The Huffington Post Is Relegating Donald Trump To The Entertainment Section, And That’s Wrong

The Huffington Post announced today that they would not be covering Donald Trump in their politics section from this point forward. That's the wrong thing to do.

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The Huffington Post announced today that it would no longer be covering Donald Trump in the politics section of their website, and would instead relegate all Trump-related coverage to its entertainment section:

“Our reason is simple: Trump’s campaign is a sideshow,” read a post co-bylined by the site’s Washington bureau chief Ryan Grim and editorial director Danny Shea.

The pair wrote that the Pulitzer Prize-winning site was refusing to “take the bait” of the almost month-old Trump campaign.

“If you are interested in what The Donald has to say, you’ll find it next to our stories on the Kardashians and The Bachelorette,” according to the post.

While there’s much about HuffPo’s decision here to laugh about, the announcement that they would no longer be covering Trump as news, but rather as entertainment, has been criticized by several media and political pundits. Dylan Byers at Politico for example, argues that the site has played right into the arguments that Trump and many Republicans have been making about the media, is likely to backfire:

A quick fact-check: 1. Huffington Post is taking the bait, because they’re continuing to cover Trump and will continue to benefit from the clicks. 2. Trump’s campaign isn’t a sideshow. He’s leading the field, and is therefore a daily preoccupation for other candidates. (Hours after posting its note, Huffington Post sent an email clarifying that “the impact [Trump is] having on the Republican Party and the immigration debate is itself a real thing,” which it will cover “as substance, but anything that tumbles out of his mouth will land on the Entertainment page.”)

One might conclude that Huffington Post’s announcement amounts to the same Trump-style grandstanding they claim to condemn. On a larger level, they seem to miss the point that all politics is theater. Countless statements have tumbled forth from the mouth of candidates — top-tier and third-tier — that were made precisely to rile up the base, bait an opponent, get free play in the media, etc. The Huffington Post politics team has covered these stories, and will almost surely continue to do so — even when they come from candidates who have a less of a shot at their party’s nomination than Trump

Chris Cillizza calls the decision a bad idea:

Trump is, without question, an outlandish figure.  He says lots of things, many of which aren’t true, as loudly as possible. He has shown in the past a willingness to use the media to further his own interests — whether they are in the business or political worlds. (Trump wrote all about how he manipulated the media for his benefit in “The Art of the Deal.”)

It’s hard to imagine him in the White House — particularly given that the same polls that put him at or close to the top of the Republican primary field show him losing badly to Hillary Rodham Clinton in a general election. President Trump? It feels more like a sort-of-funny joke than a serious thing, right?

But. But, but, but. Trump IS at or near the top of most national polls on the Republican field; our Philip Bump found that Trump’s polling average in the last five national surveys trails only Jeb Bush.

But the point here is not why Trump is rising. It’s that he is (and, really, has.) There is something there for Republican voters when it comes to Trump. I don’t really get it. The HuffPo people seem not to either. But, not totally understanding someone’s appeal is not any reason to believe it’s not really there.

(…)

Who are we to decide who’s serious and who’s not in an election? Trump’s polling suggests that, whether you like him or not and whether you think his campaign is a sideshow or not, plenty of people who identify as both Republicans and likely voters don’t see him that way. It’s not up to me, The Washington Post or the Huffington Post to decide the relative merits of people feeling that way. It’s our job to understand why they feel that way, analyze how long they might feel that way and figure out what it means for everyone else running for president that they feel that way.

In pushing Trump from “news” to “entertainment”, HuffPo is making a value-judgment about his candidacy, yes, but more importantly (and more troubling) a judgement about the people who support that candidacy. While lumping Trump in with reality TV coverage will win HuffPo plenty of plaudits — including those rare ones from Republicans who want nothing more than to get Trump off the center of the national stage — it’s not the right decision.

And James Warren at Poynter strikes much the same tone:

This is especially dubious in an era where the nexus of entertainment and politics is often quite obvious and growing.

One need only look at the dramatic fragmentation in media and how the Obama White House is trying to find niche audiences anywhere it can find them.

That means not just going on lots of late-night and soft afternoon talk shows. It means doing garage podcasts and giving “exclusive” interviews to YouTube stars.

You might think Trump is a buffoon. But he may have, for the moment at least, touched some nerve of dissatisfaction, perhaps partial explanation of his decent showing in some early Republican polls.

Something of the sort happened long ago with some guys who were actually professional actors and were similarly disparaged. They, too, could have been journalistically segregated long ago as not meeting some arbitrary test of seriousness and legitimacy.

You do remember Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, don’t you?

