For almost 10 months America media has been gorging on the question of why a candidate patently unfit for elected office has remained at the forefront of the race for the Republican Party nomination. The answer, according to an article in the New York Times on Tuesday, is the fourth estate, with Donald Trump enjoying $400 million of free media in February alone.
As the newspaper points out, that’s what Arizona Senator John McCain spent in his entire 2008 campaign. It reads:
Paul Senatori, mediaQuant’s chief analytics officer, says that Mr. Trump “has no weakness in any of the media segments” — in other words, he is strong in every type of earned media, from television to Twitter. Over the course of the campaign, he has earned close to $2 billion worth of media attention, about twice the all-in price of the most expensive presidential campaigns in history. It is also twice the estimated $746 million that Hillary Clinton, the next best at earning media, took in. Senator Bernie Sanders has earned more media than any of the Republicans except Mr. Trump.
To reiterate, that number was $2 billion.
In recent weeks, anti-Trump Super PACS have targeted the New York businessman in upcoming primary states, particularly Florida where 99 delegates are up for grabs. Millions have been spent saturating the airwaves of the Sunshine State with adverts about Trump and his long list of transgressions.
Their effect has been to push the mogul up by six points in the polls.
The culpability of the media in Trump’s rise has been a thorny question in the US, with the flaxen-haired tycoon enjoying a privileged status among news outlets and cable TV. He’s often allowed to phone in to morning shows as opposed to appear in person, allowing him to blanket the airwaves following a debate or a campaign speech.
“He has earned close to $2 billion worth of media attention, about twice the all-in price of the most expensive presidential campaigns in history.”
Why? Because as Trump points out, he’s great for ratings. Broadcasters respond by citing their obligation to give time to the current GOP frontrunner, while correctly noting that of all the candidates running for the White House, Trump is by far the most accessible.
It is also worth remembering that, unlike in the UK, the US lacks a strong public service broadcaster that can act as an arbiter for truth among the competing scramble for ratings, hits or listeners. As Alexander Stille noted in a recent article comparing Trump with former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi:
In Britain, Germany, and France, state media companies still dominate the airwaves and act as a kind of referee for civil discourse and establishing commonly accepted facts; the situation that prevails is akin to American TV before it was disrupted by Reagan and Fox. It has not prevented extremist political movements from developing, but it has meant that the principal conservative parties and their electorates accept basic realities such as global warming and the fact that the invasion of Iraq was not a rousing success. You cannot simply say anything on their airwaves.
In the US, not only can Trump say whatever he wants without censure, it's often to his advantage to do so by ensuring he remains the dominant actor in the news cycle. It's a game he's played expertly.