Commentary

Donald Trump’s Rigged Media

L. Brent Bozell III Tim Graham
By L. Brent Bozell III and Tim Graham | April 13, 2016 | 9:59 AM EDT

Donald Trump speaks to Ted Cruz at a break during the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate at the North Charleston Coliseum, Thursday. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Now that the Republican campaign looks like it will last until a contested convention in Cleveland, Donald Trump and his supporters assert the whole system looks undemocratic. 

But if democracy was organized to give everyone a fair and equal shot to impress the voters based on their knowledge and experience, then this system has been rigged for Donald Trump for the last nine months. The media – not just the liberal media, but some “conservative” media, too – have been the gale-force wind beneath Trump’s wings. 

On the nightly network news on ABC, CBS, and NBC, Trump has far outpaced anyone else for attention. From last July through April 6, he’s drawn 1,228 minutes of air time, or 56 percent of the coverage of the Republican primary race. The other 16 have split the remaining 44 percent. His closest rival, Ted Cruz, has only been granted 269 minutes of air time, or 12 percent. That’s roughly a 5-1 disparity.  John Kasich has received only 46 minutes, or 2.1 percent of the Republican nightly-news pie. Even when Cruz or Kasich wins a state, the dominant story is Trump stumbling, not them winning. It's Trump or virtually nothing. By design.

The media carnival for Trump was intense at the beginning, with the reality-TV star getting 71 percent of the coverage in both July and August last year. We're late into the primaries and nothing's changed.  As the field shrunk to three in March, Trump surged again with 72 percent of the coverage. Trump was given 267 minutes of airtime to just 52 for Ted Cruz (14 percent) and a mere 18 for John Kasich (4.8 percent).  

Even in the first week of April, as Cruz won Wisconsin, Trump drew 74.5 percent of the news minutes. Overall, Trump has received more than four times as much coverage as Cruz, and 26 times more than Kasich. Fairness and balance? Forget about it.  Anyone who watches is aware that the network coverage is often negative, but it still denies air time to opponents. 

Defenders of this overcoverage insist Trump is the most newsworthy one, and his actions make the most news. But the problem is not just quantity of the news, but the quality. Reporters let the Trump bluster and theatrics dominate, and ignore the substance of what’s going on behind it. 

Take the delegate selection in Colorado. The “news” everywhere was Trump complaining that Colorado was rigged: “I’m hundreds of delegates ahead but the system, folks, is rigged. It’s a rigged, disgusting, dirty system.” What was not news, except as a rejoinder (deep in the story) by a Cruz partisan whose very presence cast suspicion on the veracity of the "opinion," is that Trump is not being truthful.

Colorado established its delegate rules last August and Trump either (a) didn’t have an organization in the state or (b) didn’t care. The real story is Trump dishonestly crying foul about every state he loses. Every loss is due to stupid voters and/or a corrupt process. Show us how many networks have made that the news story.

In effect, the media just hand Trump the microphone and let him say whatever he wants about anything he wishes, and grant him credibility no matter how outrageous the pronouncement.  They let him control the campaign narrative. It’s quite possible in the coming months, even if Trump is denied the nomination, he will continue to dominate the narrative. Just as he dominates after Cruz wins primaries, he could dominate if someone else were the nominee, constantly needling whoever took “his” place.  Whether or not he could succeed or even run as a third-party candidate, the media could continue to let Trump’s commentary on the campaign dominate.

Let's have full disclosure here. We have personally endorsed Ted Cruz, which for some might cast doubt on this column. We challenge you to dispute any of what is above.

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