The "news" you see at night on broadcast television is defined by what "outrage" has been perpetrated by President Donald Trump. Last week, ABC, CBS and NBC devoted an enormous chunk of their airtime to parents who immigrated to the country illegally being separated from their children by federal agents — 128 minutes, almost half of their total nightly airtime not including commercials, according to the Media Research Center.
By contrast, other parts of the nation's business are nearly invisible. Take, for one example, America's war in Afghanistan, which is obviously not a new topic, since it started in 2001 and is now the longest war in American history. If it doesn't feel like that, it's because it's out of sight, out of mind.
Last week, U.S. Central Command said it conducted 591 airstrikes in Afghanistan in May, the most of any month this year. And more bombs were dropped in April and May than over all of 2015.
But from January through June 22, the networks only mustered 32 minutes between them, barely 10 minutes each. ABC led the pack with a measly 12 minutes and 49 seconds, and CBS (11 1/2 minutes) and NBC (seven minutes and 11 seconds) were even worse.
One reason should be obvious: The number of dead Americans is very low. Only two American soldiers have died in combat in Afghanistan in 2018. Those men, Sgt. 1st Class Mihail Golin and Spc. Gabriel Conde, each drew about 20 seconds of airtime on each network when they were killed.
A second reason is less obvious: The networks don't have many reporters overseas anymore, and certainly not reporters covering "forgotten wars" with few casualties. The networks are, by nature, more likely to cover American military action when it goes wrong, as in when civilians die in the bombings.
But neither reason is an excuse. This is not how war is meant to be covered — when it's your country at war.
The networks haven't been any more interested in the war on terrorism in general. Trump can largely vanquish the Islamic State group as a territorial power and you can hear the crickets.
Try this: On May 9, The New York Times, to its credit, reported that "a complex cross-border sting carried out by Iraqi and American intelligence" concluded with the capture of five senior Islamic State group officials. On CBS that night, this triumph drew 35 seconds. ABC and NBC did nothing. But all three offered full stories on the black Yale University student who was upset because someone called the police when she was found napping in a dormitory common room.
So let's go back to the big picture of 2018. What did the networks obsess over instead of spending more than 32 minutes on Afghanistan? In the same time period, ABC, CBS and NBC offered 442 evening-news minutes on the still-unproven allegations of the Trump campaign colluding with the Russian government in 2016. (That's in addition to the 1,234 minutes on this subject in 2017, adding up to a whopping 1,676 minutes total.)
The hush-money scandal with porn star Stormy Daniels has received 107 minutes of evening-news attention. That's not counting another 81 minutes devoted to the exploits of Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen (who wrote the check to Daniels) and whether the FBI raid on his office will uncover nefarious Trump-enabling secrets.
The American Army at war in Afghanistan is 30 percent as important as a two-bit prostitute.
Whatever might cause the end of the Trump presidency is "news." Whatever might cause the re-election of Donald Trump is treated like it belongs in a deep, dark cave like containers of radioactive waste.
Whatever is news is not news if it doesn't fit that narrative.