GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump is busy building a case that the media are rigging the election. The cacophony runs far and wide, but amid the flap is a mainstay claim of a media conspiracy against him. His attempt is like the little boy who cried wolf: His cries about a rigged election are false. However, they are worse than the boy’s behavior because by crying wolf, he is distracting the public from the real wolves that threaten the country.
Indeed, Trump’s adult life has been characterized by one publicized event after another — much of which has been with his own blessing. His entertainment career relied on his television show, The Apprentice, as well as many appearances on other media outlets, including Access Hollywood, Playboy, WWE and the Howard Stern Show. For Trump to attack the media now is disingenuous. How could anyone take his claims seriously — about the very same media that launched his radio and TV persona and helped to build the Trump brand?
In this election cycle, the cries ring especially hollow. After all, it was Trump who bragged that he would not have to spend as much as his opponents on advertising since the media were giving him so much free exposure.
Of course, the general campaign itself followed a blustery primary election in which Trump’s outlandish campaign comments became the stuff of daily headlines. It is thus without a doubt that he rode the media through primary victory after victory. The media coverage was so extensive that in May 2016, it was estimated that Trump had snagged some $3 billion worth of free advertising.
At that time, when the media worked for him, there was little complaint. Now that the media have become more critical of his policies and fitness for office, the longtime love affair appears to be on the rocks. But no one should fall for this ploy. Unfavorable coverage of Trump is not a conspiracy, but rather the natural consequence of a candidate who has shown repeatedly that he is bereft of political and social more.
Trump would have his followers believe that the media are out to get him rather than to cover an insane story about a public figure. He wants Americans to believe it has nothing to do with his “building a wall” rhetoric, or the violent rhetoric he uses at rallies. Nor does it pertain to the most radical, anti-Muslim, anti-immigration proposal the country has ever seen. Nor because of his vicious entanglements with a Gold Star family, a federal judge, or media personalities like Fox News’ Megyn Kelly or MSNBC’s Katy Tur. Not because of his boasts of sexual assault captured on audio nor the litany of accusations by women that he assaulted them. No, from Trump’s view, the media’s coverage of these spectacles is what’s rigging the election.
To this infinity of unforced error, Trump seems to expect the media to turn a blind eye. For him, it is easier simply to ban reporters from his rallies and rail against the media than recognize that all of the above are matters of deep public interest, particularly when it concerns someone who’s a heartbeat from the presidency.
To be fair, Trump is correct on the rigging count, but is wrong about the wolf. He claims that the media are the threat, but WikiLeaks and Russian operatives are the real wolves that threaten the integrity of the elections. For Trump’s trick to work, he must work double time to get people to believe that the media are “crooked,” and at the same time, to get them to stop thinking about the foreign powers that are rigging the elections for real.
For voters familiar with Trump’s background, claims about the media are simply machinations of the mind. However, there may be a method to the madness, especially when the media-bashing is considered in light of his own media aspirations. It is a perfect launch pad: Since the media are cheating the American people, what better than a new service to correct the problem?
A sober assessment of Trump’s media claims is challenging enough on its own, but when read against his aspirations in media, makes better sense. He is using the spotlight now to tell lies about the media so he can sell the “truth” later through media subscription. Americans in the know will recognize that his claims have nothing and everything to do with the media. His whole run for the presidency, for the most part, has been a free ride from the media, but now they have become corrupt. Trump will look to capitalize on this portrayal as a means to a new business model. For this, he is willing to cry wolf about the very forces that helped build the Trump brand itself. One can only speculate about how the trickery will come back to haunt him and his company, and whether we have an Aesop’s tale in the making.