On Wednesday the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a devastating report that blamed the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton’s State Department for security failures leading up to the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attack.
While the Big Three (ABC, CBS and NBC) networks covered the report for a day, they found another event far more compelling -- the First Lady’s 50th birthday bash, spending twice as much time on the White House party than Benghazi.
Starting Wednesday, January 15 through this morning (January 20), the ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening news shows collectively spent just under 15 minutes on the Benghazi report (14 minutes, 49 seconds), vs. nearly a half-hour on Michelle’s birthday (28 minutes, 4 seconds). There were 20 stories/segments on the First Lady's birthday vs. 10 on the Benghazi report.
ABC was the most wildly out of line -- 10 minutes on Michelle’s birthday vs. just 2 minutes on Benghazi. NBC spent twice as much time on the birthday (12 ½ minutes) as Benghazi (6 ½ minutes), while CBS actually gave slightly more time to Benghazi (6 minutes) vs. Michelle (5 ½ minutes).
The following NBC montage is representative of the tone of the Big Three’s birthday coverage:
ABC started pre-partying two days before Michelle’s actual birthday on Friday. ABC’s Lara Spencer, on Wednesday’s Good Morning America, focused on a People magazine interview “just before her 50th birthday” on “her take on plastic surgery and Botox.” Spencer then gleefully teased: “The big day is fast approaching.” Through Monday morning ABC had devoted five full reports and two briefs to the First Lady’s birthday.
NBC started their celebration on Thursday’s Today show with White House correspondent Kristen Welker, as she excitedly declared: “For days they’ve been gearing up for a big bash here at the White House. Guests were told to wear comfortable shoes and to be prepared to move around a lot, an indication there will be no shortage of dancing here. You can also bet there will be a long list of celebrities to pull off a party fit for a First Lady.”
NBC kept the party going with segments on Friday, Saturday and even Monday morning, where Today show weatherman Al Roker gushed about his time at the Saturday event: “It was a house party that happened to be in the White House. My wife Deborah and I went. And it was – yeah, there were all these stars, which was kind of terrific...Beyonce was performing, Paul McCartney was talking or was kind of grooving with Stevie Wonder...It was unbelievable...I actually got to boogie a little with the First Lady.” Through Monday morning NBC had spent a total of four full reports and four briefs to Michelle’s birthday party.
In contrast CBS acted like the responsible adult in the room as they devoted slightly more time to Benghazi than to the White House shindig. But even they couldn’t help being swept up in the excitement as Norah O’Donnell, on Friday’s CBS This Morning, squealed: “This is a big morning for First Lady Michelle Obama. Today, she turns fifty years old, and she’s getting ready for a big party. As Chip Reid reports, parts of the celebration are still secret but dancing shoes are a must.” In total CBS issued two full reports and three briefs on Michelle’s 50th birthday.
The overall disparity in coverage the Big Three networks gave to a White House birthday party for Michelle Obama compared to the damaging Benghazi report should tell viewers all they need to know about how far in the tank the ABC, CBS and NBC are in for the Obamas and Hillary Clinton.
— Geoffrey Dickens is Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center. Follow Geoffrey Dickens on Twitter.