Since announcing his candidacy for President on June 16, Donald Trump has played the news media like a fine Stradivarius violin.
Right from the start, it’s been clear that the media is slanting its coverage toward Trump, irrespective of how ridiculous his remarks are or whom he offends.
We have seen media darlings before in U.S. politics, but the Trump phenomenon has risen to a new level of hysteria – and hypocrisy.
In reporting the news, journalists are trained to be fair and balanced in their coverage. Giving everyone a fair shake is particularly important in a Presidential election that will impact all Americans.
So far, the media has played into Trump’s strategy. As habits have changed and technology has evolved, modern-day competition for viewers and web traffic is frantic.
To some – particularly those who measure media success by revenue and profit – massive Trump coverage makes perfect economic sense. The former reality TV celebrity show host makes outrageous statements and the media leads the evening newscast with Trump. He also dominates the front pages of America’s print news media and social media outlets. TV ratings skyrocket, more newspapers are sold, and the “Trump Buzz” is amplified. Everybody makes money.
Other GOP candidates have complained, but their commentary has been drowned out by the very media that is supposed to be impartial.
When recently asked about Trump’s surge to the top of the polls, Kentucky senator and 2016 GOP Presidential candidate Rand Paul said, “It could be the free billion dollars of publicity he has gotten by being on every channel all the time.”
It may not be a billion dollars, but Paul’s metaphor is on the money. For the most part, the nation’s news media has continued to flock to the Trump camp and cover him more like a celebrity than a serious Presidential candidate.
Some purists would argue that saturation coverage of candidates doesn’t necessarily bring real political support and, in the end, what every candidate wants: a vote in the ballot box.
In my view, the media has been a major contributor to the rise of what is clearly a neophyte politician with a penchant for bombast, mean-spirited insults, and expressing ugly, often-times alarming statements.
As a strategic communications counselor for more than four decades, my observation is that by manipulating the media, Trump’s communication strategy has managed to control the narrative and political agenda of the Republican party and beyond. Massive (and in my view unbalanced) media coverage has, in turn, allowed Trump to ascend to the top of the polls.
Trump’s most recent appearance on “Saturday Night Live” is a good example of what happens when the media goes astray. Leading up the appearance, media coverage was extensive across all news and social media platforms.
Pundits seemed more concerned about whether Trump would be funny or how the skits would come across than the real issues affecting our lives. In Trump’s world, the media are like marionettes and he is the master puppeteer.
Whenever he can, Trump sways the media away from subjects that will negatively affect his campaign and redirects the conversation toward areas where he is strongest. In too many instances the media plays along.
What is particularly frustrating about media coverage is the tendency for the press to not immediately question Trump on factually inaccurate statements he makes.
For example, Trump made headlines when he went on TV and criticized the Obama administration for planning to accept “200,000” Syrian refugees. What the administration said was that its goal was to accept 185,000 total refugees of all nationalities. About 10,000 would be Syrians.
Yet, all the public remembers is the 200,000 figure.
According to PolitiFact, a project operated by the Tampa Bay Times in which reporters and editors from the Times and affiliated media outlets fact-check statements by members of Congress, the White House, lobbyists, interest groups and political candidates, Trump’s “fact-meter” is shaky at best.
A chart on the group’s website lists only 7% of his statements as “mostly true.” Eighteen percent are “half true,” 15 “mostly false, and 39% “false.” More than 20% of his statements earn a “pants on fire” rating which means blatantly untrue. The chart can be found here: http://www.politifact.com/personalities/donald-trump/
But how many Americans have actually heard or know anything about PolitiFact?
As the primary season nears, I believe the media must get much tougher with Trump and stop being duped into daily headlines that breed fear and loathing across the U.S. and globally.
Trump often boasts about his business acumen and how successful and rich he is. What if the media focused more attention on his business failures and interviewed more people who were adversely impacted as a result of his business “acumen and judgment.”
After all, when you attack all Muslims, call your competitors maniacs and losers, insult a sitting U.S. senator who was a POW, mock a reporter with a disability, insult a Fox News commentator, and characterize immigrants as rapists, what kind of person are you?
Trump has his base of supporters, but I remain skeptical that in a general election he can grow his support enough to win the Presidency.
As Karl Rove, Senior Advisor and Deputy Chief of Staff during the George W. Bush administration, said recently in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, “Trump is the Democrats’ Dream Nominee.”