Media Underscored Clinton's 'Deplorables' -- But Shrug Off Trump's 'Vermin'

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

Major news outlets devoted dramatically less coverage to former President Donald Trump describing his political enemies as “vermin” earlier this month than they provided then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s 2016 “basket of deplorables” remark in the week following those respective comments.

According to a Media Matters review:
  • The Big Three broadcast TV networks provided 18 times more coverage of Clinton’s 2016 “deplorables” comment than Trump’s “vermin” remark on their combined nationally syndicated morning news, evening news, and Sunday morning political talk shows.
  • CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC mentioned Clinton’s “deplorables” comment nearly 9 times more than Trump’s “vermin” comment.
  • Print reports that mentioned Clinton's statement outnumbered those that mentioned Trump’s 29-to-1 across the five highest-circulating U.S. newspapers.

Coverage decisions like these provide insight into which stories the editors, producers, and reporters at major news outlets are prioritizing and shape the political landscape during presidential election cycles.

Experts on authoritarianism warned that Trump’s rhetoric echoed that of fascist dictators like Adolf Hitler after he promised to “root out the communist, Marxist, fascist and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country” in a November 11 speech. The former president, who frequently describes his political opponents, including President Joe Biden’s administration, as “communists,” 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 weaponized Clinton’s relatively mundane “basket of deplorables” comment. Clinton told attendees at a September 2016 fundraiser that while “you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables” who are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic,” a statement consistent with contemporaneous polling. But 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 empathize with as well.”

The right-wing grievance machine seized on Clinton’s comments, with Trump, his political allies, and his media propagandists whipping up a pseudo scandal by claiming that Clinton had attacked all Trump supporters and feigning offense (they’ve repeatedly attempted to run the same playbook and manufacture a “deplorable moment” for Biden). Unfortunately, major national news outlets responded by 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. When experts are sounding the alarm about the similarities between a likely U.S. presidential nominee’s rhetoric and that of genocidaires, it warrants much more significant attention from journalists at leading news outlets.

Broadcast news coverage of “deplorables” versus “vermin”

Media Matters reviewed the nationally syndicated broadcast news shows – ABC’s Good Morning America, World News Tonight, and This Week; CBS’ This Morning, Mornings, Evening News, and Face the Nation; and NBC’s Today, Nightly News, and Meet the Press – in the first week after each remark.

We found that those programs aired 54 minutes of coverage of Clinton's “deplorables” comment but just 3 minutes regarding Trump's “vermin” remark.

ABC News aired 20 minutes of “deplorables” coverage across 13 segments and 3 teasers, but devoted only a single minute of coverage to the “vermin” comment, during an interview with the network’s chief Washington correspondent, Jonathan Karl, about his new book.

CBS News provided 13 minutes of “deplorables” coverage across 11 segments and 3 teasers, compared to 1 passing mention of the “vermin” remark on Face the Nation that comprised less than 30 seconds.And NBC News spent 21 minutes of airtime on the “deplorables” comment across 11 segments, compared to 2 minutes on “vermin” — one a passing mention, the other an interview in which Meet the Press moderator Kristen Welker read the comment to Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel and asked her, “Are you comfortable with this language coming from the GOP front-runner?” (McDaniel declined to comment.)

Cable news coverage of “deplorables” versus “vermin”

Media Matters reviewed mentions of “deplorable” or “deplorables” and of “vermin” on CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC, in the week following each comment.

We found 1,662 “deplorable” mentions compared to 191 mentions of “vermin” across the three cable networks.
On CNN, there were 553 mentions of “deplorable” compared to 70 for “vermin.”

On Fox News, there were 513 mentions of “deplorable” compared to only 9 of “vermin.”

And on MSNBC, there were 596 mentions of “deplorable” compared to only 112 of “vermin.”

Print news coverage of “deplorables” versus “vermin”

Media Matters reviewed print news coverage in the top 5 U.S. newspapers by circulation — the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post — in the first week following each remark. We counted both stories that mentioned the comments and those we determined were primarily about those remarks because discussion of them appeared in the story’s headline and/or lead.

We found that the papers ran a total of 29 news articles mentioning Clinton’s “deplorables” remark — 13 of which ran on the front page. Of those, 11 of the articles, including 3 of the front-page articles, mentioned the remark in its headline and/or lead. By contrast, the papers combined for just 1 print news article that mentioned Trump’s “vermin” comment, which ran in the interior of The Washington Post.

