Let’s hold the media accountable for Trump

Of course Donald Trump doesn't have to spend money on publicity. The media do it for him.

Of course Donald Trump doesn’t have to spend money on publicity. The media do it for him.

Pundits across America are getting ready to eat their words (sometimes literally, in the case of Dana Milbank of the Washington Post) now that real estate mogul Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee. After so many laughingly wrote him off, he’s the only GOP candidate left standing.

All the hand-wringing and facepalming in the world won’t erase why Trump rose to the top of the electoral heap of the Republican Party. He had help, in the form of the nation’s all-too-complacent media, willing to print, air, or repeat online every word that came out of his mouth, or any tweet that came from his fingers.

How often did cable news shows cut away from scheduled programming to show us a live Trump rally? Sometimes even interrupting a speech from another candidate? How often did morning news and Sunday shows allow Trump to literally “phone it in” from Trump Tower or his Mar-a-Lago estate instead of taking the trouble to visit a TV studio in person? Morning Joe co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski have practically adopted him. Don’t be surprised if they broadcast live from “Fourth of July with the Trumps.”

Even last summer, when much of the media thought the Trump phenomenon might burn itself out or self-destruct because of his outrageous and incendiary statements, the media were still all Trump, all the time. There have been estimates that Trump received the equivalent of $2 billion in free media attention.

How did we get to this point, and, more important, is there any reason to expect the media to act responsibly now? Odds are we’re in for six more months of Trump chicanery and its constant coverage.

Last week, NBC News actually moved its operation to Trump Tower so Nightly News anchor Lester Holt could interview the would-be narcissist in chief. WTF doesn’t begin to cover the reaction to this lack of journalistic ethics.

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Reaction on Twitter and elsewhere in the media was understandably derisive.

“NBC gave Democrats a taste of the pro-Trump bias that they will be facing by broadcasting the NBC Nightly News from Trump Tower,” said the subhead on a story in PoliticsUSA.

“@LesterHoltNBC anchors from Trump Tower, w/ Trump intvu. So, he couldn’t make it 5 blocks down 5th Ave. to 30 Rock?” tweeted @TVNewser.

“If you believe TV news bolstered Trump, here’s fodder: Lester Holt will anchor NBC Nightly News from Trump Tower shortly,” tweeted @tripgabirel.

Meanwhile, the media are mea culpa-ing themselves to death. As an analysis in The New York Times put it:

But in the end, you have to point the finger at national political journalism, which has too often lost sight of its primary directives in this election season: to help readers and viewers make sense of the presidential chaos; to reduce the confusion, not add to it; to resist the urge to put ratings, clicks and ad sales above the imperative of getting it right.

Last summer, the Christian Science Monitor ran a piece titled, “Has the media lost its collective mind?”

The event that finally jolted us into reality is the realization that some media outlets are formalizing their constant Trumpian coverage into Trump sections. Salon has The Daily Donald, a column which summarizes Trump’s activities everyday in handy digest form.

At least that daily column in Salon, thankfully, isn’t a regular feature anymore. The Monitor’s conclusion (wrong) was that in the end it wouldn’t matter, because Latinos would vote against Trump in Florida. How did that primary turn out again?

A CNN story reported on Trump’s outsize news coverage over nearly all of 2015. Remember, Trump was one of the last to announce, and there hadn’t even been a primary or caucus until February 2016. Yet he dominated any other GOP candidate, with a total of 234 minutes of air time on ABC, CBS, and NBC nightly news programs. The also-rans, former Florida Gov. Jeb! Bush and retired neurologist Ben Carson, trailed far behind, with 56 and 54 minutes, respectively.

Of course, this analysis does not count other news programs on the networks, like morning shows and Sunday morning public affairs programs. But it backs up viewers’ perceptions that Trump has received much more attention than his rivals. No equivalent data exists for 24-hour cable news channels like CNN and Fox News, but Trump has also outranked other candidates there.

The New York Times analysis seemed to think that the media have a chance for a do-over.

The good news is that with Mr. Trump heading for the general election, news organizations will get a second chance to rethink how they approach the race still to come and see how they can avoid the problems of the primaries. …

That’s all the more reason in the coming months to be as sharply focused on the data we don’t have as we are on the data we do have (and maybe watching out for making any big predictions about the fall based on the polling of today). But a good place to start would be to get a good night’s sleep, and then talk to some voters.

Nope. Trump will drop out of his “presidential” mode long enough to say something new and outrageous. Then those holding the cameras and the microphones will come running—unless he’s just saying it into his cellphone or tweeting it. But it will still get just as much coverage.

Sorry. Clickbait will continue to Trump everything else.

Originally published on Daily Kos, May 8, 2016.

 

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