If you want to see how the world’s media is responding to the incendiary candidacy of Donald Trump, the business section is the place to look. Following Trump’s widely derided proposal of a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” many publications across Asia, Europe, and the Middle East focused less on outrage than on the fallout for local economies.
US media responded by putting Trump’s comments at the center of presidential primary coverage, and closely followed Republican leaders’ responses. CNN ran an item on whether House Speaker Paul Ryan, who will chair the Republican convention next year, would support Trump were he to win the nomination. Newsweek rhetorically asked if Trump is a fascist. Philadelphia’s Daily News answered that question, printing a photo of Trump posed as Hitler on its cover.
But foreign response, even in predominantly Muslim countries, hasn’t generated much news.
“There’s bigger fish to fry,” says Dina Dabbous, editor in chief of Jordanian news portal Al Bawaba. “We did a sort of hypothetical thing on what acquisitions would suffer if the Middle East shunned him.” She said her readers weren’t asking for more coverage of the Republican front-runner, but often followed the story because it came up in news she aggregates on the site, which publishes separate English and Arabic editions. “But really,” she adds, “I’d like to do a little less Trump.”
The lack of Trump coverage abroad is in part a result of Trump’s lower profile internationally. “He’s not seen as someone who is influential in American politics,” says Mohammed el-Nawawy, editor of The Journal of Middle East Media and a professor at Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina. “If these statements were made by another politician, like Hillary Clinton, it would be followed more, with her history as Secretary of State and her history as the wife of a president who was popular in the Arab world.”
Readers abroad understand that the primary season is just starting, he added, and that Trump’s rhetoric should be seen as political posturing. “I think the story is that his statements [have a greater effect on] Muslim-Americans [than on] the Arabs living in the Muslim world,” el-Nawawy says.
The one exception to Trump’s lack of coverage outside the country was in the business pages, where a number of international publications reported reaction from the investment communities of Muslim-majority nations where he has financial interests.
Almost immediately after Trump’s announcement of the so-called “Muslim ban,” during a South Carolina campaign stop, companies including Dubai-based retailer Landmark and an Indonesian resort developer came under local scrutiny for ties to the Republican front-runner, who’d just insulted the majority religion in both countries.
Dubai-based ArabianBusiness.com reported that Landmark, one of the Middle East’s largest retailers, had decided to pull home decor items produced by Trump Home, which is owned by the candidate. The story went on to note that a second company, Damac Properties, a developer building two golf courses in Dubai with Trump, had announced it would not cut ties with the candidate.
Thousands of miles away in Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, a local politician, HM Romahurmuziy, became a central character in the story after calling for the cancellation of deals between Indonesian companies and Trump. Trump’s projects there include a high-profile scheme to develop vacation destinations on the islands of Bali and Java, where he is partnering with local company MNC.
Similarly, The Times of Israel, working from Associated Press coverage, gave a notable amount of space to a financial about face by Emirati tycoon Khalaf al-Habtoor, who had previously been in business with Trump and had endorsed him politically. “If he comes to my office, I will not let him in. I reject him,” the paper quoted al-Habtoor telling the AP.
Comments on border policy have hurt Trump’s bottom line before, and were covered as breaking news—at least as much as bigotry—then, too. Back in August, Trump’s statement that many undocumented Mexican nationals living in the US were “rapists” led Univision to end an agreement to broadcast the Miss Universe beauty pageant, a Trump property. (It’s a decision they may be celebrating now, for unrelated reasons).
Coverage of Trump’s statements also seems to be splitting along linguistic lines. In the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region, says el-Nawawy, Arabic language media were giving Trump less space than regional English-language publications, which typically serve international readerships and business travellers. “There’s a big difference between Arabic-speaking media and ‘Arab media,’” he says. “I see more coverage [of Trump] in Al Jazeera English than on Al Jazeera’s Arabic channel. It’s more prioritized in English-speaking media, in the Arab world.”
Trump’s statements about Islam have also started to color international coverage outside regions where Islam is the majority religion. Last Wednesday, the UK edition of Fortune reported that Britain’s Supreme Court had rejected Trump’s request to block a planned wind farm near one of his properties in Scotland, a golf course. The story noted that Trump had previously called the wind energy project “dangerous,” and disparaged the Scottish government as “foolish, small-minded and parochial.” Published amid the controversy, parallels between Trump’s earlier insults of Muslims, Mexicans, and Scots were hard to miss.
Dabbous, of Al Bawaba, says her local readers follow the US elections, because of “US foreign policy, and its importance in this region.” But she lacks a correspondent in the US, and often aggregates American political and wire service coverage, which recently has meant a lot of stories about Trump. “We tend to jump on the media circus that happens around the American elections,” she said.
But while US readers may be shocked, shocked by Trump’s rhetoric, the targets of his slurs aren’t, Dabbous says. The lack of interest in Trump for publications with Muslim readers “shows a kind of pessimistic approach to American politics,” adds el-Nawawy. “They’re not really surprised. Especially with Arabs being let down by American politics, by the promises by Obama to close Guantanamo, then not closing it. They can tell this is going to be happening more in the future.”