Like him or hate him, Donald Trump has, without spending a single advertising penny, become, and remains the GOP frontrunner for the 2016 Presidential election.
How is this possible? A question with a relatively complicated answer. But succinctly put: He has managed to do this because of seriously decreased media credibility.
Donald Trump has spent this 2016 political campaign making a series of, by some media accounts, outlandish and even offensive comments. In the past, a media with the stated mission to “inform the public” would have been able to give a brief synopsis of such comments, and have those comments stand up to scrutiny by others. The public would instantly believe the media’s version of the comments.
In 2015, the breathtaking difference from other years is that virtually every report a media outlet makes on a political candidate’s statements is tinged, fairly or not, by the suspicion of subjectivity. The ratio of objective hard-news reporters to their more biased commentator brethren has changed in the last decade, now with arguably more commentators than hard-news journalists. This means that the public no longer gives even the hard-news journalists the formerly assumed carte blanche objectivity “benefit of the doubt.” Knowing this, journalists and their editors, working for financially struggling media outlets and realizing that how they word a headline to a story may determine whether they have 5 views or 5,000,000 views, will tend to word a headline to achieve maximum visceral emotional reactions from media consumers.
Media consumers realize they have a plethora of detailed information available from multiple sources. So in turn, with that emotional reaction to the headline, they will seek details in order to try to corroborate, or refute, the story. And very often, the detail they uncover will reveal that the story was not nearly as salacious as the headline so carefully crafted by the journalist and editors led them to believe it was.
Amazingly, Donald Trump has been the only candidate in either party to realize this and act on it effectively. Thus, he continues to make what the media portrays as outlandish statements, often represented as horrifically offensive. Yet Trump continues to lead the GOP. The result: The wealthiest candidate in either party, with arguably more financial resources available for media buys than the others, spends the least amount of money on advertising of any candidate, while remaining the candidate with the most media exposure.
Is this a case that would provide veracity of the old saying that “bad publicity is better than no publicity”? Or is Trump just more savvy about the media than his competitors are?
The media’s current credibility problem is not likely to be solved any time soon. So the answer to that question will depend on whether or not his competitors can play the “outlandish statement” game in the media without diminishing the size of their respective voter bases.
However, with an estimate by some political insiders of the cost Trump would have paid for this exposure running to $25 million, Mr. Trump likely sees no reason to change his advertising plans any time soon. And he certainly has a head start on this method of campaigning on the media’s declining credibility.