Donald Trump, the saviour of television news?

 26 May 2016 - 2:33

By Thembisa Fakude
Aljazeera Network

Like or loathe him Donald Trump has given a new understanding to the old adage, there is nothing called bad publicity.  Over the years Donald Trump has used his much talked about wealth, often by himself; over publicised marriages and divorces; and his extravagant lifestyle as the cornerstone of his publicity strategy.  Donald Trump has continued with his strategy during his entire Republican presidential candidate campaign.  He has made a number of controversial statements from barring Muslims from entering United States of America (USA) to the size of his hands suggesting that they match his manhood.  The media has covered and headlined most of Donald Trump’s utterances irrespectively.  

This has raised all kinds of sceptical questions about the complicity of some media in his Republican presidential nomination strategy?  What President Barack Obama said tongue in cheek at this years’ White House Correspondent’s Dinner 2016 in Washington is pertinent.  He said, “From the start, he (Trump) has gotten an appropriate amount of coverage befitting his candidacy”.  Barack Obama blamed the media for giving overdue attention to Donald Trump and stopped short of accusing the media of irresponsible journalism.  Obama’s remarks sum up what many people have been saying about the coverage of Trump- the media simply gave him too much coverage.  

The public Right to Know
The sales of newspapers and television viewership have been experiencing a downward trend since the emergence and the rise of the new media platforms.  The advent of Donald Trump onto the political scene in the USA has brought some kind of relief to the media particularly television and print.  According Steven Battaglio of the Los Angeles Times “2016 presidential nomination continues to be rating rocket fuel for TV news”.  Donald Trump has preferred by and large conservative usage of the media, particularly the traditional, long formatted interviews on television.  This strategy has allowed him to use context in his defence whenever he is charged with controversy, something new media platforms lack. 
Television specifically has been the greatest benefactor to Trump’s messaging throughout his campaign.  The majority of the interviews contained gaffes that have made great television and kept Donald Trump in the limelight.  Television as a business has in turn been having filled days since Donald Trump decided to run for the US highest office.  Donald Trump’s careless and abrupt ways of dealing with issues has made him one of the most intriguing and followed presidential candidates in this race.  If he gets elected to the presidency that would bring even more excitement not only to the presidency but also to the media. 
There is one particular basic principle in journalism that has been compromised in the coverage of Donald Trump’s Republican nomination.  The public’s right to know is the cornerstone of journalism, it is a principle that is embedded in democracy and allows it to thrive.  People have the right to know about those who hold the public office, as this promotes political accountability.  
The principle of the public’s right to know has been pushed to different unjustifiable limits in the coverage of Donald Trump Republican presidential nomination.  The continual, every step of the way coverage of controversies has turned the news coverage of Trump into a reality television show.  The media have overstretched the application of this very important principle in this instance.  
The question is- When does the media stop and reflect?- When those who understand its inner workings take advantage?  Donald Trumps’ rhetoric has been inflammatory, inappropriate and his exaggeration of facts without references and justifications continue to make headlines.  He has become renowned for ending most of his sentences by “the worst in the world”, especially when attacking the administration of Barack Obama”.  The media has unfortunately failed to challenge these wide claims.  

Donald Trump’s controversial statements have indeed increased the television viewership and newspaper circulation and this will possibly continue if he is elected to the highest office.  The media has correctly continued to meet its responsibilities of informing the public.   However, whilst doing that it has wittingly or unwittingly been complicit in a well-planned media strategy by Donald Trump.  He has used his understanding of the media to his benefit.  The precursor was in fact his popular television show the Apprentice which depicted him as a tough uncompromising boss on television.  Understandably in the midst of a big story like the USA presidential elections, the media falls victim of its own creation.  Furthermore the ‘juniorisation’ of the newsroom makes it difficult for the media to prevent certain pitfalls.  The emphasis, therefore, should be on the media to ensure that systems that will safeguard media professionalism at all times are in place. Failure to do that compromises the profession.  

The writer is a Researcher, Directorate Studies Centre, Aljazeera Network