Networks Cover Jared Kushner’s Meeting with Senate Committee Very Differently

When new stories about the Trump administration break every day, networks have to decide what is important and what is not.

On March 27 two stories broke. Representative Devin Nunes’ secret White House meetings were disclosed, and the White House announced the Senate Intelligence Committee would interview Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in law, about his Russian contacts.

NBC led its politics block with Nunes’ White House meetings. In her standup, Hallie Jackson mentioned the other story briefly, saying “Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, has volunteered to answer questions from that intelligence committee about his Moscow-related meetings during the transition.” 

Hallie Jackson, NBC Nightly News

These 10 seconds were NBC’s only coverage of the Kushner interview.

ABC also led with the story about Nunes’ White House meetings, followed by 45 seconds on the Kushner story. 

ABC World News Tonight

Cecilia Vega said, “Today, word that Jared Kushner, the president’s own son-in-law and his top White House advisor, has voluntarily agreed to be interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee,” followed by a brief explanation of the the interactions.

CBS led with the story, giving it more than three minutes. Scott Pelley first gave background:

A notorious Moscow bank that acts as a front for Russian espionage is now part of the investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. This time it is the president’s son-in-law and Senior Advisor Jared Kushner who will be questioned by Senate investigators about his meeting with the Russian VEB Bank. The bank used to be chaired by Russian President Vladimir Putin and it has funded so many of Putin’s pet projects that it had to be bailed out by the Russian government. Already two Trump officials, the president’s national security advisor and his former campaign chairman have been forced to resign over contacts with Russia.

Chief White House correspondent Major Garrett followed with a two-minute report.

Scott Pelley, CBS Evening News

CBS Evening News

Former editor of The Boston Globe Matt Storin said that despite the difference in coverage, “All three networks covered the story accurately and adequately.” He continued, “I did feel that CBS was overly dramatic in its reporting – more precisely that Scott Pelley was in his tone of voice – but I still felt all three did credible reports.”

As far as CBS omitting the detail that Kushner would be voluntarily interviewed, Storin said:

“Absolutely they should have reported that. If it turns out there was nothing nefarious in this contact – as may well be the case – they will have egg on their faces.”

Network producer and former NPR executive Jay Kernis does not think CBS leaving out the voluntary detail was problematic. “It is terrible they withheld it? No,” he said. “Is CBS reporting this story morning and night for days? Yes, so if it doesn’t get reported at one point it’ll get reported at another point… but maybe they should have. It would be more complete if CBS had said that.”

“CBS had enough information at that point to go with Kushner news,” Kernis said, asked if CBS’ more extensive coverage was justified. “In my opinion, at this point, if the networks factually know that meetings occurred, it’s worth reporting these meetings occurred whether or not you know what was discussed in those meetings.”

Regarding why the other networks did not include as much coverage, Kernis offered this explanation:

“Most stories that are on the evening newscasts should have more detail, but the time constraint is so terrifying that most stories don’t get the detail they deserve… The other networks may have spent longer time with other stories that night that CBS decided not to go into.”

CBS could have had exclusive details on Kushner’s meetings that would explain their deeper coverage. Or, the other networks could have decided the Kushner story was not as pressing as the other news that day. Length and depth of coverage aside, the important issue is that network’s coverage was accurate and fair.

More from Matt Storin:

  • “It was germane for all networks to report the meeting, but I think CBS just by its atmospherics – the one of voice, etc. made it seem a bigger deal than we know it was.”
  • “In the long run, I don’t think this Nunes controversy will be a huge deal, though it certainly is interesting. I would not say they were wrong to lead with it. It’s such a judgment call. But it would not have bothered me if they led with something else.”

More from Jay Kernis:

  • “The VEB Bank details, in terms of Kushner, end up being quite interesting. Why the others didn’t have it or care to explain it is unclear. On this particular night  it looks like CBS had more details and decided to really go into it as much as an evening newscast can.”
  • “I think very few people care what the lead is. I think journalists care, I don’t think the audience cares. I don’t think the audience understands it. I think if a story is interesting they like it if it’s not they start talking, they tune it out. The lead is artificial, only in that you have to lead with something.”
Michaela Johnson

Michaela Johnson

Michaela Johnson is junior broadcast journalism and government and politics double major with an interest in homeland security policy. Michaela is also interested in sports reporting, and has previously interned for CSN Mid-Atlantic and the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs. She is currently a communications fellow with the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that works towards an efficient, effective and engaged federal government. After graduation, Michaela would like to pursue a career in sports or political reporting. She can be reached at mjohns55@terpmail.umd.edu or on Twitter @mjohnson262.

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