A candidate keeps getting a free ride at media’s expense

By Berl Falbaum

With a Trump Trump here, and a Trump Trump there, here a Trump, there a Trump, everywhere a Trump Trump…e-i-e-i-o.

The nation’s media might consider adopting “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” as their theme song when it involves covering Donald Trump. They are committing the same coverage sin they did in the 2015-16 presidential campaign, giving him inordinate free coverage around-the-clock.

When I check my email, I receive a summary of the day’s major news. Invariably, the top stories involve Trump more than 90 percent of the time. Every time I turn on the TV for news, the stories are generally about Trump. Only the commercials are free of any mention of the former president. Another example: The New York Times published nine Op-Ed pieces on one day of which seven -- that’s seven -- covered Trump and/or Trumpism. On other days, the paper publishes at least two-three Trump Op-Eds.

The media’s fixation with Trump is total; they simply cannot get enough of him.  No matter how egregious or meaningless his actions or speeches, they are sure to garner major coverage in newspapers and are subject to “intense analysis” on cable new shows.

In a word, it is inane but the coverage again reveals how the media, especially cable news, is addicted to Trump because they believe it helps their ratings. Cable news stations even followed his plane arriving and leaving cities where he had court hearings. Then they broadcast his motorcades. Really?

Since Trump came on the scene as a presidential candidate in 2015, every single word by Trump, every action -- no matter how offensive or meaningless -- is subject to extensive examination, as if it were the first time that he uttered something controversial.

Studies on the 2015-16 campaign and election concluded that he received between $2-3 billion of free advertising. Research found that Trump received 2-½ times more free coverage in the 2015-16 campaign than Hillary Clinton.

The media tracking firm, mediaQuant, put the figure of free coverage at $5.6 billion in the 2016 campaign more than his competitors for the presidency, Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Ted Cruz, combined.

A New York Times study revealed that Trump’s 13 Republican competitors in the 2015-16 campaign received just over $1 billion of free media coverage.

Robert Kagan, Washington Post editor-at-large, wrote that after Trump wins the Republican nomination for president, as expected, “He will again become the central focus of everyone’s attention. Even today, the news media can scarcely resist following Trump’s every word and action.” Indeed, he dominates the print and broadcast media without the nomination.

Consider the following example: One of Trump’s attorneys, John Lauro, appeared on all five major political talk shows during one weekend. At an average of 15 minutes for each interview, he received an hour and 15 minutes of free time to defend Trump on his legal woes.

In his appearance, Lauro told us that a “technical violation of the Constitution,” is not a crime, adding that when Trump asked numerous officials to overturn the election, he was not pressuring them but he was being aspirational. He said all this with a straight face.

I understand that some invited him to the shows, to “trip him up.” It ain’t gonna happen. For all his shortcomings, Lauro is no dummy; he knows exactly what will be asked, he has his talking points, and, most important, the objective is simply to be on the air. He wins as soon as interviews begin.

Of course, Trump’s defense deserves to be covered but a one-two minute summary of Lauro’s arguments would have been sufficient.

Elsewhere in the Trump media world, do we need news stories with film every time Trump appears behind a podium to call the latest charge against him a “witch hunt?” According to Trump, we have had more witch hunts than they had in Salem in the 1690s. I think I remember that the Mueller investigation was a witch hunt as was the Stormy Daniels scandal, the January 6 committee hearings and the…

One more point:  Trump sucks up all the political air time on TV. Thus, there is little time to cover Joe Biden and his policies -- good or bad. Even a sitting president cannot break through the Trump-controlled news cycle.

The worst part?  The coverage is not going to change. Trump makes good copy (and he knows it) and the more sensational and uglier his remarks, the better.

In 2021, three years ago, Kyle Pope wrote in a Columbia Journalism Review essay titled “Our Damned Trump Fixation” that: “For too long, political journalism has listened mainly to the loudest talkers. It’s time, finally, to hear from other voices.”

And, to that, let us say: e-i-e-i-o. 

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