The Role of Media in 2016
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
There is a truly critical upshot from CNN reporter John King’s comment on Friday over Trump once again manipulating the media this time playing ping-pong over the Obama birth certificate. King finally said it: “We Got Played Again.”
After having several days of more discussion and denial, of he said and of the campaign said and then saying there would be a major statement about the “birthing” issue, Trump held a press conference to hype his new hotel opening in Washington and then, en passant, mentioned the fact that Obama was born in Hawaii. No denial of what he had said for years or his outrageous accusations, he just a dropped line.
King’s rage must have been seething for months. The fact that King and the entire Fourth Estate—print and electronic—have permitted themselves to be manipulated by Donald Trump throughout the campaign has contributed greatly to the travesty of this year’s election. Trump has challenged the media to cover him and they have complied. So much media competition has ridden on covering Trump that they could never have permitted, for example, only Fox News to cover his rallies. They would have been raked over the coals by some media critics for showing favoritism and bias, plus they well might have dramatically impacted the bottom line of some of the media. The fact that Trump did not need to advertise or sparingly little—especially during the primaries—was largely a function of all the free coverage he was receiving; most of it grossly uncritical.
Consider the fact as well that Trump demanded the right to vet who in the press would be questioning him in the primary debates, when they would be held, and then opted not to appear as he wished. He intimidated the press as he has done throughout his career with all his potential adversaries. In an unprecedented manner, Trump even sought to control the Clinton-Trump debates. Although he failed to do so, Trump’s believers actually bought his argument that having the debates when they conflicted with NFL night football was an outrage.
There is another aspect to what Trump did with the press, he effectively forced the media to rationalize his outrageous behavior by in fact co-opting the press. He attacked reporters directly, banned coverage from some news organizations, and flaunted his behavior. Trump saved money, got free publicity, and his outrage was tolerated. In addition, he knew the media—especially television—needed him to provide all the campaign revenue which Trump advertisements eventually would produce for them. Finally, had the press ceased to totally cover his campaign, Trump rapidly would have alleged—totally false and without merit or foundation—that such media action was a denial of free press and a rejection of the equal time provision.
The media has failed and John King, and a few others, are correct. Trump has managed the media like no force in electoral politics has done probably since William Randolph Hearst.