clock menu more-arrow no yes

The real reason the media covers Donald Trump so much

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Why does the media cover Donald Trump so much? It's a question I've been asked a lot over the course of the primary season. The answer is, in part, that it's increasingly likely he'll be the Republican Party nominee for president and so he surely deserves a lot of coverage. But many people feel like the media's Trump obsession is the cause of his rise, making this illegitimate as an explanation.

So here's another view: The media covers Trump a lot because Trump's campaign is fascinating and people are interested in it.

Here at Vox, for example, 13 percent of the stories we published in February mentioned Trump, which is a lot. But that 13 percent generated 26 percent of our total readership.

Any subject that performs like that when it's already at a high volume is going to attract more coverage. And to state the obvious, this wasn't a big, deliberate strategy of ours from the beginning or anything. When we were doling out assignments last summer for which writers were going to sum up which candidates' positions on the issues, the Trump write-up went to one of our interns, Tez Clark.

Tez was a stellar intern, but that's also a clear reminder that we were not initially thinking Trump would be the frontrunner or the subject of a ton of coverage.

And all that's to say nothing of a Trump video we made that got 32 million views.

Donald Trump's rise is a scary moment in American politics

Donald Trump's run for president has been so wild, so strange, so entertaining, that we've stopped noticing — or maybe just grown tired of pointing out — what a dangerous force he is in American politics. And for awhile, that seemed fine — everyone knew Trump couldn't win, he didn't have a chance, this was all just a big joke. But it isn't a joke. He won huge in New Hampshire. He won huge in South Carolina. This is the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination. And he's a dangerous personality perched atop an ugly ideology. It's time to stop laughing.

Posted by Ezra Klein on Saturday, February 20, 2016

This basic dynamic is one reason I'm skeptical that Trump's magic will transfer to a general election.

Getting attention — whether that attention is positive or negative — is a very useful skill when you're running low-turnout races in a multi-candidate field and you can win with 35 or 40 percent of the vote. Campaigns from strong-on-paper candidates like Scott Walker and Rick Perry just died from lack of attention. But no major party presidential nominee ever lacks for attention. And Trump's main attention-getting scheme is to say something outrageous that, almost by definition, is likely to be unpopular with the mass public.

Trump coverage, after all, may be both widespread and widely read, but it isn't especially positive about the candidate or his ideas. People want to read about Trump, but that doesn't mean they want to vote for him.