AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

More than 84 million people tuned in to Monday's debate. The showdown lasted 97 thrilling, depressing, gut-wrenching, bizarre, hopeful minutes depending on your point of view. But how to make sense of it? For that, we turn to the pundits. So, what did the media choose to highlight? Did they focus more on substance or personality?


The Internet Archive monitored media coverage of the debate in two markets: Philadelphia and San Francisco. They captured clips aired by major broadcast networks and some cable stations during two hours of post-debate coverage Monday night and several hours of morning-after coverage the next day.

We decided to take a look at the data they captured to see which moments of Monday night's debate caught the media's attention. Of course, exactly which moments those are depends on how you define the time interval in question. So, we looked at it in a few different ways.


Here are the most-aired highlights from the debate:

Most-aired moment:

Taxes. Specifically tax returns. Trump will not release his tax returns until the IRS has finished auditing them on the advice of his attorney. The media felt this was… interesting. Different outlets chose different sections of this exchange, but if there was a single moment that got covered the most, it was the moment when Trump tried to make a deal, promising to release his tax returns in exchange for Clinton's deleted emails.

Most-aired sound bite:

Toward the end of an already fractious night, Lester Holt asked Trump about a comment he'd made earlier in the month, saying that Hillary Clinton didn't have the 'look' to be president. Trump tried to pivot, "She doesn't have the look. She doesn't have the stamina." Clinton's comeback was the most-covered sound bite from the debate when we looked at the data in 20-second intervals (about the length of a sound bite).

Most-aired minute:

Prepare yourself. While the clip above was also in the most-covered minute of the debate, to avoid repeating ourselves, we'll share with you a clip from the second-most-covered minute of the night, which centered on this exchange:

And then there was everything that didn't get covered…

There were long stretches of conversation that did not get picked up in post-debate coverage.  Most of these lulls occurred toward the end of the debate when the discussion turned to issues such as cyber-terrorism,  our alliance with NATO, and the threat of nuclear proliferation. In other words, substantive issues. Here's a sample of what the candidates were talking about:

Overall, the media picked up nearly half  (49 percent) of the debate. The timeline below shows which sections — by second– of the broadcast were re-aired by TV news shows in the two markets the Internet Archive tracked.

Data source: The Internet Archive. Data reflects TV news coverage of the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on September 26, 2016. Matches generated using Duplitron, an open source audio ­fingerprint technology. Visit for more information.


Kate Stohr is a data journalist and community builder based in San Francisco, CA.

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