What makes a Trump story stick

To work as someone who covers Donald Trump for a living is to sometimes doubt your own memory. Quite often, a story that everyone else treats as a new and stunning revelation seems to you like something you’ve heard before.

To take one example: Last July, there was a modest uproar after Trump gave a speech in North Carolina in which he offered tempered praise for former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. One can understand why this was a story, but Trump had used similar lines about Hussein in speeches, interviews and debates several times before — for instance, in a Republican debate in February. I remember being shocked after that debate that Trump’s comments, which went so against Republican orthodoxy, hadn’t received more attention from voters and the media. I was surprised again in July, when a story that so many people had ignored in February was suddenly treated as salient.

There are a lot of cases like this. Last April, for example, the Boston Globe published a story alleging that Trump had groped a Florida woman named Jill Harth in the early 1990s. The story, despite a lot of carefully reported detail from one of America’s most prominent newspapers, was largely ignored. In October, however, after the publication of a leaked “Access Hollywood” tape on which Trump condoned unwanted sexual contact toward women, and after several more women came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment or sexual assault, Google searches for Harth’s name were about 30 times higher than they had been in April, when the Globe’s original story broke.

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