Two weeks after the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history, coverage of it had all but vanished from six major cable news networks, an analysis by The Trace of data collected by the Television News Archive found.
The archive captures closed-caption transcripts from dozens of news channels. An online portal allows users to search by keyword or phrase to see how often a subject is mentioned. On Oct. 2, according to the archive, 1.3 percent of all sentences spoken on CNN, CNBC, FOX, FOX Business, MSNBC and Bloomberg made reference to the Las Vegas shooting or the shooter, as outlets scrambled to reconstruct the timeline of events, interview survivors and speculate on the gunman’s motives, or lack thereof.
What happened in the days that followed is familiar for many news consumers: a rapid decline in mentions, and then the near-complete disappearance of the topic from coverage. By Oct. 7, the rate of mentions had fallen to 0.31 percent of all sentences. At two weeks out, the rate was 0.03 percent.
As new developments emerged – like revisions to the timeline of the shooting and, most recently, the announcement of plans to examine gunman Stephen Paddock’s brain – references to the shooting saw small bumps above the baseline rate of coverage. But on Oct. 24, just over three weeks after the massacre occurred, the shooting wasn’t mentioned even a single time on any of the six networks, according to the archive.
One contributing reason for the total drop off in coverage: a proposed ban on bump stocks, a cheap and easy way to simulate automatic fire with a semiautomatic rifle, quickly stalled in the Republican-controlled Congress. Had the measure stayed alive, there would likely have been many more on-air references to the shooting that prompted it.
The drop-off in coverage wasn’t unique to the shooting in Las Vegas.
The 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, Hurricane Harvey’s landfall in Texas and the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, each attracted enormous national attention in the days after they occurred. Each tapered off, exhibiting minor spikes as new developments emerged. And within a few weeks, each had almost entirely vanished from national news coverage – though none faster than the Las Vegas massacre.