2016 Republican presidential candidates Ben Carson and Donald Trump. (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg)
Media critic

Traffic to the Huffington Post’s “politics” category is off by about 500,000 per month compared with 2014, a topic that arose in a staff meeting at the Web site today. In July, the online publication announced that it would move coverage of Donald Trump to its “entertainment” tab, the better to convey the circus of the Trump campaign. “Our reason is simple: Trump’s campaign is a sideshow,” wrote editors in a note explaining the switcheroo. “We won’t take the bait. If you are interested in what The Donald has to say, you’ll find it next to our stories on the Kardashians and The Bachelorette.”

The decision occasioned some confusion internally as to just what stories made the leap from “politics” vertical to “entertainment” vertical. “We decided, contrary to our original thinking, that even stuff about Jeb Bush attacking Trump, that’s going to go in ‘Entertainment,'” Washington Bureau Chief Ryan Grim told the Erik Wemple Blog after the change.

That the entertainment section has siphoned off a handsome amount of traffic from the politics unit at the Huffington Post aligns with evidence that Trump has inflated debate viewership and general ratings for cable news outlets. Were the managers of the Huffington Post’s “entertainment” redoubt so kind as to credit back to “politics” the traffic they secured in this bureaucratic windfall, there’s little question that the latter would exceed its year-over-year benchmarks. “A single Trump story can get a couple million views,” says Grim (a former colleague of the Erik Wemple Blog).

In agonizing over its Trump coverage, the Huffington Post today acquired some prestigious company. New York Times Magazine chief national correspondent Mark Leibovich cited the “entertainment” decision in accounting for his own thinking: “A similar sort of worry prevented me from writing about Trump throughout his rise this summer. Initially, I dismissed him as a nativist clown, a chief perpetrator of the false notion that President Obama was not born in the United States — the ‘birther’ movement. And I was, of course, way too incredibly serious and high-­minded to ever sully myself by getting so close to Donald Trump.”

Consider Leibovich sullied; those words come from his big takeout in the Times Magazine.

Trump would want to know: Where does he rank as a driver of digital politics traffic? Grim places him in the top 10 or 20, though former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, he says, has an edge over him: “He benefits from being in the middle of a very high-profile conversation, whereas in her heyday Sarah Palin could generate pageviews any time of the year,” says Grim. “Nobody wants to click on her now. She’s done.”

Among the repercussions that the Huffington Post has encountered in treating Trump like a clown is the denial of credentials to the site’s reporters covering his campaign. As CNN’s Brian Stelter reported, the Des Moines Register also ran into trouble with Trump’s campaign, ostensibly for running an editorial calling for Trump to “pull the plug on his bloviating side show.”

So would Grim rather lose credentials over a tough editorial or over an an Internet vertical designation? “What’s the difference? They’re both critical editorials,” he says.