Are you following national politics?
Then I invite you to think about the news coverage of Donald Trump from 2 perspectives.
First: think of your gut feelings. Second, think of the empirical evidence.
Ready? Let’s begin.
Trump receives a boatload of news coverage.
And, amazingly enough, this is despite the fact that several reporters have promised to disengage from coverage of Trump.
Yet, coverage persists.
Each day I review the opinions in the New York Times.
Each day pundits deplore the demagoguery of Trump.
And each day, Trump receives more coverage than any other presidential hopeful.
Take a look at the opinions and editorial and page one coverage: it’s Trump, Trump, Trump.
It isn’t praise—it’s outrage.
That’s the gut reaction—unless you are among the minority that supports his racist views.
He’s a racist idiot.
He’s compared with Senator Joe McCarthy without hyperbole.
But what about the evidence?
Folks who have studied news coverage throughout the decades suffer from cognitive dissonance and disassociation when it comes to Trump coverage.
The braggart gets a boatload of attention.
The question is: does it matter?
Does it matter that someone gets a lion’s share of coverage even when it’s negative?
Here’s what media researchers have said since the Nixon and Kennedy race:
No matter whether the news is positive, negative or neutral, the sheer amount of attention makes a difference.
In other words: the mere fact that pundits pay attention to Trump’s rants makes a difference.
When we consume news, we get a sense of what’s important: where is the attention notched?
If we read over and over again about Trump, then we sense that his presence is important.
Like it or not, his presence becomes part of everyday discourse.
And the very presence of Trump signals importance.
Some scholars argue that because news channels pay attention, then readers assume the attention paid is earned: it’s salient.
So: even if the news coverage has a negative slant, it’s less important than the fact that Trump gets attention.
So: attention yields attention.
The more something is covered, the more we think it’s important.
Problem is, most folks avoid the fine print: the tenor of the story.
Instead, we remember that something or someone got attention. And in Trump’s case, that translates to importance.
Better to ignore him altogether, if coverage invokes salience.
Image from http://www.cartoonaday.com/donald-trump-for-president-caricature/