As we're swimming in speculation about Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Carson, Jeb and company on the eve of Tuesday’s Las Vegas debate, this question arises:
Whatever happened to the Democratic race?
The Republican contest is so absorbing, between Trump mania and Cruz surging and this pointless early talk about a brokered convention that Hillary Clinton and her two rivals have faded from the media radar.
Now this isn’t hard to grasp. The pundits, in their infinite wisdom, have decided that the Democratic race is over. Hillary Clinton is the nominee-in-waiting, Bernie Sanders is an entertaining Larry David, and Martin O’Malley is an asterisk.
A new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll gives Hillary 56 percent among Democrats, with Sanders at 37 percent and O’Malley at 4. In Iowa, the Des Moines Register poll gives the former secretary of State a 9-point edge over the Vermont senator. The press just isn’t seeing much of a horse race.
The paucity of coverage prompted a blast from Sanders’ campaign manager, Jeff Weaver: “The corporately-owned media may not like Bernie’s anti-establishment views but for the sake of American democracy they must allow for a fair debate in this presidential campaign. Bernie must receive the same level of coverage on the nightly news as other leading candidates.”
The Sanders camp has some numbers on its side, saying ABC’s “World News Tonight” has devoted 81 minutes to Trump through the end of November, compared to 20 seconds on Sanders. He didn’t fare much better on “NBC Nightly News” (2.9 minutes) or the “CBS Evening News” (6.4 minutes).
That’s a huge imbalance, given that the socialist lawmaker is drawing huge crowds and grass-roots excitement. But the media refuse to believe he has a real shot at the nomination.
By the way, Sen. Sanders, you’re welcome on “Media Buzz.” I put in a request months ago. But you don’t seem terribly interested in appearing on Fox.
Sanders has fared better in print, landing on the cover of Time. But if you had to pick one moment when the media collectively switched him off, it would be during the first debate when he said he was sick and tired of hearing about Hillary’s “damn emails.” By taking that issue off the table, Sanders—who often chides the media for insisting that he attack Clinton personally—signaled that he would not try to take her down.
But what about the coverage of Hillary? That same WSJ/NBC poll says she would beat Donald Trump in a general election, 50 to 40 percent. By contrast, she would barely eke out a win against Ted Cruz, 48 to 45 percent. But she would lose 48-45 against Marco Rubio, and lose 47-46 to Ben Carson (a statistical tie), despite the doctor’s fade in the GOP polls.
By any measure, though, Clinton has a strong shot at becoming the next president. So why is she barely in the news? Even her latest attack on Trump, with Seth Meyers agreeing with her on “Late Night,” generated few headlines.
The New York Times did run a front-page piece on how many Democratic moms are for Hillary but their daughters don’t feel the same gender pull and favor Bernie. And there are allegations that Clinton gave special State Department access to someone connected to her son-in-law.
But these sorts of stories have been unusual lately.
Some of you have written to me about why we’re not seeing more coverage of Hillary’s e-mail mess, which was broken by the New York Times and once drew heavy media attention. But even the best investigative story runs out of gas eventually unless there is new fuel to keep it burning.
The last document dump of nearly 8,000 pages didn’t produce a bombshell and so barely lasted a news cycle. There is an FBI investigation into Hillary’s private server, but in some ways that has frozen the story in place.
Now of course I believe that Clinton, as a potential president, needs more scrutiny on a wide range of issues, and eventually it will return with a vengeance. But for now, the Republican race is sucking up nearly all the media oxygen.
Case in point: Interest in the Republican debate on CNN is surging, especially with Cruz coming up in the polls. But I’ve barely heard anything about this week’s Democratic debate.
Why? Because ABC is airing it on Saturday night, a dead zone in TV viewership. CBS did the same thing with its Democratic debate last month.
For the broadcast networks, at least, the Democratic contest is now an afterthought.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.