The media and their masochistic love of Donald Trump

The Republican hopeful targets the media with rage and hatred - and they respond by giving him a huge free platform.

    The media and their masochistic love of Donald Trump
    The media respond to Trump's name-calling and censorship by covering every word he says, usually on live TV [Richard Drew/AP Photo]

    I keep thinking about a conversation I had at the White House months ago in the tiny break room the press corps shares.

    A colleague was telling me about the trip he was about to take to cover Donald Trump's presidential campaign. It was just getting under way and the media seemed giddy.

    I remember the look I gave him; I was going for a combination of a sneer and a look of disdain - I probably ended up looking like I was holding in a sneeze. I felt superior because I was lucky enough to work for a television network that wasn't obsessed with the show that his campaign was becoming.

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    His response is what I keep thinking about. He said, "Fine, you go cover the Ohio Governor's policy speech." 

    I'm sure a lot of people across the globe are trying to figure out exactly what is going on.

    The Republican leadership in Washington is in a full panic about the fact that Trump is the frontrunner.

    He has broken all the traditional rules of political campaigning. He apparently doesn't have to give many specific policies. He generally just promises that he will do great things because he's great and smart and rich. He has maligned pretty much everyone from Mexicans to Muslims but his poll numbers are not falling.

    Name-calling and censorship

    There is one group of people, however, that he has targeted with specific rage and open hatred - the media.

    I jotted down just a few examples from a recent speech. Trump pointed to the media and said: "I know more than any of these guys." When the media had the audacity to try and film a protester he said: "Oh, look at the camera, they are all turned up there. They are so dishonest, so dishonest."

    He has singled out several reporters for ridicule, calling them bitter, overrated, and pathetic. Each time he criticises the media, the crowd goes wild.

    Trump supporters apparently really dislike the media,  and they aren't alone.

    According to a Gallup poll, trust in the media is at a historic low. Six out of 10 Americans say they don't trust the mass media. There are more Republicans than Democrats who feel that way. Only 32 percent of Republicans say they trust the mass media.

    The Trump campaign is doing more than just name-calling. They have moved in to censorship. They have banned reporters from their events if they don't like their coverage. They literally pen reporters in during rallies and refuse to allow them to talk to anyone in the crowd.

    The media have responded by covering every word that comes out of Trump's mouth, usually on live television.

    The reason? It gets ratings.

    Disproportionate coverage

    I'm not sure if people are tuning in because they want to see what he will say next or if they really support him.

    Just to give you a sense of how disproportionate the coverage has been, take a look at the network evening newscasts. There was a time not that long ago when these were the shows of record. This is what the tracking website, the Tyndall Report, said about airtime in 2015:

    5. Donald Trump is by far the most newsworthy storyline of Campaign 2016, alone accounting for almost a third of all coverage (327 mins or 32 percent), more than the entire Democratic contest combined. The other GOP candidates, in order of prominence, were Jeb Bush (57 mins), Ben Carson (57), Marco Rubio (22).

    6. Hillary Rodham Clinton has been the second most newsworthy candidate (121 mins), with an additional 88 mins devoted to the controversy over her emails as Secretary of State and 29 mins to the investigations into the Benghazi Consulate attack. The second most newsworthy Democrat was a non-candidate: 73 mins on Joe Biden's decision not to run.

    That is just the pre-produced coverage. You literally cannot go through a day and not see Donald Trump live on cable television. More often than not, they take his entire speech. They don't do that for other candidates.

    In fact, in this entire campaign I haven't seen any other candidate live on air giving a speech. Even the respected Sunday political talk shows have gone to great lengths to make sure Trump gets on their air. They let him call in on the phone. Only one hasn't agreed to lower their standards. I have never seen that happen for anyone in all the time I've been watching the shows.

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    Trump threatened to boycott the next debate if Fox News didn't change the moderator. The network didn't cave in so Trump is boycotting. He says he'll hold his own event at the same time.

    I'll be interested in two things on Thursday night.

    I will want to see the ratings - if they plummet without Trump, its likely future threats will work. Network bosses are more likely to cave to his demands if real money is on the line. I will be watching the other cable channels. I'm willing to bet they will take the Trump event live.

    I don't know if Trump's poll numbers are real. They could be a sign of actual support, or a by-product of an immense amount of free airtime. We will know in a few days when the first contest gets under way.

    For now, there are a couple of things that seem clear.

    The media helped create Trump. He thanks them with name-calling and censorship. They respond by continuing to give him a huge free platform. In essence, making sure more people hear how horrible journalists are, which is likely to lead to a further erosion of trust in the media.

    The networks might be making a little more money now, but it is likely to cost them in the end.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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