On Thursday afternoon, presumptive Republican Party nominee Donald Trump threw the content creators of digital media some literal red meat. He tweeted a photo of himself enjoying a taco bowl for lunch, adding a typically ham-fisted assurance that, contrary to popular belief, he "love[s] Hispanics."
This is not an article about that tweet. This is an article about digital media's addiction to Trump's tweet and his media antics in general.
It's a craving just as strong as what we see on cable news day after day — the same addiction that new media loves to skewer. The Huffington Post, the most self-congratulatory of any outlet regarding its Trump stance, wrote last year: "The networks’ 24-hour coverage of the reality TV star highlights the problem with audience-driven coverage."
That's the same Huffington Post that, after Trump's taco tweet Thursday, joined dozens of other news sites that scrambled to report on the tweet, no doubt to ride the wave of traffic and get people's eyeballs on its adverts.
Vox.com "explained" the tweet. Mashable outlined 19 offensive things about the tweet. The Verge, adopting the conversational, "How do you do, fellow kids?" approach, walked through "everything terrible" about the tweet.
It's worth noting that what Trump did was nothing new: Republicans hostile to immigration boast of their taste for Mexican food all the time.
Nevertheless, the flood of taco tweet coverage went on. Business Insider wrote it up, Politico wrote it up, Slate wrote it up, NPR wrote it up, and Vanity Fair wrote it up. Many of them published follow-ups of the write-ups. Even the Washington Post and the New York Times got in on the action. (Neither International Business Times nor Newsweek wrote it up, though IBT Media's separate UK site did.)
While it's certainly true CNN ran chyrons about Trump's taco tweet all Friday morning and the press grilled President Barack Obama on it later in the day, digital media is clearly just as hooked.
The reason: Trump’s tweet was social media gold. It garnered over 1.7 million likes, shares, comments and retweets across Facebook and Twitter in the hours after it appeared, according to the analytics firm ListenFirst Media. For context, Kim Kardashian's tweet featuring infant Saint West generated only 1.5 million responses, and Kobe Bryant's farewell tweet only 1 million.
— Esquire (@esquire) May 7, 2016
Every news site wants to cash in on that social activity and win the Facebook lottery, i.e., become the definitive Trump Taco Tweet Article that rides to the top of the traffic tsunami. In the late-stage capitalism environment of the click economy, that's what passes for distribution.
The Taco Incident is a microcosm of the general duplicity digital media has enjoyed this election season — Huffington Post in particular — shaming voters and networks for their interest in Trump while splashing his face on every conceivable corner of their websites.
In the current state of politics and media, there are no clean hands, whatever size they may be.