On some level, of course, one has to admit that the move that The Huffington Post has a certain appeal to it given the nature of all of coverage that Donald Trump has gotten in the media over the years. He is, on some level, buffoonishly entertaining and its hard to actually take him seriously as a candidate. However, I have to agree with the critics of this decision in saying that deciding not to cover Trump as part of your regular ongoing coverage of the 2016 elections is inappropriate. Whatever you might think of him, and I’ve made my own opinions of the man exceedingly clear ever since he trod back into the political world in 2011 with his insane birther nonsense, Donald Trump is clearly a serious candidate for the Republican nomination. He polling at or near the top of the race on a national level, as well as in the important early primary state of New Hampshire. He is polling strongly in states such as Michigan, Virginia, and Nevada. He is also driving the tone of the campaign by virtue of his comments on immigration, Hillary Clinton’s qualifications, and most recently the tragedy in Chattanooga. He may not last in the race, and I am among those who thinks he’s going to peter out at some point, but for the moment he is a formidable force in the early stages of the Republican race for President and that makes him an appropriate, and indeed, necessary part of any coverage of the race. Moving Trump coverage to the entertainment section probably does get some chuckles around the newsroom at The Huffington Post, but it’s the kind of sophomoric editorializing that really isn’t appropriate for a news organization if it wants to remain credible.

The other problem with the decision that was made here, of course, is that in the end it really just plays into Trump’s hands. Right off the top, it allows him to appear as  the victim of a biased media, which is something that plays very well among certain segments of the Republican base. As I already noted today, Trump is succeeding because he’s saying things that at least some segment of the GOP likes to hear, adding this into the mix is likely to only make him more appealing to that crowd, which of course will make the decision not to cover him as a political seem all the more silly. Additionally, while I don’t have access to their web traffic statistics, I’m willing to bet that The Huffington Post gets more traffic from its entertainment coverage than it does from its political coverage. So, moving Trump to entertainment is just likely to put stories about him in front of people who wouldn’t otherwise be reading about politics to begin with. I don’t think that’s what The Huffington Post’s editors want to accomplish.

Yes, it’s insane and exasperating that someone like Trump is doing so well in the race for President right now. However, it’s not the place of journalists to decide that they aren’t going to cover someone because they think he’s silly. If we were talking about a candidate who was getting 1% or 2% in the polls, it would be one thing, but to apply this kind of rule someone who is near the top of the polls is arbitrary and inappropriate.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. wr says:

    Maybe we’re looking at this wrong. If you check out HuffPo, you quickly realize that to them the Kardashians are simply the most important people in the world. So they may actually be elevating Trump’s importance rather than diminishing it.

  2. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    I do agree. Trump is definitely not an entertaining person.

  3. Mu says:

    Quite frankly, people who check the HuffPo are not really the people relevant for the Republican primary. They are reading about Trump for entertainment, not because they need information to help with their voting choice.

  4. @Mu:

    That’s not an unfair point.

  5. DrDaveT says:

    Donald Trump is clearly a serious candidate for the Republican nomination.

    Not for any definition of the word ‘serious’ that seems plausible.

    Is he honestly striving to win the nomination and the election? Perhaps, but I doubt it.

    Does he have a legitimate chance to win either? No.

    Does he contribute in any useful way to anyone’s understanding of the issues that are important to voters at the moment? No.

    Is he a serious person, in the sense of “sober, not frivolous or flippant”? No.

    So what’s left? Yes, there is his Pluto-like effect on the orbits of other candidates, but that does not make him a “serious candidate”.

    Yes, he is currently leading in some polls, which is vastly amusing — but hardly ‘serious’.

    Sorry, I don’t see it.

  6. gVOR08 says:

    Since the Republican Party has failed to do anything about this clown act, maybe others should. Had the supposedly liberal MSM been willing to point and laugh when Republicans do laughable things, maybe the Party wouldn’t have gone as seriously off the rails as it has.

  7. Grewgills says:

    At this point in the cycle it might be appropriate to move all of the 2016 primary coverage to the entertainment section.;

  8. Gustopher says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Does he contribute in any useful way to anyone’s understanding of the issues that are important to voters at the moment? No.

    Just because you might be happier not knowing, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t contribute to your understanding of a significant segment on the right.

  9. James Pearce says:

    Huff Post “covers” things? I thought they just annoyed people with auto-play videos and the like?

  10. sam says:

    “However, it’s not the place of journalists to decide that they aren’t going to cover someone because they think he’s silly.”

    Surely journalists have the right to cover or not cover whomever they wish.

  11. michael reynolds says:

    It was a sophomoric decision, one I think they’ll eventually have to walk back. Like, say, next month when the debates start.

  12. SKI says:

    @wr: That was my thought as well. I would think more people see HuffPo entertainment than their political coverage.

  13. CSK says:

    I have to retract my first reaction which was: Good for HuffPo for not treating this clown more seriously.

    My retraction isn’t based in the following, but it’s interesting to read at some of the right-wing websites, where Perry, Fiorina, Walker, Bush–especially Bush–are routinely trashed as “left-wing progtard liberal RINO progessives” who should just declare their adherence to the Democratic Party and be done with it.

  14. John425 says:

    HuffPo is the twin of MSNBC- both are irrelevant.

  15. Scott F. says:

    I’m struck by who seems most upset by HuffPo’s decision – Cillizza, Byers and Warren are all political media professionals.

