The No. 1 trending question related to Donald Trump on Google right now is "Who tried to shoot Trump?" Which means a lot of people don't know the answer. Which is probably because the assassination attempt on the presumptive Republican presidential nominee hasn't been covered as a major news story.
— GoogleTrends (@GoogleTrends) June 21, 2016
The answer, authorities say, is Michael Steven Sandford, a 20-year-old British citizen who was in the United States illegally after overstaying his visa. Sandford allegedly tried to pull a gun from the holster of a police officer at a Trump rally in Las Vegas on Saturday. He was arrested and later told the Secret Service that he had driven to the event from California and had been planning to kill the candidate for a year, according to a criminal complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Nevada.
News outlets have certainly reported on the incident, but it hasn't gotten anything resembling wall-to-wall coverage. Cable news shows devoted little time to Sandford Tuesday morning and afternoon. Trump's dismal fundraising report from May and his recent firing of campaign manager Corey Lewandowski received far more attention. Trump called in to the Trump-friendly "Fox & Friends" morning show and wasn't even asked about the attempt on his life.
It's worth noting that the real estate magnate didn't bring it up, either. Trump hasn't so much as tweeted about it, which suggests he doesn't consider it a huge deal or doesn't want to talk about it.
The most obvious explanation is that Sandford doesn't appear to have come particularly close to completing his alleged mission. He didn't even succeed in arming himself at the Trump rally. Sandford's plot seems to have been feebly unsophisticated; he told authorities the extent of his training was a visit the day before the rally to a gun range, where he fired 20 rounds from a 9mm Glock pistol, a common service weapon, to learn how to use one.
In short, calling Sandford a legitimate threat might be giving him too much credit. A rough analogue might be Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, who tried to kill President Obama in November 2011, but came nowhere close to doing so. Ortega-Hernandez got off shots — but fired aimlessly at the White House from 750 yards away — and hadn't done enough research to know the president was in San Diego at the time.
Other assassination attempts that failed by a long shot have received scant coverage, too. A previous, would-be Obama assassin, James McVay, also hatched a plot that involved swiping a police officer's gun. After stabbing a 75-year-old-woman to death in South Dakota and stealing her car, McVay drove to Wisconsin, where he planned to ambush a cop and take his firearm, according to statements he made to police after his arrest in July 2011. McVay said he planned to continue on through Chicago and Indianapolis and eventually kill the president on a golf range in Washington. But he was apprehended near Madison, Wis. CNN covered McVay's arrest and scheme, but some other national news outlets, including The Washington Post and New York Times, appear to have skipped the story altogether.
McVay was sentenced to death in 2014 for killing the South Dakota woman and hanged himself in his prison cell five months later.
From Trump's perspective, Sandford doesn't fit neatly into his campaign narrative. The billionaire has positioned himself as a staunch defender of the Second Amendment, so he certainly won't use the failed assassination attempt to push for gun control. Sandford is an illegal immigrant — and Trump is all about deporting illegal aliens — but the candidate's focus is on building a wall to keep out Mexicans and barring foreign Muslims from entering the United States. A Briton who overstayed his visa isn't a very good poster boy for the cause.
If Trump wanted to make this episode big news, he could do it. He's proven his ability to set the agenda over and over again. But he doesn't seem interested, and the media doesn't either. Indeed, to both sides, that could simply be because they don't want to give a poorly conceived assassination plot more attention than it's due.
But some on the right see a double-standard at play. The conservative news site Hot Air posed a hypothetical on Tuesday:
Can you imagine the coverage we'd be seeing if someone had attempted to shoot Hillary Clinton? The same could be said if it had happened with Barack Obama in the summer of 2008. Questions would be debated on air for weeks on end about the evil lurking in the hearts of men and why someone would be so desperate to prevent the election of the first black or female president. But when someone plots for more than a year to kill Trump, travels across the country to find an opportunity and then launches his attempt, it creates barely a ripple in the media pond.
Then there's this common sentiment from Trump supporters:
How much do journalists hate Trump? They're willing to give Glenn Beck & Brad Thor a pass on rhetoric that led to an assassination attempt.
— Patrick Henrys Ghost (@Pissed_Pat) June 21, 2016
— TheLastRefuge (@TheLastRefuge2) June 20, 2016
— Tea Party Amercan (@BarryWirth) June 20, 2016
Glenn Beck, a prominent conservative commentator who opposes Trump, was recently suspended for a week by SiriusXM after Brad Thor, who writes political thrillers, made comments on Beck's radio program that some listeners interpreted as a call for Trump to be assassinated.
"If Congress won't remove him from office, what patriot will step up and do that — if, if, he oversteps his mandate as president?" Thor said.
Thor and Beck both said later that the remark was not about assassinating Trump.
But for anyone already convinced that the media hates Trump, the coverage of Sandford's assassination attempt (or lack thereof) will probably only strengthen their belief.