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Should Bernie Sanders get as much media coverage as Donald Trump?

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Jim Cole/AP

(Read caption) Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont, shakes hands after speaking to students during a campaign stop at the Community College, Monday, Dec. 14, 2015, in Nashua, N.H.

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Should Bernie Sanders get more media coverage – as much as Donald Trump?

After all, the two men, polar opposites in so many ways, have roughly equal support. Senator Sanders’s is in fact a little higher. He’s winning 32.2 percent of the Democratic vote at the moment, according to the RealClearPolitics rolling average of major polls. Mr. Trump’s comparable measure is 31.4 percent on the GOP side.

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Yet Trump’s media coverage is huge, luxurious, and winning. Sanders’s is scantier. The left-leaning watchdog group Media Matters for America has put together some numbers on this, from data produced by the Tyndall Report, which tracks network news airtime. They show that, not including debate coverage,  Trump has amassed 234 total network minutes on CBS, NBC, and ABC, from Jan. 1 through the end of November. Sanders? He’s had 10.

ABC World News Tonight was the most Trump-centric and Sanders-phobic of what used to be called the Big Three, airing 81 minutes of footage about or from the Trump campaign, and 20 seconds from Sanders.

“Does that ratio seem out of whack?” wrote Eric Boehlert of Media Matters last week.

Yes, yes it does, if it’s accurate. Plus, that’s all the way back to the beginning of the year – Trump’s coverage exploded after his surprising summer entry into the presidential race. Most of his minutes have run since July. So recently the disparity is probably even greater.

That said, it’s been a long time since network news served as a useful surrogate for the media in general. The explosion in new media has provided voters with so many different ways to find out so much about any candidate they like that it’s not as if Bernie Sanders and his focus on economic inequality is being hidden from Americans.

Plus, the comparison with Trump may not be apt. Trump is a master at getting media coverage. In high school he was probably voted “Most likely to up the ante.” He’s stayed in the news with a series of increasingly outrageous statements and policy proposals, many of which seem designed to get attention as much as for implementation. His insult game is legendary.

Trump himself pointed out the disparity between his and Sanders’s ABC coverage yesterday, tweeting that it was due to the fact that “ABC is smart.”

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He’s also a Republican, meaning Sanders is not in direct competition with Trump for votes. Yet.

And Trump is winning, at the moment. At 31 percent, he is the frontrunner in the crowded, chaotic GOP field. That means his every twitch makes news.

Sanders has been stuck 22 points behind frontrunner Hillary Clinton in national polls since October, and isn’t gaining. The Democratic race, compared with its GOP counterpart, seems static.

That means that in the modern media world it takes more than a twitch – or a new policy paper – to catch the camera’s eye.