As many Americans disbelieve how Donald Trump came to be the presidential nominee of the Republican Party, most jaws simply drop. Then there are the familiar explanations, most of which echo Trump/party views: He echoes white/middle class resentment; he presents as “tough” in an era where the US and he world have been besieged by terrorism; and as an outsider he pretends to be able to fix all of politics.
The less frequently noticed factor in accounting for Trump’s prominence is the media. He made himself into his own reality TS+V star, and was ingenious enough to find a way to make the media work so well for him — mostly by issuing an ongoing string of outrageous statements statements that were designed to get attention, and did, simply because they were outrageous — that early on he had to seek almost no money to support his candidacy. How did that happen? As businesses, media outlets are like stock brokers: they make money money reporting good news or bad, and typically much more money reporting the very bad than the good. However honorable their managers may be, thesse enterprises make money as long as there is news to report. Donald Trump has figured a way to make a presidential campaign out of a few ingredients, of which an understanding of the news-hunger of the media is one.
But the tide may be turning. As other stories gain traction, Trump’s hyperboles seem more routine and less interesting, and certainly more repetitive. The story is shifting from the outrages themselves to one to about how a one- or two-note candidate whose pronouncements produce internal party dissent, lead to defection, or contemplate ways to move him aside in the general election .
It’s only been in the last few days that the media attention Trump has garnered is actually turning against him. Things can and no doubt will change. But the media will continue to be a factor, and we should not be quick to forget the ways in which candidates — Trump now foremost among them — have known how to play the media… I was going to write in conclusion “to play the media for all its worth,” but wanted rather to say “for less than it’s worth.” Simply to report is not enough. Rather, the media needs to take greater stock of the implications of what it decides to report, especially in an ear where candidates like Trump and others know perfectly how to bait just the right traps.