Nov 14, 2019

Impeachment's dueling echo chambers

Cable news chyrons at 8:01pm ET Wednesday

The story of the first day of public impeachment hearings varied dramatically Wednesday based on where consumers get their news.

Why it matters: The absence of shared facts and narratives on TV and online will make it hard for either party to make its case stick.

On the right, conservative media doubled down on the narrative that Republican questioners like Reps. Jim Jordan and Devin Nunes crushed Democrats' main arguments.

  • On Fox News, Sean Hannity opened his 9 p.m. hour saying it was a "Great day for the United States, for the President and the country and a lousy day for the corrupt, do-nothing-for-three-years, radical extreme socialist Democrats and their top allies known as the media mob."
  • Online, the top story on TownHall just after the impeachment hearings concluded read: "It Looks Like the Star Witnesses in Trump-Ukraine Impeachment Effort Just Torched The Democrats' Narrative." Breitbart's home page Wednesday evening shouted "DEMOCRAT DUD" in red.
  • On social media, the most popular posts from right-leaning outlets also highlighted this dynamic, according to social analytics company NewsWhip. For example, the most popular story from The Daily Caller was titled, "I’ve Seen Church Prayer Chains That Are Easier To Understand’: Jim Jordan Eviscerates Impeachment Process."

On the left, Democrats focused on messaging that Ambassador Bill Taylor's testimony was damning for President Trump and concentrated on his new information about a cell-phone call between Trump and EU ambassador Gordon Sondland.

  • On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow opened her 9 p.m. hour saying that the hearing was unprecedented and that Taylor's testimony offered "new, detailed revelations ... about the actions of the President and him directing this scheme personally." She continued, "I'm not sure anybody knew we were going to get anything that new and that big in this first public hearing."
  • Online, the top story on Vox.com for most of the afternoon read "Bill Taylor dropped a bombshell in his impeachment hearing opening statement." On HuffPost the banner story read: "TAYLOR BOMBSHELL: DAMNING TRUMP CALL."
  • On social media, the most popular story from the left-leaning news aggregator News and Guts was titled "Ambassador Taylor Delivers Damaging New Evidence Against Trump."

Even live coverage of the hearing acquired a partisan overlay with editorialized pop-up texts and chyrons.

  • MSNBC labeled Bill Taylor as a "Top U.S. diplomat" who "testified he had 'a clear understanding' aid tied to probes."
  • Fox said "President Trump dismissed Taylor as a 'never Trumper" and said Taylor had "no first-hand knowledge about Ukraine aid."

Be smart: The echo chambers on social media are ones users build for themselves by choosing who to follow and befriend online. The echo chambers on TV are prefabricated by cable networks trying to amass ratings. Together, they lock in partisan narratives and lock out conflicting information.

Yes, but: Those narratives around impeachment were set long before Tuesday's hearing.

  • Most voters said in a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll Monday that there was little to no chance that they will change their minds about the impeachment inquiry.

The big picture: The divide is so complete that the event itself cleaved in two. You could assemble one version of the hearing from the left, with all the Democrats' questions spliced together, and then another reel from the right, with the GOP representatives' questions spliced together, and end up with two completely different events.

Our thought bubble: Members of Congress understand this dynamic, and play to it during public hearings to win coverage.

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