It takes up two full pages that could have been devoted to literally anything else
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It’s common knowledge that Donald Trump knows no limits when it comes to delivering insults. We’ve seen them pumped out assembly line style on Twitter, doled out carelessly on the campaign trail, and even muttered in the middle of a presidential debate. Coverage of his racist, sexist, and bombastic comments isn’t hard to come by, but if you were looking for a comprehensive list of his attacks, one news organization has done just that.
On Monday, The New York Times published an exhaustive list of the 281 “people, places, and things” Trump has insulted throughout his campaign (and they sourced that material purely from his tweets). The resulting list takes up two full pages in the paper and catalogs Trump’s disparaging comments toward Hillary Clinton—calling her “crooked,” “nasty,” and “weak”—in addition to his slandering of journalists, celebrities, media outlets, the Super Bowl, a Neil Young song, and entire countries. The Times initially posted a version of this list on its website toward the end of January of this year and took on the daunting task of updating it throughout Trump’s campaign.
While it’s undoubtedly important for voters to know the divisive, offensive language Trump uses on a daily basis, stories like these have a way of tipping the sheer volume of coverage in favor of the more outlandish candidate. In March, The New York Times reported on the $2 billion worth of free media coverage Trump received during the primaries, despite spending relatively little on presidential ads. Whether the press is good or bad, Trump gains an advantage simply by dominating the front pages of major outlets.
Despite the unprecedented vitriol Trump uses as his campaign’s centerpiece, a report released this past June by Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center revealed that Hillary Clinton has received more negative coverage than any other candidate. For instance, 84 percent of the coverage devoted to Clinton and policy issues had a negative tone, while only 42 percent of similar stories about Trump were negative. Tim Groeling, Chair of the UCLA Department of Communications Studies, explained the phenomenon to GOOD reporter Carter Maness, saying,
“The handicapped horse-race coverage (where Trump did far better than most analysts expected, Sanders did better, and Clinton had a much harder time than predicted) seems to explain most of the patterns observed here. When a candidate does better than expected, reporters tend to write stories explaining why the candidate did better than expected, which tend to focus on positive characteristics. When they do worse than expected, the stories catalog their faults in an attempt to explain that.”
Which explains why, immediately following the presidential debates, pundits tended to focus on how Trump surprised them by lowering his voice instead of jumping right into his defense of sexual assault or conflation of black Americans with inner cities.
Because we are naturally more attracted to the sensational than the sentimental, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that political reporting tends to be more negative than positive. But at what point does this kind of reporting bleed into purposeless entertainment? The Times’ latest list likely won’t make a dent in the polls (as of October 22, Reuters pegs Clinton with a 95 percent chance of winning). Still, given the number of pivotal historical moments and monumental decisions taking place lately, is it necessary to devote two full pages of an award-winning newspaper to Donald Trump’s tweets? If the age-old advice of shutting down bullies by ignoring them still holds up, then the answer is clearly no.