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Trump impeachment vote is watched by more than 16 million TV viewers

US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi presides over Resolution 755, Articles of Impeachment Against President Trump, as the House votes at the Capitol on Wednesday.
(Saul Loeb / AFP)

President Trump can now boast he has the most watched impeachment vote in history.

According to Nielsen data, more than 16 million TV viewers watched Trump on Wednesday become only the third White House occupant to be impeached by the House of Representatives.

While that figure may be underwhelming for a major historic event, it does top the audience that watched the House impeach former President Clinton in 1998. The impeachment inquiry of former President Nixon in the 1970s never went to a full House vote.

From 8 to 9 p.m. EST, when the House vote on Trump was completed, Fox News led with an average of 5.03 million viewers, according to Nielsen data. NBC, the only broadcast network to cover the proceedings for the full hour, averaged 4.97 million viewers, followed by MSNBC’s 3.24 million viewers and CNN’s 2.83 million.

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CBS and ABC interrupted their regular prime-time programming with brief special reports on the vote. Both networks had heavily promoted entertainment programs scheduled on the night — the “Survivor” season finale on CBS and a live presentation of two classic Norman Lear-produced sitcoms on ABC.

Coverage was also shown on PBS, C-SPAN and a wide array of online streaming platforms.

The outcome of the vote in the Democratic-controlled House was a virtual certainty, which likely kept the impeachment proceedings from being a must-watch event.

Democrats accused Trump of abusing his oath of office when he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son while Trump was withholding a promised White House meeting and crucial military aid to the U.S. ally.

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A second article of impeachment accused Trump of obstructing Congress’ investigation into the alleged scheme by refusing to release subpoenaed documents or allow current and former aides to testify.

The House voted 230-197 on the first article and approved the second article 229-198.

The lack of drama was similar to the last televised vote on impeachment on Dec. 19, 1998. About 12 million viewers watched an NFL game between the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills on CBS, which was more than the total of all the cable and broadcast networks combined that carried the House vote to impeach former President Clinton. The vote by the Republican-led House was expected as was Clinton’s acquittal in the Senate in February 1999.

On Wednesday, Fox News tucked special coverage of the impeachment vote into its regular prime-time lineup. After the vote, analysis was presented by its conservative hosts Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, who have been highly critical of the impeachment process and the news media’s handling of it. Fox News also showed Trump’s rally in Battle Creek, Mich., on a split screen during the vote.

The opinion-fused coverage was a departure for Fox News, as the conservative channel typically has its nonpartisan journalists handle special events such as presidential addresses, major House votes and elections.

While Fox News chief Washington anchor Bret Baier delivered the news of the vote, coverage was handed off to the prime-time hosts who took over for the rest of the night.

On Thursday, the sixth Democratic primary debate, held at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, drew an average of 6.17 million TV viewers across PBS stations and CNN, according to Nielsen. The debate was was moderated by “PBS NewsHour” anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff, Politico’s chief political correspondent Tim Alberta and “PBS NewsHour” correspondents Amna Nawaz and Yamiche Alcindor.

The event was the least watched debate of the 2020 primary season so far, down from the previous low of 6.6 million viewers for CNN’s event on Nov. 20.

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Still, the 4.1 million viewers who watched CNN‘s simulcast of the debate was more than three times what the cable news channel typically draws in prime time (2.06 million watched on PBS stations). Some portion of the debate was viewed online 8.4 million times across the digital platforms of PBS, CNN and Politico, according to PBS.

The participating candidates were entrepreneur Andrew Yang, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and businessman Tom Steyer.


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