Press Couldn’t Get Enough of Trump Dumping on Them in 2016
Trump is the master distractor, and the corporate mainstream media can’t seem to get enough of him. Of course, with his reality TV show skills, Trump knows how to attract attention that means more viewers and readers — and higher advertising revenue. A “civil” administration might mean lower ratings and readership for the increasingly consolidated owners of TV, newspapers and the Internet. In 2016, Mark Karlin wrote this commentary for BuzzFlash
Originally Posted in June, 2016
BUZZFLASH EDITOR’S COMMENTARY
“He’s Not Gonna Take it,” CNN blared on its homepage yesterday, above a large close-up photo of Donald Trump. Beneath the picture, CNN placed a headline with a link to the article, “When Donald Trump hits back, he hits back hard.”
CNN, in essence, was pumping up the indomitable image that Donald Trump wants the media to portray of him. He and his campaign flacks consistently account for any of Trump’s reprehensible and coarse portrayals of individuals and groups by asserting that he is a “counterpuncher.” How that excuses racism, misogyny, bigoted pronouncements and childish name-calling is what the mass corporate media should be examining in their own reporting.
However, such reporting is the exception rather than the rule. This was exemplified in the coverage of Donald Trump’s Tuesday news conference, in which he lacerated the press for questioning the sincerity of his commitment to raising money for veterans’ charities—including a personal million-dollar contribution he pledged in January.
The New York Times provided an account of the Tuesday spectacle:
He called a news conference ostensibly to answer questions about his fund-raising for charities that benefit military veterans. But Donald J. Trump instead spent most of his time on live television Tuesday berating the journalists covering his presidential campaign in unusually vitriolic and personal terms.
“You’re a sleaze,” he told a reporter for ABC.
“You’re a real beauty,” he told a reporter for CNN, snidely denigrating the man’s competence.
For 40 minutes, Mr. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, assailed those reporting on his candidacy with a level of venom rarely seen at all, let alone in public, from the standard-bearer of a major political party. Then he warned that a Trump White House would feature more of the same.
Trump’s use of the media as pawns in the usual scrum of national live cable coverage of all things Trump speaks to how the corporate media press corps is eating at his trough. After all, this particular media event was convened by Trump to counter accusations that he had not donated a million dollars to a veterans’ group until prodded by reporters. Furthermore, millions of other dollars that Trump raised in a television fundraiser were—until press inquiries—unaccounted for.
“The Washington Post and other media outlets had pressed Trump and his campaign for details about how much the fundraiser had actually raised and whether Trump had given his portion.”
The likely precipitating factor for the press event was a May 24 Washington Post article that raised the issue of the disposition of the donations:
Almost four months after promising $1 million of his own money to veterans’ causes, Donald Trump moved to fulfill that pledge Monday evening—promising the entire sum to a single charity as he came under intense media scrutiny….
As recently as last week, Trump’s campaign manager had insisted that the mogul had already given that money away. But that was false: Trump had not.
In recent days, the Washington Post and other media outlets had pressed Trump and his campaign for details about how much the fundraiser had actually raised and whether Trump had given his portion.
The candidate refused to provide details. On Monday, a Post reporter used Twitter—Trump’s preferred social-media platform—to search publicly for any veterans groups that had received Trump’s money.
By Monday afternoon, The Post had found none. But it seems to have caught the candidate’s attention.
The implication of the Post reporting is that Trump only disbursed much of the money raised for veterans’ groups—and finally coughed up his own million-dollar pledge—after a week of intense press scrutiny. Then, he convened the media and cudgeled them. In the end, Trump got the headlines that he wanted, blaming the media for not praising him for his philanthropic effort on behalf of former military men and women. After all, headlines such as the ones cited above on CNN make Trump sound heroic, not like a con man who got caught failing to fulfill his promise.
Furthermore, Trump’s constituency is largely thought to believe that the media, in general, has a liberal bias. As a result, the details of Trump’s lack of transparency, for several months—in regards to his veterans’ fundraiser—ended up being used by him to manipulate the media into making him sounding caring and patriotic, while portraying the media as nitpicking and disreputable.
Rather than airing a speech by Hillary Clinton, CNN, Fox and MSNBC “each chose to broadcast a live feed of an empty podium in North Dakota, on a stage where Mr. Trump was about to speak.”
The mainstream media appears drawn to being lacerated by Trump like a moth to a flame. The New York Times recently posted an analysis that pondered why “television networks struggle to provide equal airtime in the era of Trump”:
Still, the presence of Mr. Trump can be irresistible, especially in an election in which viewership and advertising rates have soared, generating tens of millions of dollars in additional revenue for an industry threatened by digital competition.
Last week, none of the three major cable news networks—CNN, Fox News or MSNBC—carried Mrs. Clinton’s speech to a workers’ union in Las Vegas, where she debuted sharp new attack lines against Mr. Trump.
Instead, each chose to broadcast a live feed of an empty podium in North Dakota, on a stage where Mr. Trump was about to speak.
Another New York Times story estimated that Trump has received $2 billion in free media publicity that other candidates would have to have invested in ads:
Mr. Trump is not the first candidate to bash the news media while craving its attention. He’s just made the contradiction, like everything he builds, bigger and gaudier….
Viewers are clearly following along. Prime-time advertising rates spiked at the major cable news networks in the first quarter of the year, rising 45 percent at CNN and 23 percent at MSNBC, compared with the same period the year before, according to Kantar Media, which tracks ad spending.
In the end, the billionaire celebrity candidate knows that the corporate media reporters will knowingly attend a media event that is going to consist of them being lambasted—and facilitate an avalanche of coverage that benefits Trump’s messaging to his voters. This irony was not lost on the New York Times, which observed in its coverage of Trump’s Tuesday press event:
So it is with Mr. Trump and the news media, and their volatile symbiosis. Tuesday morning, he was in raging silverback mode, glowering, posturing and verbally dragging the press around his gilded Manhattan lair.
But viewed from another vantage point, it can look as if he were holding them very close.
Reporters may be asking the questions, but it’s Trump who is framing the story to his advantage.
BUZZFLASH EDITOR’S COMMENTARY