Trump’s dominance over the news cycle and attention economy evaporates

A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

Have you had your first Trump-free day yet? A day in which a single thought about the former president didn’t enter your head? It seemed impossible to imagine, even just a year or so ago. And yet, I know that I’ve already had one. And I would not be surprised if you have as well.

I say that because Trump’s grip on our attention economy has undoubtedly slipped in a dramatic fashion over the last several weeks. Expelled from the Oval Office and banned from social media, the former president’s ability to direct our attention has all but evaporated.

Trump seems to know this. In search of the attention that he desperately craves, the former president has started sending bombastic Twitter-like statements from the “45 Office” straight into the inboxes of reporters. But most of those statements are outright ignored. I don’t think I’ve seen a single one of them show up in a cable news chyron like his early morning tweets once did. Trump’s statements simply fail to drive the narrative nowadays.

Even when he phones up his favorite propaganda channels, no one seems to pay attention. On Tuesday, he called into Newsmax. Most people probably have no idea that he did so. And if they were aware, it’s unlikely they really know what he said. When he calls into Fox shows, the programs barely see a ratings bump the next day. No one seems to really care about what he has to say.

The proof is in the data

This isn’t just anecdotal either. The data supports that the country has moved on from Trump. WaPo’s Philip Bump this week examined Google search data, in addition to Trump’s visibility and mentions on cable news. Every metric shows that Trump’s media dominance has subsided.

As Bump explains, in March, “Google search interest [in Trump] was lower than at any point since June 2015, as was the amount of time he was seen on cable. The networks were covering him far less, down to the point reached last year when the pandemic overtook Trump in the national attention. Besides that, the average mentions of Trump in March were back to the levels seen in November 2015…”

To tweet or not to tweet?

Since Trump’s only hope for coverage at this point rests on reporters posting the (often deranged) statements he puts out via email, a debate has commenced about whether journalists should be tweeting them out. Those against the practice argue that reporters are continuing to lend their platforms to someone who doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously. Don’t give him the oxygen he needs to retain his hold on our politics. Just ignore him!

But those in favor argue that, like it or not, Trump is still incredibly influential in the GOP and, thus, the country. “If you don’t want to be informed about the statements of the most prominent figure in one of the country’s two major parties, you probably shouldn’t read news or follow reporters,” Hunter Walker tweeted Wednesday in response to the “vocal minority” whom objects. “This perspective isn’t remotely enlightened or intelligent,” Walker added. “It is deliberately sticking your head in the sand. Trump is a big part of our political reality.”

Room for more

I thought this Wednesday tweet from Carrie Cordero was spot on: “An observation in our post-Trump presidency/Twitter-free world: there’s some outstanding journalism going on all across platforms,” she pointed out. “Maybe it was always there but crowded out by daily insanity or maybe it’s now getting more support to develop & feature. Whichever it is, it’s great.” Indeed, it is…

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