Updated Oct 10, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Cable's house of mirrors: Fox focuses on Hunter Biden, MSNBC on Trump

Data: Stanford Cable TV News Analyzer; Chart: Tory Lysik and Simran Parwani/Axios Visuals
Data: Stanford Cable TV News Analyzer; Chart: Tory Lysik and Simran Parwani/Axios Visuals

Fox News has covered Hunter Biden significantly more than CNN and MSNBC during the past year, according to new data that shed light on how news networks' emphasis of certain storylines shape what viewers see.

Why it matters: The contrasting coverage is a sign of how Republicans and conservative media voices are likely to focus on the president's son through the 2024 election, as he contests criminal charges and is at the heart of House Republicans' impeachment inquiry of Joe Biden.

By the numbers: Fox News, which includes conservative hosts alongside reporters, also has covered Hunter Biden twice as much as it's covered presidential candidate Ron DeSantis in the past year, according to an analysis of data pulled from the Stanford Cable TV News Analyzer.

  • Mentions of "Joe Biden" have amounted to an average of 56 minutes of coverage per month in the past year on Fox News, while mentions of "Donald Trump" have averaged 33 minutes a month.
  • Mentions of "Hunter Biden" and "Ron DeSantis" averaged 27 minutes and 12 minutes per month, respectively.
  • Fox's coverage of Hunter began increasing in May, as news of a potential plea deal on his firearm charges spread.
  • The coverage continued to step up as the plea deal unraveled in July, new criminal charges were filed in September, and the House GOP began an impeachment inquiry of the president that focuses on Hunter's business dealings.

Those coverage trends are reversed on MSNBC, which has focused on Trump and DeSantis significantly more than cable rivals Fox News and CNN.

  • Mentions of "Donald Trump" on MSNBC were more than four times as frequent, on average per month, than mentions of "Joe Biden" — and seven times more often than mentions of "Hunter Biden."
  • MSNBC has consistently mentioned Trump more than its cable news counterparts in the past year, but the average number of monthly minutes with close-caption mentions of the former president ramped up amid his four indictments from April to August.

Between the lines: There is resentment in conservative circles for how major media organizations dismissed stories before the 2020 election about Hunter Biden and a recovered hard drive with much of Hunter's digital information, including details about his business dealings.

  • Media organizations have since verified the authenticity of some of the information on the hard drive, but there are still debates over how that data was obtained and whether some of it was falsified.

Zoom in: The New York Post, which like Fox News is owned by Murdoch-controlled News Corp., has focused even more on Hunter Biden than Fox has, relative to other political figures.

  • During the past year, the Post has published 784 articles about or at least mentioning Hunter Biden — an average of more than two a day — according to LexisNexis.
  • The Post has published nearly as many stories about or mentioning Joe Biden — 821.
  • It published 1,683 about or mentioning Trump, and 552 on DeSantis in the same period.
  • In the past year, the Post has published more articles with the "Hunter Biden" tag than the "White House" tag — 960 to 775, according to an Axios tally.
  • Articles about Hunter Biden began to eclipse the number of articles filed under the White House tag in July, when Hunter's plea deal fell through.

Zoom out: Broadly speaking, Trump and President Biden tend to get the most media attention in terms of online reader interest.

  • Readership of articles with headline mentions of the four political figures in the U.S. over the past six months shows that Donald Trump has consistently garnered the most interest, followed by Joe Biden, according to Memo, a media analysis firm that uses artificial intelligence to monitor online article engagement.
  • DeSantis and Hunter Biden lag much further behind, although each has seen small readership spikes in the wake of major stories about them, including DeSantis' candidacy announcement and Hunter's indictment.
  • On social media, President Biden has been the subject of the most articles shared in the past year, followed closely by Trump, according to data from Newswhip.
  • DeSantis and Hunter Biden are a very distant third and fourth.

Yes, but: The Hunter Biden story has proven to be an engaging topic for readers, which helps explain why Fox News and The New York Post are leaning so heavily into his story.

  • According to data from Newswhip over the past year, the average number of articles posted about Hunter Biden may be dwarfed by the other three political figures, but the average interaction rate (the number of shares, likes, comments, etc.) per article is much higher.
  • On average, articles about Hunter Biden posted to social media had 80% more engagement than those posted about Trump, and 142% more engaging than those posted about Biden's father.

Methodology: Stanford's Cable TV News Analyzer performs sub-second alignment of words in a video's closed-caption caption to the video's audio track. It then calculates the screen time of caption-text queries using the duration of words determined via a word alignment tool. For further details, read its methodology page here.

Sara Fischer is a CNN contributor.

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