The Los Angeles Times ran 3 print news articles mentioning Clinton’s “deplorables” comment, 2 of which ran on its front page. Of the 3, 1 article mentioned the comment in its lead; it ran on the paper’s front page. The paper did not mention Trump’s “vermin” remark in a print news story.

The New York Times ran 7 print news articles mentioning Clinton’s “deplorables” remark, 4 of which ran on its front page. Of the 7, 2 mentioned the remark in its headline or lead. The paper did not mention Trump’s “vermin” remark in a print news story.

The Wall Street Journal ran 8 print news articles mentioning Clinton’s “deplorables” remark, 4 of which ran on its front page. Of the 8, 3 mentioned the remark in their headline or lead, and 1 of those ran on the Journal's front page. The paper did not mention Trump’s “vermin” remark in a print news story.

The Washington Post ran 9 print news articles mentioning Clinton’s “deplorables” remark, 3 of which ran on its front page. Of the 9, 5 mentioned the remark in its headline or lead, and 1 of those ran on the paper’s front page. The Post’s only report mentioning Trump’s “vermin” remark ran on A2 under the headline “Echoing Hitler, Mussolini, Trump calls political foes 'vermin.'”

USA Today ran 2 print news articles that mentioned the “deplorables” remark and none that mentioned the “vermin” comment.

Correction (11/28/23): This piece originally included an incorrect date in the graphs and in the methodology. Additionally one of the bullets in the introduction mischaracterized the print coverage.

Methodology

Media Matters searched transcripts in the SnapStream video database for all original episodes of ABC’s Good Morning America, World News Tonight, and This Week; CBS’ Mornings, Evening News, and Face the Nation; and NBC’s Today, Nightly News, and Meet the Press for either of the terms “Trump” or “former president” within close proximity of any of the terms “Mussolini,” “Hitler,” “vermin,” “root out,” “radical left,” “thug,” “communist,” “Marxist,” “fascist,” “threat,” or “destroy” from November 11, 2023, when Trump made the comments during a Veterans Day address in Claremont, New Hampshire, through November 17, 2023, one week after the initial comment.

We searched transcripts in the Kinetiq video database for all original episodes of ABC’s Good Morning America, World News Tonight, and This Week; CBS’ This Morning, Evening News, and Face the Nation; and NBC’s Today, Nightly News, and Meet the Press for any of the terms “Hillary,” “Clinton,” or “former secretary of state” within close proximity of any of the terms “deplorable,” “racist,” “sexist,” “homophobic,” “xenophobic,” “Islamophobic,” or “Trump supporter” from September 9, 2016, when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Trump supporters a “basket of deplorables” at a campaign fundraising event, through September 15, 2016, one week after the initial comment.

We timed broadcast segments, which we defined as instances when Trump's 2023 Veterans Day speech in which he likened his political opponents to “vermin” was the stated topic of discussion, when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Trump supporters a “basket of deplorables” at a campaign fundraising event was the stated topic of discussion, or when we found significant discussion of either of those comments. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed either of the comments with one another.
We also timed broadcast mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker in a segment on another topic mentioned Trump's or Clinton's remarks without another speaker in the segment engaging with the comment, and broadcast teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about Trump's or Clinton's comments scheduled to air later in the broadcast.

We rounded all times to the nearest minute.

We also searched transcripts in the Kinetiq video database for all original programming on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC for the term “vermin” from November 11, 2023, through November 17, 2023, and either of the terms “deplorable” or “deplorables” from September 9, 2016, through September 15, 2016. We considered any instance of any of the terms a single mention.

Finally, we searched print articles in the Factiva and Nexis databases from the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post for either of the terms “Trump” or “former president” within roughly the same paragraph (approximately 200 words) as “Mussolini,” “Hitler,” “vermin,” “root out,” “radical left,” “thug,” “communist,” “Marxist,” “fascist,” “threat,” or “destroy” from November 11, 2023, through November 17, 2023.

We also searched print articles from the same newspapers for any of the terms “Hillary,” “Clinton,” or “former secretary of state” within roughly the same paragraph (approximately 200 words) as “deplorable,” “racist,” “sexist,” “homophobic,” “xenophobic,” “Islamophobic,” or “Trump supporter” from September 9, 2016, through September 15, 2016.

We considered a print article to be about either of the comments if they were mentioned in the headline or lead paragraphs. We included all news articles in the A section of the paper. We did not include editorials, op-eds, or letters to the editor.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

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