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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Media gave much less play to Trump’s ‘vermin’ comment than Clinton remark

Media gave much less play to Trump’s ‘vermin’ comment than Clinton remark

“Main networks gave 18 times more coverage to 2016 ‘deplorables’ remark; while top papers give it 29 times more, Media Matters finds

Donald Trump points at a rally in Claremont, New Hampshire, this month
Donald Trump this month denounced ‘the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country’. Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

Major US news outlets devoted significantly less time and space to covering Donald Trump’s description of his enemies as “vermin” this month than they did in a similar period in 2016 to Hillary Clinton’s reference to Trump’s supporters as “deplorables”, a new study has found.

Findings by the progressive watchdog Media Matters included 18 times more coverage of Clinton’s remark than Trump’s by the “Big Three” broadcast networks (NBC, ABC and CBS) in the first week after the remark was made; and print reports among the top five circulating newspapers (Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today) in which mention of Clinton’s remark outnumbered Trump’s 29-1 in the same period.

“Coverage decisions like these … shape the political landscape during presidential election cycles,” wrote Matt Gertz, a Media Matters senior fellow.

Media Matters describes itself as “a web-based, not-for-profit … progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analysing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the US media”.

It has recently made headlines by highlighting far-right content on X, prompting advertisers to withdraw, an effort now the subject of a lawsuit from Elon Musk, the billionaire owner of the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Clinton’s “deplorables” remark was a famous feature of the 2016 presidential election, which she lost to Trump.

In September that year, the Democrat told a New York audience: “To be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic – you name it. And unfortunately, there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.”

Trump lost to Joe Biden four years later but is the clear frontrunner to be the Republican nominee again in 2024, dominating polling despite facing 91 criminal charges and assorted civil threats.

Earlier this month, in New Hampshire, he told supporters he would “root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country that lie and steal and cheat on elections”.

Biden joined pundits and historians in pointing out how authoritarian leaders have called opponents “vermin”, Adolf Hitler prominently among them.

Acknowledging such comparisons and warnings, Gertz wrote: “The former president … added that those forces want ‘to destroy America and to destroy the American dream’ and that ‘the threat from outside forces is far less sinister, dangerous, and grave than the threat from within’.

“By contrast, the right weaponised Clinton’s relatively mundane ‘basket of deplorables’ comment … [though] she went on to stress that attendees shouldn’t write off all of his backers because they also include ‘people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change’, adding: ‘Those are people we have to understand and empathise with as well.’”

The new Media Matters research, Gertz said, illustrated how major news outlets responded to “weaponisation” of Clinton’s remark, “rewarding the right for its disingenuous act, showering Clinton’s ‘deplorables’ remark with coverage.

“By contrast, the same outlets largely ignored Trump’s description of his political enemies as ‘vermin’, continuing a pattern of relatively muted coverage of Trump’s abhorrent and incoherent commentary.”

According to the research, ABC, CBS and NBC spent 54 minutes on the “deplorables” remark in the first week after it was uttered (making 1,662 mentions of it) but only three minutes (through 191 mentions) on the “vermin” remark in the same period.

The only print article in the five main papers to consider the “vermin” remark was published by the Washington Post. In 2016, it ran nine print articles on the “deplorables” comment in the first week after it was made, Media Matters said.

Gertz said: “When experts are sounding the alarm about the similarities between a likely US presidential nominee’s rhetoric and that of genocidaires, it warrants much more significant attention from journalists at leading news outlets.”

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