The mainstream media turned away. But online, President Trump's charges about Hunter Biden were by far the dominant storyline about the final presidential debate, according to exclusive NewsWhip data provided to Axios.
- Coverage of business dealings by Joe Biden's son — and pre-debate allegations by one of his former business associates, Tony Bobulinski — garnered more than twice as much online activity (likes, comments, shares) as the runner-up.
- The second-place topic — also pushed by Republicans — was the former vice president's comments on oil and fracking.
Why it matters: The Hunter Biden story — one of Trump's final Hail Marys against Biden — is still blazing away in the conservative media ecosystem, even though it seems to have fizzled on a broader stage.
The backstory: Trump and his team had high hopes for an investigation by The Wall Street Journal, and Trump had mentioned publicly that it was coming. But when it posted just after the debate, the findings undercut the Republican case by saying available records showed no impropriety by Joe Biden.
- Several Trump advisers told Axios they were angry about the outcome of The Journal's reporting.
The big picture: The debate was Trump's last big chance to convince a huge swath of voters to reconsider their choice ahead of Election Day.
- But his cryptic remarks about "the laptop from hell" might have made little sense to those who weren't already familiar with the latest round of Hunter Biden stories.
After Hunter Biden, the second biggest online storyline out of the debate was also one being pushed by Republicans: Biden's comments about oil and fracking. (He's already doing damage control on the oil comment.)
- Biden said during the debate that "I have never said I oppose fracking," even though he expressed opposition during two Democratic debates. Trump's team pounced on it, tweeting a video of the previous comments as the debate concluded.
- He also said he would "transition from the oil industry," putting the campaign on the defensive. Trump quickly responded to the comment: "Will you remember that, Texas? Will you remember that, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma? Ohio?"
In a major reversal from the first debate, the response to the moderator was overly positive.
- Publications from the right and the left hailed Kristen Welker's performance after Chris Wallace was slammed following the first debate. All sides chastised him for letting things get off the rails and the right attacked him for alleged bias against Trump.
- By the morning after this week's debate, the top 100 stories generated 2.77m interactions (likes, comments, shares) — 59% lower than for September's debate.
Our 2020 attention tracker is based on data from NewsWhip exclusively provided to Axios as part of a project that will regularly update throughout the 2020 campaign.