The Distortion of Donald Trump
Why lies about Donald Trump in the media actually increase his popularity.
As of late, several critics of Donald Trump, including President Obama, have alleged that his popularity is a result of the media’s early end-to-end coverage of his campaign. This coverage, the theory asserts, led to increased exposure for Trump’s platform and helped attract blue-collar workers and nationalists to flock to Trump’s campaign and as a result, hindered coverage of the campaigns of more moderate candidates, such as John Kasich or Marco Rubio.
While this theory has its flaws, (namely that Trump’s availability and existing popularity sparked public interest from the start,which made either avoiding him or minimizing coverage a terrible business move for the media since, no one brought in clicks like Trump) it seems likely that Trump’s name recognition, shocking ideology, and public interest in his campaign led to blanket media coverage, which in turn compounded interest and spread Trump’s message.
What’s especially notable here isn’t the endless media coverage, but also the endless mischaracterization of his views. These mischaracterizations, perhaps exaggerated to entice page visits, seem have played a rather large role in Trump’s rise. Trump’s words were distorted often by the media and these distortions changed the public’s perceptions of Trump’s ideology.
Consider, for example, Trump’s first major infamous comment in his campaign.
When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. Their rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
What Trump is saying that while some illegal immigrants from Mexico are good, some are criminals and rapists. Athough the accuracy is this statement is still contested as is(1, 2), it was twisted by several publications to extend from some Mexican illegal immigrants to all Mexican illegal immigrants by the New York Times, all Latino immigrants by Huffington Post, and all Mexicans by the Washington Post. These mischaracterizations are much more extreme and harder to defend.
Let’s pause for a moment to profile the typical Donald Trump supporter, one of the roughly 40% of Republicans that support Donald Trump. Statistically, he is probably white, male, poor, and uneducated. He resents outsiders and probably lives in an area with racial tensions. He doesn’t see himself as really having a voice in the political system. He wants the system to work for him, like how Donald Trump does. He’s tired of political correctness- the country is being wrecked by the president and all these immigrants- he thinks, we don’t have time for political correctness.
So he sees Trump on the TV and hears him talk of “Making America Great Again,” and thinks about how Trump is beholden to none. While Trump was saying that a few specific people from the large group of illegal immigrants are potential rapists, the media says he thinks all Mexicans are rapists. The Donald Trump supporter sees this and thinks “Wow, Trump really isn’t afraid of not being politically correct; he’s thinking about the American people instead of what’s considered polite. He’s someone who gets the job done.” The exaggerated positions of Trump serve not only as click bait but also appeal more to his voter base. The media pushes his views to the right in order to highlight how extreme they are, but his voter base is already on the extreme right. This pattern repeats again and again, whether it’s with John McCain, or Megyn Kelly, Trump’s comments are amplified by the media and in turn appeal to the far right even more.