Huffington Post, unmoved by polls, keeps Trump in celeb section

Donald Trump outlines his immigration plan
Donald Trump outlines his immigration plan

Donald Trump is still the Republican presidential frontrunner, the man to beat in a crowded field of hopefuls.

But at the Huffington Post, Trump remains no more of a legitimate candidate than Sharon Stone. And the liberal news website has no plans to change that anytime soon.

A month after HuffPost announced that it will include coverage of Trump's campaign in its entertainment section, two of the site's top editors said they are "more committed to the decision than ever."

"Over the last month, we've seen our central argument proven right: That Trump is nothing more than a sideshow and not a legitimate presidential contender with serious policy ideas for moving the country forward," HuffPost editorial director Danny Shea and Washington bureau chief Ryan Grim said in a statement this week.

Related: Huffington Post to cover Trump as an entertainer, not a politician

That same month has seen Trump cement his status as the clear frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination. Poll after poll has shown the billionaire real estate mogul with ample leads over his Republican rivals -- disproving pundits who declared his candidacy doomed by one verbal gaffe or another.

A CNN/ORC national poll released Tuesday showed Trump 11 points ahead of his nearest opponent, with large numbers of GOP voters saying they trust Trump more than the other candidates to handle the economy, immigration and the Islamic State terror group.

trump ent huffpo

But Shea and Grim told CNNMoney that Trump's leads in the polls won't influence HuffPost's coverage. Shea dismissed the significance of polling this early in the election cycle, saying Trump's strong showing is "largely a function of name ID." Grim said the point of the decision remains true, regardless of Trump's success in the polls.

"He could win a caucus or a primary," Grim said. "That doesn't mean that he's not a clown."

So when would HuffPost reconsider the decision?

"Let's say he wins the White House," Grim said with a chuckle.

Shea and Grim are proud of the decision. As Shea sees it, a lot of journalists privately regard Trump as a sideshow, but only HuffPost will acknowledge it on the record. In their statement this week, the two reiterated that HuffPost is "still not taking the bait."

"Otherwise serious journalists are being seduced by Trump because of his willingness to say and do outrageous things for headlines and ratings," they said.

But HuffPost is still covering Trump plenty, and Grim said those stories do "extremely well" with the site's audience. On Monday, Trump's name appeared in more than 10 headlines across the site. And Trump is covered by the same HuffPost political reporters who write about Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.

So the decision to stop treating Trump like an "actual presidential candidate" has been mostly cosmetic. Many Trump stories wind up on HuffPost's heavily trafficked homepage.

But the entertainment section is where HuffPost readers will find most of the site's Trump stories, right next to coverage of celebrity selfies and super hero flicks.

A story published Sunday on Trump's immigration plan was positioned on the site's entertainment page next to a post about Sharon Stone's recent nude photo shoot.

Reaction has been mixed among HuffPost's political reporters. Some said that the designation has at times been confusing. When HuffPost covers another candidate's comments about Trump -- as the site did the other day with a post on Bernie Sanders poking fun at Trump's helicopter -- those stories are housed in the politics section.

But other staffers said they are all for classifying Trump as an entertainer.

"I kind of love the decision," HuffPost's senior political economy reporter Zach Carter told CNNMoney.

Most HuffPost politics reporters stressed that the decision hasn't had much bearing on their jobs. One reporter said the biggest impact is likely felt in the site's traffic, with HuffPost's entertainment section drawing the precious clicks generated by Trump stories.

Grim acknowledged that HuffPost's politics section is missing out on that traffic.

The reaction among people "in the real world," according to Shea, has been overwhelmingly positive. He said that a few HuffPost staffers were at a bar when the decision was announced last month.

"People came up and bought them drinks," Shea said.

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