    Methinks they doth protest too much.

    I’d say they’re striking a defensive posture because they know they’re giving far more oxygen to Trump’s self-promotion than it merits.

  16. Tony W says:

    HuffPo is trying to be funny, but I think they are being just a bit too clever here. For one – they just gave Trump the entire weekend news cycle, including Sunday Morning. Maybe that was the intention, but they took themselves down with him.

    Trump is a serious candidate because the Republican primary voters think he is a serious candidate. Only Republican primary voters get to choose who best represents their views. Right now Trump represents them the most faithfully. This is unsurprising to anybody with half a brain.

  17. Pete S says:

    @Tony W: Tony, you are correct that the Republican voters are making him a serious candidate even if he is not being serious. This will actually help motivate those voters.

  18. Steve V says:

    I think there’s some Overton Window pushing going on here. The GOP has been putting forward too many joke candidates lately. This is their way of saying “enough.”

  19. DrDaveT says:

    @Gustopher:

    Just because you might be happier not knowing, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t contribute to your understanding of a significant segment on the right.

    I didn’t need Trump to know what the Republican base thinks. I will admit to being surprised that so many people will actually assert support for him as a candidate, but the naked id of the base has been on display for years.

  20. walt moffett says:

    Their web site, their rules, their ad revenue.

  21. Ben says:

    Trump is basically a clown on a unicycle, but he’s honestly no more of one than Herman Cain was in 2012, and HuffPo covered him in the politics section.

  22. Steve V says:

    @Ben: And they’re both no more ridiculous than Sarah Palin was. That’s the problem, the GOP is turning into a talk-radio show, and it isn’t ok. Someone has to push the acceptable bounds of discourse back to where they belong and stop playing along with this garbage. So while the Huffpo’s decision might be problematic in a myriad of ways, I like to see someone taking a stand.

  23. wr says:

    @John425: “HuffPo is the twin of MSNBC- both are irrelevant.”

    Because for you if it doesn’t come from Infowars, it’s lefty propaganda!

  24. dazedandconfused says:

    They may be trolling the RW media.

    I think it’s not quite right too. They are playing the same game as Cillizza, Warren, and the rest so putting Trump on Entertainment is, for a political rag, “putting on airs”.

    That said, the man is a “clown candidate” who won’t get far in those floppy shoes, and Humor Alert: Urban Dictionary for Donald Trump. Top rated one is a hoot.

  25. Thomas Weaver says:

    @DrDaveT: Stick around for the debates, in September – and, yes I know they begin in August…perhaps you will modify your viewpoint regarding Trump.

  26. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Steve V:

    That’s the problem, the GOP is turning into a talk-radio show,

    Well put, and all too true. I’d give that a hundred thumbs up if I could.

  27. Paul Hooson says:

    Donald Trump seems better suited to the funny pages than anything. He’s perhaps the greatest self parody since either Ross Perot or George Wallace. ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT still largely treats him as an entertainment story, while the late night comics treat him as a joke…

  28. MBunge says:

    I’m all for the enforcement of standards but in what way is Trump more ridiculous than the orange guy running the House or the turtle running the Senate? At the very least, how is Trump any worse than Cruz?

    This seems more like cultural snobbery.

    Mike

  29. C. Clavin says:

    Trumps an entertainer…a reality TV star. He’s never held political office. And there is no proof he is serious about this beyond getting attention for himself.

  30. CSK says:

    But you just know Trump is salivating with joy over this unexpected free publicity. He can present himself as a martyr. Persecuted by HuffPo! His fan club will love it.

  31. Tillman says:

    While lumping Trump in with reality TV coverage will win HuffPo plenty of plaudits — including those rare ones from Republicans who want nothing more than to get Trump off the center of the national stage — it’s not the right decision.

    He gives the game away here. I’m gonna thoughtpiece this right here. “Plaudit” as a word rose to prominence when theater really took off as an accepted art form. He’s lamenting how in this giant improvised comedy that is politics, HuffPo is Denying the rest of them and not allowing their Offers to go forward. HuffPo is trying to dictate Trump belongs in theater theater, not political theater. It’s doing that thing the right accuses the left of never wanting to do — calling something what it is.

  32. Slugger says:

    If I look at our politics as entertainment, I laugh. If I look at our politics as a serious endeavor intended to guide a great people, I cry.

  33. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Thomas Weaver: If Donald Trump is actually the real deal for the GOP, superdestroyer may be right about the coming one-party state, at least in the short term.

  34. Lenoxus says:

    I like to think the “martyrdom” mentioned by Doug in the post and CSK in a comment above is actually HuffPo’s desired result here. Then again, I also think Obama made a big show of his birth certificate deliberately to make birthers more prominent in the 2012 election. I live in a fun world, in my mind.

  35. LC says:

    Yes, it’s insane and exasperating that someone like Trump is doing so well in the race for President right now.

    If you think it is insane that Donald Trump is doing so well in the race for the Republican nomination for President (which is different than the race for POTUS) then you have not been paying attention for the last 10 years.