After Hurricane Maria caused a massive crisis in Puerto Rico, a Morning Consult poll found that almost half of Americans don’t know that Puerto Ricans are US citizens. The poll also found that people who did not know they were citizens were far less likely to support government aid for the island.
This meant that news media, perhaps more than ever, had a moral imperative to cover the story diligently and empathetically. That didn’t happen. A scathing analysis by FiveThirtyEight’s Dhrumil Mehta found that we in the media have covered this story far less than the previous two hurricanes that hit Texas and Florida.
But even with the dismal levels of coverage, there’s one particular media outlet that has neglected Puerto Rico more than everyone else — and it happens to be the most-watched cable news outlet in the country.
That is, of course, Fox News.
FiveThirtyEight’s analysis looked at the news coverage in the days before and after the hurricane, so we wanted to look at how much cable news covered Puerto Rico in the aftermath and recovery efforts. We did so by analyzing chyrons — the text on the lower third of the screen that describes the segment — using data from the invaluable service the TV News Archive’s Third Eye. While this isn’t an exact measurement of coverage levels, it gives us a pretty good indication of how much a network focused on certain topics.
As you can see in the chart above, Fox News has dropped the ball on Puerto Rico coverage.
And it’s not just the volume of coverage but also the content. Both CNN and MSNBC spent a lot of time talking about the resource shortages in Puerto Rico — the lack of fresh water, food, electricity, and gas. This is the kind of coverage that reiterates that Puerto Ricans are both part of the American tribe and facing a dire situation. It’s the kind of coverage that humanizes a disaster.
But Fox News didn’t dwell on this aspect of the story:
So what did the network cover in the small amount of time it focused on Puerto Rico?
Well, it was mostly about President Trump — and it was certainly not focused much on his inaction. Rather, it focused on what Trump was doing, like waiving the Jones Act, saying there are “tremendous strides” being made, and, of course tweeting. (Trump criticized San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz when she appeared on TV and desperately asked for more federal assistance.) There was also a brief focus on how the mainstream media is politicizing Puerto Rico.
To be clear, the network did air some segments that focused on the resource needs, and those should be lauded.
But Fox News is the main source of news for 19 percent of 2016 voters, including 40 percent of Trump voters. It is quite possibly the main news source for President Trump. There is evidence that the hosts see their jobs as advising Trump — talking directly to him. This means Fox News, perhaps even more than other networks, has a moral responsibility not only to their audience but to all Americans — which includes Puerto Ricans.