October 23, 2016

The System is Rigged (Part Three)

Is the system rigged? I remember fondly the days when Trump first spoke of a rigged system --It was to try and coax Bernie Sanders supporters over to the dark side.

Now, though, in the World According to Trump, there is not a single independently-thinking person who believes we are #StrongerTogether, no one who decided on their own to purchase an #ImWithHer t-shirt or plant a Clinton/Kaine yard sign, and certainly no one who is a #NeverTrump thinker has become one without being influenced by the Clinton Machine. Only Kool-Aid drinkers and indiscriminate Skittles eaters buy into that stuff.

No, all the Dems are in bed with Clinton, who is in bed with the media, when the media isn't in bed with itself, or digging up liars (whom Trump will sue as soon as the election is over and he's done suing the New York Times), or being banned when they say something mean or nasty.

Need proof? Look at all of these media contributions to the political candidates! 96% of those who contributed gave to Clinton, not Trump. Clearly the election is rigged by these television critics, sports and fashion editors, restaurant reviewers, local beat and tech gadget reporters, and so on, especially by those in, say, Shelter Island, NY and Liberty, MO.

Missing from the list: Any national political reporters or anchors. No George Stephanopoulous or Keith Olbermann here - because if there was, we wouldn't be reading about Russia Television's Larry King donating to HRC. The study did not consider talking heads and paid gabbers to be journalists, but if the finance director of the Washington Post is included, how is a talking head not?

I believe there should be a wall between journalists and the people and stories they cover, but absent a connection between donors and articles they wrote or influenced, what are we to make of this? Is 'the media' against Donald Trump, and complicit in creating the 'rigged system' of which Trump recently grown so fond?

Well, that might not be the case, or at least, not the way Trump thinks. There's an interesting study, released back in June without a lot of mainstream media attention; folks at Harvard's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy looked at coverage in 2015 leading up to the primaries, or what they called the 'invisible primary' season, and found that
...during the year 2015, major news outlets covered Donald Trump in a way that was unusual given his low initial polling numbers - a high volume of media coverage preceded Trump's rise in the polls... The volume and tone of the coverage helped propel Trump to the top of the Republican polls. 
The Democratic race in 2015 received less than half the coverage of the Republican race... For her part, Hillary Clinton had by far the most negative coverage of any candidate. In 11 of the 12 months, her "bad news" outpaced her "good news," usually by a wide margin, contributing to the increase in her unfavorable poll ratings in 2015.  (Note: all emphasis added.)
Huh?. Rigged system, you say?
So what explains the news media's early fascination with Trump?...Although journalists play a political brokering role in presidential primaries, their decisions are driven by news values rather than political values. Journalists are attracted to the new, the unusual, the sensational... Trump fit that need as no other candidate in recent memory. Trump is arguably the first bona fide media-created presidential nominee. Although he subsequently tapped a political nerve, journalists fueled his launch. 
But wait - it's gets better.
Journalists seemed unmindful that they and not the electorate were Trump's first audience. Trump exploited their lust for riveting stories. He didn't have any other option...The politics of outrage was his edge, and the press became his dependable if unwitting ally.
Here's another interesting finding, that goes to what was reported. For Trump, a mere 12% of his coverage was about the issues, with 43% of the coverage being negative (particularly after the Muslim ban comments). For Clinton, more than double the amount of coverage was issues-related (stil a meager 28%) but the negative coverage was an overwhelming 84%.

In 2016, things continued on the same general level; Trump's overall coverage was 49% positive to 51% negative, with most of the negative coming after both Ted Cruz and John Kasich had dropped out of the race, when the balance tipped to 61% negative/39% positive.  Making things worse, the 2016 study notes,
The press did not heavily cover the candidates' policy positions, their personal and leadership characteristics, their private and public histories...Such topics accounted for roughly a tenth of the primary coverage. 
And yet, Trump is the one making the 'the media is against me' claims; it seems likely that argument could most substantively by made by the Clinton campaign, based on the Harvard studies and on the amount of free media the campaigns have received. According to this analysis published in The Economist,
Data from mediaQuant, an analytic firm, show that Mr. Trump has enjoyed a healthy advantage in 'earned media' or free media coverage, throughout his campaign....And Mr. Trump has consistently dominated the news compared with Mrs. Clinton - sometimes by margins as large as six to one.  
Trump's plan - hog the limelight "by crossing a sacrosanct political line, bask in the attention for several days, then do it again before your opponents have a chance to get noticed." - worked well against his 16 Republican opponents, but Clinton's free media eventually caught up with Trump after the Democratic convention, when his strategy was proving less successful.

What does this all boil down to?

As noted in The Economist's article, which was published in mid-August but still rings true today,
As his polling numbers drop, Mr. Trump is doubling down on his media bashing... this seems an unlikely strategy to win votes. After decades in the spotlight, Mr. Trump may at last be learning that not all publicity is good publicity.
I would only add that not all negative publicity is a sign that the system is rigged against you.