Did the media create Donald Trump? It’s a question that’s been asked by everyone from the Republican and Democratic parties, to the president of the United States, to the media itself. Dozens of columns have been written on the topic, and now, Politico Magazine devotes an entire issue to the question – the cover bearing only four words: “What Have We Done?”
Of course, not everyone agrees with the premise. Trump’s ascendancy has also been ascribed to both political parties, to the country’s shifting economy, and of course, to the decades-long self-promotional effort by Donald Trump himself. The morning after Trump’s Fox News interview with Megyn Kelly, Here & Now's Robin Young speaks with Politco senior writer Michael Kruse and NPR’s media critic David Folkenflik about the media and its relationship to the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
Read more of David Folkenflik's coverage on the media's relationship with Donald Trump via NPR.
Interview Highlights: Michael Kruse and David Folkenflik
What does Jack Schafer conclude in his article raising the question on if the media created Trump?
Michael Kruse: “I think that Jack concludes a lot of things, but that we alone did not create Trump. Trump has created Trump. Has the media had a role in that? Of course. This is an important conversation because this is Donald Trump’s most important relationship. It is his longest running relationship, Trump and the media, but to have this conversation the material doesn’t really start in June of last year, when he announced he was running for the president. You’ve got to go way, way back, 40 years, I mean from the launch of New York Post’s Page 6 gossip report in 1977 to the rise of cable television in the ‘80s to the rise of tabloid TV and the internet in the ‘90s, I mean Trump has always used the media to stoke his celebrity. How does one do that, but for the media, but Trump has done it more consciously and frankly more effectively than I would say almost any other American in the last four decades.”
Trump came into the election with essentially 100 percent name recognition, because of his established media presence. How unusual is that?
Kruse: “It’s hugely unusual, especially for a politician, or for a non-politician as the case may be. Trump is not a self-made man which is what he likes to be seen as. He’s rich because his father is rich, period, but what he is, is very much a self-made character. He has worked at this, and I don’t think there is some grand strategy that is now coming all together after 40 years. The strategy has always been one of his core beliefs. On the short list of Donald Trump’s core beliefs, near the top, is attention is good. There’s no such thing as bad publicity, and as long as people are looking at you, talking about you, it is a good thing for your personal brand.”
What did you mean by your statement how the media failed in covering Donald Trump?
David Folkenflik: “I think that Trump, as Jack Schafer and other are arguing, Trump’s a self-creation. He’s a guy that’s very smart and instinctual about how to press the levers. It’s almost as though he’s an expert organist at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, right. He can press the levels perfectly and play the media to dance to a tune and make it a spectacle and even when the spectacle results in certain negative kinds of headlines about him, it nonetheless means that people are paying attention to what he’s saying and doing or what he’s not saying and not doing rather than other issues that may prove more important, more enduring in terms of how the nation fares in the times ahead.
The media failed in a number of aspects, I think there are three critical elements. One of which was that it missed his rise. Even though he was ahead in the polls since early to mid-summer, people didn’t take him seriously. It was seen as a ‘good fun, good sport to cover,’ and yet there were some early signs, Evan Osnos’ piece in the New Yorker, about how he was taping into certain white resentment, and other signs as well that this was, there were stirrings of something here that needed to be taken seriously.
The second element is just the way in which the, particularly the broadcast and digital news outlets turned over vast swaths of real estate to him, often unfiltered, just desperate for the ratings and the clicks, and the profits are there. The numbers are pretty irrefutable. Media companies could not help but be influenced by what they saw, was the audience’s appetite because like with a live sporting event, you did not know what would happen. You did not know what Trump would say or do next. You didn’t know whether something would occur. There may be some kind of melee or fist fight at a Trump rally, well this hypes the drama even if it’s lamentable.
The third thing that’s very important is it didn’t treat his business record the way in which the press should have treated and does typically treat a politician’s public record and political record. They didn’t delve deep into all those bankruptcies, all those lawsuits, all those questions until really late into the primary season, and I think primary voters deserve to know about that and make their own decisions. Was Trump a creation of the media? No, but the media is to blame for its performance even if it doesn’t mean we are at fault for somehow creating this guy.”
This segment aired on May 18, 2016.