Mass Media were active participants, not simply unwilling instruments, to the rise and reign of United States President Donald Trump.Mylon Shalom Patton
We as a nation are about to turn the page from the era of President Donald J. Trump – an era some even believe to be the first installment in a series of marked rejections of the traditional political system. There are many lines of thought regarding his rise and reign to the highest office in the land, including the historical persistence of prejudices and the all-to-many ‘-isms’ present in our society, a political establishment that does not live up to the ideal ‘by the people, for the people,’ and his willingness to say things and act in a manner that is traditionally regarded as unconventional or against the grain. Indeed, many Democrats and Republicans alike might agree on some of these reasons, but the media’s significant role in the rise and reign of United States President Donald J. Trump must not be overlooked or denied.
A thorough examination of Mr. Trump’s ascent to the highest office in the land uncovers the inextricable link between the man, the politics, and the media. And, with the important role our U.S. Constitution has bestowed on the media — to be protectors and defenders of our democratic process — it is important to recognize mass media’s role as an active participant in launching and sustaining the Trump era.
Long before Mr. Trump vied for the American Presidency in an official capacity, he was well known in other arenas. From his namesake business ventures, to his status as a television personality, Donald Trump had established himself as a household name. With this recognition and popularity, however, Mr. Trump was also mired in controversy: he was investigated for unlawful discrimination practices in the 1970s, called for the execution of five innocent young men in response to an allegation of a rape in Central Park in the late 80s, has had numerous bankruptcies and failed business ventures, and, most recently, led ‘birther’ conspiracy theories directed towards President Obama – just to name a few.
This long, well-documented and checkered celebrity history did nothing however to deter Mr. Trump from placing his name into the 2016 Presidential fray to become the Republican nominee. From his first-ever speech as a candidate, he began to stir the cauldron of hate and intolerance masquerading as noble nationalism. At the preliminary point in the Trump Campaign, most of the media defined Trump’s actions and rhetoric accordingly — inciteful, dangerous, and oftentimes hateful. Many scholars feared, though, that this media coverage came in an overabundance. While there were a whopping 17 major contenders for the Republican Presidential Nominee, no one received near as much media coverage as did Mr. Trump. Even Secretary Hillary Clinton, a well-connected individual with a widely-regarded political history, did not approach Mr. Trump in terms of media attention. And, in an attempt to quantify this anomaly, The Atlantic documented the number of times each major presidential candidate was mentioned by the media over the course of each day.
Throughout the 2016 Presidential Campaign, Governor Jeb Bush was mentioned 140,191 times by the media. He was the second-most mentioned Republican in the media cycle. Mr. Trump was mentioned 2,176,566 times – for every 15 times Mr. Trump’s name was mentioned, Governor Bush’s name was mentioned just once. At the same time, Secretary Clinton’s media coverage was outpaced by Mr. Trump’s by a near 3-to-1 margin.
Mr. Trump was neither 15 places at the same time, nor was he three times as rife with detailed policy proposals. Though he was more outspoken, he was not more substantive in his ideas about domestic and foreign policy, and though he appeared more eager, he was not more accessible than the other candidates.
What explains his rise then? How might the history books account for Mr. Trump’s dominating year-and-a-half, in the buildup to January 20, 2017? It could most accurately be explained as this: Mass Media were active participants, not simply unwilling instruments, to the rise and reign of United States President Donald Trump.
In many ways, the media showed its hand. In late February of 2016, CBS Executive Chairman Leslie Moonves said that 2016 would be a “good year” for the company. He particularly identified Trump’s presence in the Presidential Cycle as being a “good thing,” relishing the money that is being accrued by the mass media company. Most notoriously, he said, “It [Trump’s rise] may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”
With this mindset of the media taken into consideration, the details in the portrait become much more clear. Then-Nominee Donald Trump was the first person ever allowed to call into Stephen Colbert’s ‘Late Show’ on CBS. He frequently used the rare privilege of calling in to major news shows (CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, MSNBC), when other, less-popular candidates were often pressured to appear in person. He received unprecedented circulation of his political advertisements. All the while, he stood unchallenged when espousing proven falsehoods in the presence of television hosts.
Combine this with the Presidential Debates, wherein Mr. Trump was given the leeway to behave and act like a star on his personal TV show, and Trump’s carefully-stirred concoction was near-complete.
In fact, Media-Enabled Nominee Trump began eroding the structures of our Democracy, even before he took office. He banned certain media groups (BuzzFeed, CNN, The Des Moines Register, Fusion, The Huffington Post) from attending his campaign events.,
His recognition of his impact was profound, in a damning way. During a rally, carried live by CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, Trump said, “If you get good ratings, they’ll cover you even if you have nothing to say.” There are those in the media who would argue that, despite an abundance of media coverage, the majority of it was negative in scope and really worked against Mr. Trump. However, in the true spirit of those in the entertainment industry and, in particular, the mindset of Mr. Trump “good publicity is preferable to bad, but from a bottom-line perspective, bad publicity is sometimes better than no publicity at all. Controversy, in short, sells.”
The media opened the
gates of our Democracy to Donald Trump with a smile on their face and a desire
for more profit in their pockets. Mass media provided the platform for Mr.
Trump’s platform. They ushered him into the homes, businesses and automobiles
of millions around the world. And when they tried to censor him or challenge
his policies and views, he pivoted, labeled some as ‘fake news’ and then
self-selected which media outlets he would validate and entertain. And then he
did the most unconventional–he circumvented traditional media briefings and
opted instead to use other media outlets, namely Twitter, to reach his intended
audience. But for mass media, there wouldn’t have been a Donald Trump era. We
need not be surprised of the consequences, nor should we excuse the willing participants.
 I use a conception of the media throughout this piece that is held, in many ways, by Jennifer Mercieca. Her ideas will be discussed briefly a bit later in the blog, but there is a conception that the media is to serve as more of a ‘gatekeeper’ to democracy and accountability. In this way, the use of the term ‘gatekeeper’ is different from that of Stevel Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt’s.
 The Undermining and Delegitimizing of Mass Media can be seen as both a precursor to, and symptom of, Democratic Erosion. Jennifer Mercieca, in her piece “Dangerous Demagogues and Weaponized Communication,” touches on this briefly. View the page ranges of 275-279 for context and substance. Citation at the end of the piece.
 See Richard Gunther, Paul Beck, and Erik Nisbet’s Working Paper: Fake News Did Have a Significant Impact on the Vote in the 2016 Election. Corresponding supporting and supplementary information, in regards to the influential and communicable nature of ‘Fake News,’ is on page 4. Citation at the end of the piece.
 The Undermining and Delegitimizing of the Media as a Symptom of Democratic Erosion, again a concept discussed by Mercieca. Citation at end of piece.
 Similar to Russian President Putin’s seizure of Media Networks to espouse rhetoric unchecked. The case of Trump’s is only more covert, and driven by money. Scott Gehlbach, in his piece “Reflections on Putin and the Media,” chronicles this. Citation at end of piece.
 This quote comes from Trump’s “The Art of the Deal.”