‘The shocking killing of Eric Garner at the hands of police has become the sort of national story that reveals a lot about the people who talk about it. Differences in life experience and point of view become evident in the types of coverage and commentary that are granted the story of a 43 year-old man who was killed on July 17 when New York City police officers officers employed a chokehold on Garner while taking him down over an accusation of selling untaxed cigarettes.
Those factors don’t just affect what gets said about this story, but also whether anything gets said at all. As you might expect, MSNBC and Fox News are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to covering the Garner killing. With very little wiggle room to fit Garner into a narrative that’s pleasing to its old, white, blackphobic audience, Fox News has covered Garner’s killing sparingly, which is a blessing when you look at the reporting they have done.
At the other end, MSNBC has led the way, which also makes sense given that network’s more diverse audience, and talent. What’s shocking, though, is the size of the disparity, and CNN’s location on that spectrum.
According to the Internet Archive‘s TV News Transcript database, since Eric Garner’s death through this weekend, MSNBC has mentioned Eric Garner’s killing 43 times. While it’s true that PoliticsNation host Al Sharpton has taken an activist role in this story, his show only accounts for five of those mentions, while The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell leads with eight.
Fox News, meanwhile, has mentioned the Garner killing seven times since the fateful day. That means that MSNBC covered the story six times more than Fox News. Again, this may seem somewhat in line with what you’d expect, but keep in mind that Fox News, a 24-hour news network, devoted less coverage to this story than ABC News (15), NBC News (13), and CBS News (13), each of whom only air a couple of hours of news programming each day.
Then, there’s CNN, which has certainly had its hands full covering the international stories that are its specialty. You might expect them to fall somewhere in the middle, maybe a little less given MSNBC’s total, but you’d be wrong. CNN has mentioned Eric Gardner six times. That means that Fox News and CNN combined have mentioned Garner the same number of times, or less, than any one of the three broadcast networks.
A search for Eric Garner in the TV Eyes transcription database returns similar results, with CNN leading Fox, 9 mentions to 8, but MSNBC widening its lead even more with 104.
In the case of Fox News, less is definitely more, but there’s little excuse for CNN to give a story like the death of Eric Garner such perfunctory treatment. This story may have greater resonance for black Americans, who have coincidentally been disappearing from CNN’s talent roster, but the creeping abuses of the police make everyone vulnerable, and in much more real terms than any NSA data collection ever will. In any case, it is the journalist’s job to serve the entire public.