeller Center failed to see the writing on the wall.
NBC Universal donated $3,000 to Crowley through its political action committee just 13 days before the June 26 primary. The PAC donation was listed on Crowley’s second-quarter campaign disclosure, which was filed with the Federal Election Commission on Sunday evening.
The network’s top political talent expressed shock at the Ocasio-Cortez upset, suggesting that no one saw her victory coming.
“Pretty much all of political journalism are doing an Ocasio-Cortez crash course tonight, myself included,” wrote MSNBC host Joy Reid on Twitter. On election night, Rachel Maddow, one of the network’s most popular stars, referred to Ocasio-Cortez as “this out-of-nowhere challenger.”
The corporate parent of MSNBC, however, maintained close ties to Crowley. Not only has the network routinely invited Crowley on as a guest and donated to his campaign in the past, but, as we previously reported, NBC Universal also retained Crowley’s brother John “Sean” Crowley as a lobbyist.
Lopsided coverage of political campaigns is endemic on the major television channels. During the last presidential race, the major networks devoted 17 hours of coverage of the campaign during weekday newscasts during 2015. Of the candidate-specific segments, Donald Trump received the vast majority of the coverage, with 327 minutes, followed by Hillary Clinton with 121 minutes. The insurgent Democratic campaign of Bernie Sanders, by contrast, received only 20 minutes of coverage during the same period, according to the Tyndall Report.
The Ocasio-Cortez race, notably, was covered by local media outlets, including the Queens Tribune and the Long Island City-Astoria Journal. Online publications such as the Young Turks and Splinter News also featured Ocasio-Cortez in the run-up to the election. The Intercept published nearly a dozen stories about the race, reporting not only on Ocasio-Cortez and the unique features of her campaign, but also unearthing new information about Crowley and his political machine.
Meanwhile, many mainstream outlets completely missed the race. The New York Times failed to provide a single news story focusing on the race, with the exception of an editorial chastising Crowley for sending a surrogate to a debate. “Kind of pisses me off that @nytimes is still asking Who Is Ocasio-Cortez? when it should have covered her campaign,” tweeted Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of the Times. “Missing her rise akin to not seeing Trump’s win coming in 2016.”
MSNBC, which bills itself as the “Place for Politics,” did not air any dedicated segments about campaign until election night.