The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

Media-voter disconnect prompts 2 big questions about Trump indictment

The numbers came in late on Friday. And they were telling: MSNBC and CNN saw their viewership numbers jump to levels not seen since Donald Trump was president. 

After Trump’s indictment engulfed the entire news cycle, MSNBC saw its primetime viewership jump to more than 2 million viewers for its regular daily hosts, while CNN saw its “Trump Indicted” primetime special generate 1.2 million viewers, according to Nielsen. 

For context, CNN wasn’t drawing even 500,000 viewers in primetime, while MSNBC was drawing about half the audience in March pre-indictment. Fox News also saw a jump, highlighted by Tucker Carlson drawing nearly 4.2 million viewers.

So, the Trump bump that we witnessed during the 2016 campaign and throughout Trump’s presidency still exists. And this mega-story has serious legs: There’ll be the booking. The fingerprints. The possible mugshot for the world to see. And then, of course, a trial if Trump sticks to his vow not to make a plea deal. In other words, a circus that will generate clicks both online and on TV remotes across the country for the foreseeable future.

When looking at this from a macro level, two big questions emerge:

#1. Has the 2024 election already become a referendum on Donald Trump? 

Given that Trump has opened a 30-point lead in a Fox News poll released last week over the undeclared Gov. Ron DeSantis (it was 15 points the month before), it’s hard not to call Trump the favorite to win the Republican nomination for a third time. Much can and will change over the next 19 months, particularly if DeSantis declares, another candidate emerges or more indictments are issued against Trump. But given the media attention that the former president generates, it may be a repeat of 2016, when anyone not named Trump attracted a small fraction of our myopic media’s attention. 

According to data from tracking firm mediaQuant, Trump received $5.6 billion in free media throughout the 2015-2016 campaign, which was more than his top rivals combined. This allowed Trump to avoid spending large amounts of campaign funds on advertising, because why pay for something you’re already getting for free?

Question #2. Will the focus on Trump’s character and legal issues minimize all the important issues facing the country? 

Of course. As we’ve seen lately, the attention on Trump has been a gift to President Biden. One recent survey had Biden at 38 percent approval, down seven points from the previous month. Almost every major poll puts Biden under 40 percent approval on the economy, with the RealClearPolitics average clocking in at 37.2 percent approval.

But these findings from a March 30 Quinnipiac poll underscore what Americans are most concerned about.

“Food costs rank as the most pressing financial worry, with 22 percent of Americans naming it as their biggest personal financial concern right now, followed by retirement savings (18 percent), healthcare costs (17 percent), mortgage or rent payments (13 percent), college tuition (8 percent), energy bills (7 percent), credit card or loan payments (5 percent), and loss of a job (4 percent),” reads the report

Imagine that: Kitchen table issues trump an ex-president’s hush money payment to a porn actress seven years ago. 

What’s more, the U.S. Southern border continues to be a disaster. This is a clear national security risk, with 69 people on the FBI’s terror watch list being apprehended after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border since October. Unsurprisingly, the RealClearPolitics average puts Biden at just 34.3 percent approval on this issue.

With that backdrop, try to think of the last time you saw the border crisis as a lead headline in the New York Times or Washington Post or on the nightly network evening newscasts. Don’t think too hard, because it’s been a while.

The disconnect between what the media and public deem an important story has never been wider. 

Per a 2022 Pew Research study, 65 percent of 12,000 journalists surveyed said they felt the media do a solid job of “covering the most important stories of the day” and reporting news accurately. But the American public has a much different perspective, with just 35 percent feeling the media gets it right. That’s a 30-point perception gulf.

And from now through Election Day, especially if Trump is the nominee, don’t expect these issues or Biden’s performance on any of them to get the attention they deserve.  

If Trump is exonerated, it will serve as rocket fuel to his nomination. It basically plays into his primary argument on the campaign trail: The swamp/establishment is still out to get him; they’re conducting political persecutions through the weaponization of the legal system to take out political opponents.

And if this case fails, it will be hard to say he’s wrong. Either way, Trump will be the magnet in 2023-2024. Again. And with the spotlight turned away from the things that matter most to viewers and readers, accountability will largely go away with it. 

So much for speaking truth to power. 

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist and a Fox News contributor.

Tags 2024 election Biden approval rating Donald Trump indictment Joe Biden Media bias

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

More Campaign News

See All
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video