Who Won the Mueller Hearing?

A Data Analysis of US News after the Mueller Testimony

Like most observers, I thought the Mueller hearing would be a draw. I assumed that both liberals and conservatives could easily declare victory, each comfortably echoing different messages in their respective bubbles. In the end, no one’s mind would be changed and life would go on.

Alas, I was wrong.

At the start of the proceedings, I monitored Twitter and saw comments that seemed to support this two movies on one screen interpretation of events. Comments like this one seemed to confirm my suspicions.

After the dust settled though, I changed my mind. Using data from media coverage of these events, it’s clear that Republicans came out as the big winners of the Mueller hearing.

Mueller Hearing Coverage

The news media doesn’t always make the news, but it does determine what stories get the most coverage. To verify how much coverage Mueller’s testimony got across the political spectrum, I collected all Mueller news on July 24 and 25. Below are the results.

As you can see, conservative news outlets published considerably more Mueller stories than liberal ones. This suggests that conservative media liked what it saw in the hearing and liberal media did not. For example, CNN and MSNBC (sources that have historically loved all things Russiagate) published only a handful of articles on Mueller this week. Clearly if we use news coverage as a proxy for “winning”, then the Republicans took home the ‘W’ this week.

Mueller Story Contents

Besides collecting statistics on articles about the hearing, I also reviewed story contents. Below is a quick overview of headlines from various news outlets.

CNN

CNN had a paltry 4 Mueller stories on their homepage over the last two days. Tellingly, only one article mentions Trump. Even that one is limited to speculation about how perceptions about him ‘might’ change with this hearing.

CNN headlines on Mueller

At the time of this writing, the Mueller’s testimony has already been forgotten on CNN.com. The lead story there is about the Equifax settlement.

MSNBC

Similarly, msnbc.com features only a couple of Meuller videos.

MSNBC Mueller Stories

Again, none of these seem critical of Trump

Fox News

Fox News on the other hand, had over 50 Mueller stories over the past 2 days

These stories are all critical of the hearings as well as the Mueller investigation itself. Most blast the hearings as an ‘unmitigated disaster’ for Democrats. One story even manages to take a classic move from the Fox playbook, working Hillary Clinton into the mix. It says that she is the one who should have been investigated instead of Trump.

New York Times

The New York Times offered mostly neutral coverage of the hearings. The opinion articles suggest “it’s time to move on” and “now what?” after the hearing.

In general, the Mueller proceedings are well summarized by this Vox article. As this article states, there is a general consensus that Robert Mueller, the House of Representatives, impeachement, and the Mueller Report are all losers this week.

Mueller Hearing Adjectives

Although the Mueller hearing was generally positive for the conservative cause, the underlying investigation was still a negative for Republicans. This can be seen by looking at the adjectives in Mueller articles.

Most common “interesting” adjectives in Mueller stories (basic adjectives like ‘public’ and ‘special’ removed)

Both conservative and liberal outlets had to discuss the role of “Russian” interference in the election. The difference (as always in news media) is in article emphasis. Stories from liberal news sites have “impeachment” and “criminal” as the 3rd and 5th most popular terms. Their coverage focuses on these issues. Conservative news has these terms much lower, at 8th and 9th most used respectively.

Conservative sites had to cover “democratic” representatives in congress (3rd most popular term), but they also got to highlight Mueller’s grilling from ‘Republican’ congressmen. Liberal news sites didn’t mention any Republicans besides Trump, thus avoiding this side of the debate.

Finally, conservative coverage of the event liked to highlight how this investigation is the “first” of its kind. Liberal news focussed on the “ongoing” nature of this scandal, emphasizing ‘possible’ crimes that were committed.

Final Thoughts

In this age of filter bubbles, it’s easy for people to feel like they live on different planets. Two people in the same place will see the same news, but it will be covered in totally different ways. Luckily it’s pretty easy to quantify these differences.

By counting the number of articles that news sites publish, we can get a feel for how favorably they view certain stories. Based on this sort of analysis, it’s clear that the Mueller hearing was great for conservatives. As the 2020 presidential race heats up, it will be interesting to see what different outlets choose to focus on.

Married engineer in San Francisco. Interested in words, networks, and human abstractions. Opinions expressed are solely my own.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store