The body of missing college student Mollie Tibbetts was found Tuesday after an illegal immigrant confessed to the brutal murder, but media outlets took dramatically different approaches to the story.
The bombshell development sure to impact the immigration debate came amid a wild news day that also included a pair of major stories involving President Trump: Michael Cohen’s plea deal and the verdict in the Paul Manafort trial. Fox News, ABC, NBC and CBS all covered the gamut, but anyone who relies on MSNBC or CNN was left in the dark regarding the Tibbetts story.
Mediaite columnist Joseph Wulfsohn told Fox News that it’s “fairly obvious that certain news outlets prefer to cover stories that make the president look bad” and the Tibbetts story “didn’t fit their narrative,” so it fell by the wayside.
“Hardball with Chris Matthews,” “All In with Chris Hayes,” “The Rachel Maddow Show,” “The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell” and “The 11th Hour with Brian Williams all completely ignored the Tibbetts story during primetime and the network didn’t cover it whatsoever from 5 p.m. through midnight.
Earlier in the day, Fordham University Professor Christina Greer appeared on MSNBC and casually referred to Tibbetts as “a girl in Iowa” that “Fox News is talking about,” essentially dismissing the important of her body being found as a non-story. Greer’s dismissal went unchallenged by MSNBC host Ali Velshi.
CNN’s “OutFront,” with substitute host Poppy Harlow, covered Tibbetts for three minutes and 31 seconds, but the story was ignored on “Anderson Cooper 360,” “Cuomo Prime Time” and “CNN Tonight.” The news of an arrest in the Tibbetts case broke just before 5 p.m. ET when “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” was preparing to kick off. Blitzer focused exclusively on Cohen and Manafort.
Esteemed media analyst and professor Jeffrey McCall told Fox News that “the saturation coverage of the Cohen and Manafort legal developments merit thorough coverage” but “the Tibbetts story has captivated the nation” and should have been given attention.
“The story needs to be brought to closure now and deserves suitable coverage, even if not to the degree of the Cohen and Manafort developments. News organizations can cover multiple breaking stories at one time and one story need not be ignored in the process,” McCall said. “It is challenging to cover multiple big stories in one day, but it is not impossible to keep an appropriate level of coverage and agenda balance.”
“It is challenging to cover multiple big stories in one day, but it is not impossible to keep an appropriate level of coverage and agenda balance.”
MSNBC and CNN did not immediately respond when asked for comment.
While liberal cable news stations essentially stuck to Cohen and Manafort, the broadcast news networks managed to cover Tibbetts during 30-minute newscasts. ABC’s “World News Tonight,” NBC’s “Nightly News” and CBS’ “Evening News” all led with Cohen and Manafort but covered Tibbetts in the first half of the program. In fact, anchors David Muir, Lester Holt and Jeff Glor each mentioned Tibbetts’ accused killer was in the country “illegally,” as conservative watchdogs were ready to pounce on outlets that ignored his illegal status.
“It shouldn't take much for any journalist to describe Mollie's alleged killer as an illegal immigrant, but it's always an uncertainty because of how the media largely defend this group of people. So it was definitely a surprise last night when the broadcast network coverage cited [Cristhian] Rivera as an illegal immigrant,” NewsBuster’s managing editor Curtis Houck told Fox News.
“A broken clock is known to occasionally be right,” Houck continued. “This story does matter to people, so it's good news that the broadcast networks have done their due diligence while MSNBC in particular hasn't. News organizations are perfectly capable of multitasking.”