The Corner

Politics & Policy

Why Cable News Loves to Air Trump Rallies Live and Uninterrupted

Campbell Brown, formerly of CNN and NBC, offers a detailed denunciation of television news for basically abdicating its job and turning over its airwaves to Donald Trump for long stretches:

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.

It’s an unbelievable advantage; Brown points to data from the Internet Archive’s TV News Archive and analysis by Republican pollster Jan van Lohuizen and analytics expert Luke Thompson, indicated Trump gets about six appearances on the major networks for roughly every one his rivals Ted Cruz or John Kasich get. In the world of cable news, the Republican nominee is already selected.

Some may be asking, “why? Why would anchors, reporters, and producers who undoubtedly loathe Trump and everything he stands for be so eager to give him the microphone and listen appreciatively for long stretches?” The simplest explanation that Trump represents the Republican easiest to beat in a general election and the figure most likely to taint the party. (News today: “Unfavorable opinions of the GOP are now as high as at any point since 1992… 68% of Republicans view their party positively, down from 79% last fall.”)

But Brown also offers this eye-opening revelation about financial incentives:

I believe Trump’s candidacy is largely a creation of a TV media that wants him, or needs him, to be the central character in this year’s political drama. And it’s not just the network and cable executives driving it. The TV anchors and senior executives who don’t deliver are mercilessly ousted. The ones who do deliver are lavishly rewarded. I know from personal experience that it is common practice for TV anchors to have substantial bonuses written into their contracts if they hit ratings marks. With this 2016 presidential soap opera, they are almost surely hitting those marks. So, we get all Trump, all the time.

We always knew that broadly, anchors and hosts of shows with big ratings get paid better than hosts of shows with small ratings, but Brown’s describing a clearer, immediate, cash-for-ratings incentive. I’ll let you decide if you think some anchors might be chasing a substantial bonus by regularly giving the floor to Trump.

Finally, notice who’s applauding the Brown piece:

Of course Jeb Bush likes the explanation that television facilitated Trump’s rise. If television producers played a role in elevating Trump, then how much of a factor was Right to Rise PAC’s decision to spend only 15 percent of their ad budget attacking Trump, and choosing to spend $20 million to attack Marco Rubio?