CBS was obsessed with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also with Michael Jackson's demise. NBC was riveted by Hurricane Katrina and the gyrations of the stock market. And ABC had a keen interest in the recession and the unemployment rate.Those are the conclusions of television news analyst Andrew Tyndall, who tracks the content, on a minute-by-minute basis, of the three nightly network news broadcasts: ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News. Tyndall examined the patterns in the previous year's and previous decade's coverage to see what stories garnered the most airtime on each network.
%%DynaPub-Enhancement class="enhancement contentType-HTML Content fragmentId-1 payloadId-61603 alignment-right size-small"%% Over the span of the decade, CBS dominated coverage of the two wars, devoting 3,260 minutes to them. That's 11.7 percent more time than NBC gave them, and 21.5 percent more than ABC put in. But the great bulk of that time, on all three networks, went to covering Iraq. When it came to the fighting in Afghanistan specifically, CBS was the breakout leader, with 931 minutes of airtime, versus 727 for NBC and 714 for ABC.
Perhaps the sharpest disparity was on the subject of Katrina: NBC aired 804 minutes on the disaster and its aftermath, versus 443 for CBS and 441 for ABC. It was the eighth-most-covered story of the decade, just after the post-war reconstruction in Iraq and just ahead of the price of oil and gasoline.
Health care reform was the No. 1 topic in 2009, with ABC and CBS both devoting 205 minutes to the topic, and NBC lagging behind with 178 minutes. But NBC Nightly News lavished far more airtime on the year's No. 2 story, the H1N1 influenza outbreak, with 222 minutes total, versus 180 for ABC and 178 for CBS. Meanwhile, CBS's devotion to covering the fighting in Afghanistan -- the third-most-covered topic of 2009 -- continued: CBS Evening News spent 220 minutes on the subject, compared with 170 for NBC and 166 for ABC.
Jackson's death was the No. 8 story of the year in terms of airtime. As mentioned above, CBS was way out in the lead on that one, airing 101 minutes of Jacko coverage. Nightly News carried only 70 minutes, while World News Tonight made do with 66.
Hottest Stories on Network News for the Decade and the Year