January 17th, 2019


The Slobbering Love Affair Between TV and Donald Trump

Bernard Goldberg

By Bernard Goldberg

Published May 3, 2016

Campbell Brown, the former NBC journalist, has a piece in Politico that runs under the headline “Why I Blame TV for Donald Trump.”

Here’s some of why she blames TV for Donald Trump:

“I really would like to blame Trump. But everything he is doing is with TV news’ full acquiescence. Trump doesn’t force the networks to show his rallies live rather than do real reporting. Nor does he force anyone to accept his phone calls rather than demand that he do a face-to-face interview that would be a greater risk for him. TV news has largely given Trump editorial control. It is driven by a hunger for ratings—and the people who run the networks and the news channels are only too happy to make that Faustian bargain. Which is why you’ll see endless variations of this banner, one I saw all three cable networks put up in a single day: ‘Breaking news: Trump speaks for first time since Wisconsin loss.’ In all these scenes, the TV reporter just stands there, off camera, essentially useless. The order doesn’t need to be stated. It’s understood in the newsroom: Air the Trump rallies live and uninterrupted. He may say something crazy; he often does, and it’s always great television.”

Unfortunately, she’s right.

That doesn’t mean that he only gets glowing coverage, though in some places the slobbering is downright embarrassing. Cable news (the platform that runs him virtually non-stop while the broadcast networks are running their usual tripe) presents a wide range of opinions about Donald Trump – from those who (literally) think he’s the worst thing to happen to the world since Hitler to those who seem to confuse him with the savior who has come back in the form of a loud-mouthed, braggart businessman in a blue suit, white shirt and red tie.

Diversity of opinion is welcome. That’s the good news. The bad news comes when a news organization runs any candidate for long stretches – unfiltered. When the journalist might as well be a potted plant standing off camera while the candidate goes on and on telling us how wonderful he or she is.

But there’s only one candidate who gets so many of his speeches and rallies covered wall-to-call with little or no journalistic scrutiny –and that, as you already know, is Donald J. Trump.

It comes off not as news, but as one great big infomercial that Trump doesn’t even have to pay for.

But he is the frontrunner, after all, so doesn’t he deserve all the attention he gets on cable TV? Look at it this way: If anyone else were the GOP frontrunner – anyone else! – he or she wouldn’t get the same treatment. Kasich wouldn’t. Cruz wouldn’t. Huckabee wouldn’t. Bush sure as hell wouldn’t. None of them would get so much free, unchallenged air time.

That’s because unlike everyone else, Trump is ratings gold – and the others are your run of the mill vanilla politicians who if you could bottle them you’d have a cure for insomnia. On the Democratic side, even channels that like Hillary don’t give her as much airtime as they give Trump. If she could pull in the ratings Trump does, they would. But she can’t so they don’t.

You never know with Donald. He may (may?) say something even more outrageous than usual, and as Ms. Brown notes, that makes for “good television,” which makes for good ratings, which makes for lots of money.

Just ask Les Moonves, who runs CBS. The over-the-top coverage of Donald Trump, in his view, “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

That pretty much says it all. Except, Donald Trump is no longer hosting a reality show. He’s running for President of the United States of America. I wonder if Moonves, and others who see Trump as a money machine, know the difference – and if they do, I wonder if they care.


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