The impeachment narratives that captured public and media interest

February 18, 2021

Written by Benedict Nicholson

Former President Donald Trump was acquitted of the charge of inciting an insurrection in his impeachment trial in the Senate last week. The Senate voted 57-43 in favor of conviction, with seven Republicans joining the 50 Democrats, but the coalition fell short of the two-thirds majority required for conviction in impeachment trials. 

But how was this impeachment trial covered? Who were the dominant media voices, and what were the narratives that resonated with the public? We looked back at three key periods to see what drove the most attention. These were: the House passing impeachment, the trial, and the acquittal, to see what drove the most attention. 

A methodology note before we begin; this analysis is not limited to only mentions of President Trump’s impeachment, but rather also other mentions of impeachment during the period analyzed. This is due to the fact that there were other tangential pieces, such as satirical articles and speculations about other possible impeachments that arose due to the Trump impeachment, which serve as another lens through which to view the process and its aftermath. 

With that, let’s begin.

Impeachment 2.0

Impeachment interest in the media and public spheres have two key spikes. The first was from the House impeachment and began to arise after the Capitol riot on January 6th (which we wrote about previously here).

Graphs showing the fluctuating levels of public and media interest in impeachment since January 1st

This was the peak of media interest on a single day, which came on January 13th, when some 28,000 articles were published on the subject. Though there was high public interest in the impeachment at this time, the most engaged single day was the day of the acquittal, exactly a month later, on February 13th. 

Let’s break down what was most shared and engaged with in each phase, and who was writing those pieces.

Impeachment news until January 31st

Articles began focusing on the possibility of impeachment almost as soon as the Capitol was breached on January 6th. The top article referencing impeachment actually came well after the peak in public and media attention, when impeachment passed the House on January 13th.

The top articles about impeachment in January 2021

This was a piece in the Washington Times on January 21st – President Joe Biden’s first full day in office – in which newly elected representative Marjorie Taylor Greene came good on her threat to file articles of impeachment against Biden as soon as possible once he was sworn in. This was the only piece that received more than a million engagements. 

Despite the 13th being the most engaged day, relatively few stories were about the articles of impeachment passing the House, with most of the top pieces being either a lead-up to the event or a reaction to it from one of the interested parties. 

In terms of the publishers that led the conversation, there was a mix of cable broadcasters, legacy newspapers, and digital native publishers. 

The top publishers writing about impeachment in January, ranked by engagement

Fox News had the most engagements of any publisher to their coverage of the early days of impeachment, with 6 million, but others were not far behind. CNN had 5.5 million engagements to their coverage, while Breitbart and the Daily Wire each had around 5 million.

The trial 

We then looked back at the trial week itself and did a similar analysis of top stories and top publishers, looking at the time period from February 8th – February 12th. 

 

The top articles from the week of the trial, ranked by engagement

The top articles were generally a mix of more conservative publications publishing reports attacking the impeachment process, trial updates, and opinion pieces calling for Trump’s conviction. 

Breitbart had the top article from the beginning of trial week, in which they highlighted the Trump legal team’s argument that impeachment was unconstitutional. This had 1.5x the engagement of any other story, while the Babylon Bee’s satirical piece about Candace Owens being preemptively impeached saw nearly half a million engagements.

NBC News had the top piece of live coverage, while opinion articles in The Atlantic and The Washington Post called for Trump’s conviction, receiving hundreds of thousands of engagements each.

The top publishers from the week of Trump's trial, ranked by engagement

The top publisher for the trial period was Fox News by some distance, with The Washington Post second. These were the only two publications with more than 2 million engagements.

The acquittal 

The not guilty verdict was announced on Saturday February 13th, and saw the most engaged individual articles of any period we looked at for this analysis.

Top articles about Trump's acquittal, ranked by engagement

Fox News had the top article with more than 3 million engagements to their reporting of the acquittal. ABC News was not far behind with 2.5 million, but these were the only two to receive more than a million engagements overall. Fox News was responsible for three of the top ten articles overall, and that is telling when we look at publisher performance.

Top publishers writing about Trump's acquittal, ranked by engagement

Fox News was the top publisher writing about Trump’s acquittal and its aftermath, with more than double the engagements of any other publisher. ABC News and the Daily Wire also registered significant levels of interaction with their coverage, with each seeing around 2.7 million engagements.  

It is clear then, that the general trend was that the most engaged news and commentary came from more conservative publishers in all three phases of the impeachment and trial, though isolated news articles did go viral for other publishers. 

If you’d like to do this kind of analysis for yourself, check out the NewsWhip product suite.

Benedict Nicholson

Benedict Nicholson

In addition to leading the NewsWhip Research Center in New York, Benedict Nicholson manages partnerships with internationally recognized media outlets furthering data journalism, which includes NewsWhip’s Data for Democracy program. Benedict also facilitates consultations with communicators from the top 10 public relations agencies across America and Europe and with Fortune 500 brands [to discuss consumer engagement trends and effective media monitoring]. Email Benedict via benedict.nicholson@newswhip.com.

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