Life is full of irony, and the recent presidential election is no exception. The irony is that, although they were in the tank for Hillary, the media were responsible for Trump’s victory. Does that sound like a self-contradiction? Let me explain.
First, the media gave Trump an extraordinary amount of free airtime. The New York Times reported that Trump spent less on TV advertising—the single biggest expenditure for a campaign—than Bush, Rubio, Sanders, Clinton, Cruz, Christie, or Kasich. Bush spent 82 million. Clinton spent 30 million. Trump spent a paltry 10 million, but as of March 15, 2016, he had received 2 billion dollars worth of free media attention. That is more than the total for all the other candidates from both major parties.
“Donald Trump’s campaign for president has received more nightly news attention than all the Democratic campaigns combined,” reported CNN. “Donald Trump is everywhere,” said The Atlantic. “The Republican nominee is all anyone can talk about. Whether this is because the media is doing its duty or because news organizations are capitalizing on Trump’s bombast for ratings and traffic is a matter of debate.” According to The Tyndall Report, Trump is “by far the most newsworthy storyline of campaign 2016, accounting for more than a quarter of all coverage” on the evening newscasts of CBS, NBC, and ABC.
The media have tried to explain away their outsized coverage of Trump by saying they were largely critical of him. This is supported by the right-wing Media Research Center, which found that 91 percent of Trump’s airtime was negative and focused on personal controversies such as his treatment of women and release of his tax returns. He was vilified as a racist, a “misogynistic bully,” and a liar.
My view is that it doesn’t matter if Trump’s coverage was positive or negative. I have always believed in the old saw that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Trump’s victory proves it. A study from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government concluded that, in spite of media anti-Trump bias, most of the Trump media coverage actually was positive in its impact on voters. “Trump is arguably the first bona fide media-created presidential nominee,” the study alleged. “Although he subsequently tapped a political nerve, journalists fueled his launch.”
The second reason to conclude that the media was responsible for Trump’s victory is that anti-Trump media bias drove many undecided voters into his camp. In other words, the media’s negativity backfired. “The media’s Trump bashing may wind up having the exact opposite of its intended effect,” proclaimed a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece. “With Trump calling out media organizations for their bias, widespread slanted reporting is bound to reinforce this point—and to backfire.” Executive Intelligence Review senior editor Jeff Steinberg said, “Media elites thought they were shaping public opinion, and they were, but in favor of Trump because anyone who the mainstream media hates is just fine with them.” Writing in American Thinker, Karin McQuillan suggested that “the more the media attacks Trump as the second coming of Hitler, the more his supporters become determined to elect him and the more independents join our side.”
Agreeing that media bias backfired, one voter wrote, “The bias was so obvious that it created sympathy (and votes) for Trump. People simply rebelled against a ‘rigged’ (media) system.” Another voter said, “I can’t sit idly by and allow these perpetrators of fraud to celebrate. Essentially, I am voting for Trump because of the people who don’t want me to.” Here is the reaction of one disaffected voter to anti-Trump bias on NPR:
“I slammed the radio off after getting so angry at the biased report and decided that moment I am voting for Trump. I had heard the bias before, always kind of subconsciously ignored it. This time I couldn’t. I stopped listening to sound bytes from mainstream media, I started listening to full speeches of Trump. When I did that, the most obvious bias became apparent, and today NPR just blew the lid. This media bias is real, it’s really intense and it pisses me off.”
“The media are in full panic mode because the American people rejected their leftist agenda—and them,” said Media Research Center’s president Brent Bozell. Thanks to the election, media bias has been exposed for what it is. The mainstream media had better clean up their act or they will become nothing more than a bad joke.
Ed Brodow is a negotiation expert, political commentator, and author of In Lies We Trust: How Politicians and the Media Are Deceiving the American Public.
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