Why Did National News Outlets Downplay Trump's Nazi-Style Rhetoric?

Donald Trump
Former President Donald Trump
Donald Trump

Former President Donald Trump repeatedly pledged to “root out” his political opponents, who he claimed “live like vermin within the confines of our country” and want to “destroy America.” Experts on authoritarianism are comparing the unhinged rhetoric to that of genocidal fascist dictators — but that has not compelled significant coverage from several major newspapers and broadcast networks.

“Today especially, in honor of our great veterans on Veterans Day, we pledge to you that we will root out the communist, Marxist, fascist and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country, that lie and steal and cheat on elections and will do anything possible — they’ll do anything, whether legally or illegally — to destroy America and to destroy the American dream,” Trump said at a rally on Saturday.

“The real threat is not from the radical right; the real threat is from the radical left, and it’s growing every day, every single day,” he added. “The threat from outside forces is far less sinister, dangerous, and grave than the threat from within.”

The former president and runaway leader for the Republican presidential nomination reiterated the point on his Truth Social platform.

But if you rely on the news divisions of the Big Three broadcast networks, you haven’t seen the chilling footage of Trump’s remarks. CBS News and ABC News have not mentioned Trump’s remarks at all on their morning news, evening news, or Sunday morning political talk shows.

NBC News also did not discuss them on its morning and evening news broadcasts, and Meet The Presssole coverage consisted of host Kristen Welker reading the comment to Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel and asking her, “Are you comfortable with this language coming from the GOP front-runner?” (McDaniel declined to comment).

The nation’s most-read newspapers are similarly not treating these remarks as a major story. The Los Angeles Times, TheNew York Times, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal have not covered the former president’s comments in the news sections of their print editions. (The New York Times did cover it online, but its report on the remarks drew criticism for its initial headline, “Trump Takes Veterans Day Speech in a Very Different Direction.”) The Washington Post did publish a print article, but kept it off the front page.

The editors, producers, and reporters at major national news outlets signal the relative importance of various stories through the volume and prominence of the attention they give them. During the 2016 presidential election, for example, those notables treated Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s email travails as the single most important story of the cycle. President Joe Biden’s age has likewise been a fixation for news outlets this year, even though Trump is only a few years younger.

But Trump’s extremist outbursts often draw little or no coverage from major news outlets. That is remarkable, particularly given how genuinely unhinged his remarks often are, and given that right-wing institutions are laying the groundwork for a future Trump administration to carry out top priorities like arresting his political enemies.

His “vermin” comments are a classic case of a newsworthy statement that has somehow escaped such treatment. Experts on authoritarianism compared Trump’s remarks to the rhetoric of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

“When you dehumanize an opponent, you strip them of their constitutional rights to participate securely in a democracy because you’re saying they’re not human,” Timothy Naftali, a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, told the Post. “That’s what dictators do.”

Steven Cheung, a Trump campaign spokesman, told the Post that people making such comparisons are “suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome and their entire existence will be crushed when President Trump returns to the White House.”

That story, the only one to appear in a print edition from the outlets we reviewed, did not make the paper’s front page. As of Monday morning, Post editors had placed its online version far down on their website and app.


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, Evenings 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 “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 12 p.m. November 13, 2023.

We also searched print articles 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 the same headline or lead paragraphs as “vermin,” “root out,” “radical left,” “thug,” “communist,” “Marxist,” “fascist,” “threat,” or “destroy” from November 11, 2023, through 12 p.m. November 13, 2023.

We timed 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 or when we found significant discussion of those comments from the address. We defined significant discussion as instances when two or more speakers in a multitopic segment discussed the comments with one another.

We also timed mentions, which we defined as instances when a single speaker in a segment on another topic mentioned Trump's remarks without another speaker in the segment engaging with the comment, and teasers, which we defined as instances when the anchor or host promoted a segment about Trump's comments scheduled to air later in the broadcast.

We rounded all times to the nearest minute.

Finally, we included print news articles, which we defined as instances when Trump's comments were mentioned in the headline or lead paragraphs in the A section of the paper. We did not include editorial, op-eds, or letters to the editor.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

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