The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel pointed to a massive media vulnerability that Donald Trump regularly exploits, writing that even though the Republican nominee for president “has offered less policy detail than any candidate for president in my lifetime,” Trump is able to game the media because he “has never failed to offer enough detail to fit in a headline or cable news chyron.”
Weigel’s article comes as both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump released personal health information in drastically different ways, with Clinton releasing detailed letters from her doctor to the public, and Trump choosing to release significantly less information. As Weigel noted, while “The asymmetry between what Clinton released and Trump released was notable … A reader scanning headlines would think that both candidates released full sets of information.”
Weigel explains that this has been a general trend, in which “coverage of campaigns needs to be shrunk to fit a chyron, anyway” and that “Trump's innovation has been to preshrink the news.” The result is that it appears as if “Trump is trading Clinton blow for blow and white paper for white paper” if voters “only glance at the news.” Weigel added that Trump’s method gives him the “ability to get credit — and the headline, and the chyron — for what other candidates would consider less than a bare minimum.” From the September 15 article:
CBS News reporter Mark Knoller is a Boswellian chronicler of the White House. How many foreign trips has the president taken? How many times has he spoken to the press from the Brady press briefing room? Do not waste precious time: Knoller knows.
This is why it was striking when Knoller tweeted that on Wednesday night's news broadcasts, “newly released medical reports from @HillaryClinton and @realDonaldTrump” were the lead stories. Jamelle Bouie, a CBS News commentator (and former colleague of mine at Slate) was among the people reminding Knoller that Trump had not actually released anything. He had taped an episode of “The Dr. Oz Show”; reporters who talked to audience remembers discovered that he released some details, but not the report.
The asymmetry between what Clinton released and Trump released was notable, though pretty typical of the campaign. Clinton released an updated letter from her physician, which revealed details like her medication regimen and cholesterol level. (It once again debunked the idea that she is staggering from neurological damage, a conspiracy theory furthered on Fox News.) In the body of their stories, most reporters noted the difference between what was revealed; in summing it up for headlines or tweets, the distinction was elided. A reader scanning headlines would think that both candidates released full sets of information.
What's the upshot of this? I'm going to draw a lesson from a deeply unrelated aspect of my job — I frequently travel through airports or park in newsrooms that are blaring cable TV. Trump has offered less policy detail than any candidate for president in my lifetime. But he has never failed to offer enough detail to fit in a headline or cable news chyron.
That matters. If, like many people, you only glance at the news (yes, we know how long readers spend finishing articles), you come away with the impression that Trump is trading Clinton blow for blow and white paper for white paper. If either candidate released their entire medical history, or Trump revealed his entire tax returns, only a handful of voters might even read them. They'd depend on the press to find the story and the lede. Most coverage of campaigns needs to be shrunk to fit a chyron, anyway; Trump's innovation has been to preshrink the news.
It's rote for conservatives to see a bias in how their candidate is being covered. On a lot of metrics, like coverage of social issues and immigration, the media's norms are to the left of conservative voters. But there's growing liberal anger about Trump's “hacking” of the media, and his ability to get credit — and the headline, and the chyron — for what other candidates would consider less than a bare minimum.