If you watched the talking heads discuss the first US presidential debate on CNN, MSNBC, or most other networks, you probably came away thinking that Hillary Clinton had won handily. But if you watched Fox News, you were led to believe that Donald Trump won in a landslide.
Such is the reality of cable television news in the 21st century. MSNBC is commonly regarded to have a politically liberal slant. And Fox News does not attempt to conceal that it is a network aimed at US conservatives.
Indeed, a 2014 report by Pew Research Center found that 47% of self-identified conservatives cited Fox News as their main source of news. Liberals, meanwhile, were far less unified in their media loyalties, relying on a wide range of sources including CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and the New York Times.
So it’s not surprising that the two networks saw the debate very differently. In this case, though, MSNBC’s post-debate coverage was much more in line with the preponderance of evidence: According to surveys by CNN and Public Policy Polling, betting markets, focus groups in swing states, Politico’s caucus of insiders, and a consensus of non-Fox media outlets, Clinton won the debate.
Sean Hannity and Fox News told another story. Hannity repeatedly cited online polls from Time, The Hill, and Drudge Report to prove that Trump had won. The poll on Drudge Report, a conservative news aggregator, currently shows that 82% of respondents believe Trump beat Clinton. An ABC News poll has Clinton behind Green party candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson—neither of whom participated in the debate.
Obviously, these polls aren’t scientific. They’re online straw polls—anonymous and easy to game, that produce what the New York Times has called “junk data.” Trolls from 4chan and other forums spammed many of these so-called polls—including the ones Hannity mentioned as proof Trump won the debate—in order to artificially inflate Trump’s numbers. That’s despite a memo from a Fox executive, leaked today, saying that those polls ”do not meet our editorial standards.”
Of course, Trump himself welcomed the results of these online polls:
Over 11 million people watched Fox News for the debate, making it the most-watched cable news network (just behind three of the four major broadcast networks). Only 4.9 million watched on MSNBC, again indicating that liberals tend to spread their TV news sources around, while conservatives are mostly consolidated in one place.