If we imagine American media as a hungry beast that thinks only about its next meal, then it is easy to see why Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has gone from strength to strength. Trump feeds the beast. With calculated and constant outrageousness, he dominates news coverage not just of the race for the Republican nomination but of the entire 2016 presidential competition. As veteran political observer Larry Sabato says, “It’s Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump and Trump.”
Network news coverage of Trump has been so overwhelming for so long that there are folks who argue that media outlets should simply press pause and dial down their coverage of Trump. That never works, and it shouldn’t. When a candidate is playing to the worst fears of Americans, what’s needed is more serious and intensive coverage that puts things in perspective.
In an atomized media environment, with old and new and social media providing constant flows of information, Trump will always figure out how to get the attention that he craves—and that powers his campaign. For instance, even as Republican leaders offer up mild complaints about Trump’s religious-test bigotries, they will welcome him to another debate stage December 15.
The key is not to neglect Trump, but rather to provide more and better coverage of the whole of the 2016 campaign.
All Trump all the time lets Trump define the discussion. People can agree with him or they can disagree with him. But they do not hear alternatives. As Credo Action’s Josh Nelson argues, “The media’s obsession with Donald Trump has real consequences for our Democracy. Desperate for ratings, the cable news networks have decided to broadcast nearly-continuous coverage of Donald Trump’s campaign at the expense of giving real issues the coverage they deserve.”
The point here is not to raise up alternative candidacies and ideas that are on the margins.
The point is to recognize that there are other candidates who are getting as much support as Trump, that are exciting crowds and gaining significant support, and that are advancing dramatically different responses to the challenges facing America. That’s not happening now.
Even when Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton is covered (and it is important to note that she is now getting a lot less coverage than Trump), the coverage is increasingly focused on her responses to the billionaire’s obnoxious and irresponsible statements. When the Democratic front-runner calls out the Republican front-runner’s crude scheming to bar Muslims from the United States, that’s a story, to be sure. But it should also be a story when Clinton proposes a National Infrastructure Bank and a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s transportation system—as she did in St. Louis Friday.