Comparing CNN, MSNBC And Fox News Coverage Of "Police" And "Death"

Feature Charticle

Television news covered slain Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick very differently, with CNN and MSNBC emphasizing spoken word mentions of his name onscreen, while Fox News emphasized displaying his name in the onscreen text. Looking back over the past year, how have the three channels covered mentions of police and death? The timeline below shows the total number of daily spoken mentions of "police" or "officer" within 15 seconds of "killed OR murdered OR slain OR died" since January 1, 2020, using a 7-day rolling average to smooth the data. 

The George Floyd protests in June of last year are clearly visible, as are the Jacob Blake protests in Kenosha. This reflects that searching for "police" or "officer" near "killed OR murdered OR slain OR died" will return a mixture of police officers being killed and officer-involved killings. It is not possible to distinguish between the two using this simple set of keywords.

The Floyd protests received more coverage on CNN and MSNBC using this set of keywords, while the Kenosha protests received more attention from Fox News. Between the two sets of protests and in the months since, Fox News has consistently mentioned police and death more often than the other two channels.

All three channels covered the death of Officer Sicknick far less than the summer protests, with CNN's June peak days around 2.3 times their peak from Sicknick's murder and MSNBC's around 2.5 times, while Fox News was much closer, at around 1.6 times.

GDELT Project

The timeline below zooms into the period January 5 (the day before the capitol attack) through two weeks later on January 19. Fox News was actually the first to mention police and killing, focusing on the shooting of Ashli Babbitt by a Capitol Police officer and then covering Sicknick's death as his death became known. Over those two weeks, the three channels mentioned police and killing a similar number of times, with CNN mentioning them 273 times to MSNBC's 252 times and Fox News' 234 times.

GDELT Project

The timeline below shows the same time period, but this time looks for the words appearing at the same time in the onscreen text of each channel instead of spoken word mentions. This presents a starkly different picture, with CNN displaying the words onscreen for 4,358 seconds, Fox News in second place at 2,369 seconds and MSNBC in a distant third at just 923 mentions.

GDELT Project