Forget Trump, Let’s Talk About the Media

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Ashley Parker explains the new landscape of political advertising:

Thirty-second television commercials were once signs of a confident, well-financed candidacy for the White House. Now they are seen as a last resort of struggling campaigns that have not mastered the art of attracting the free media coverage that has lifted the political fortunes of insurgent campaigns like those of Mr. Trump and Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who has surged to the top of the polls.

….In addition to having done countless interviews, Mr. Trump has been effective in using social media to attack his rivals, and many of his acrid and controversial quips on Twitter are rebroadcast by traditional news media outlets.

“I think he’s found ways to gain print and airtime by being available and quotable,” said Mike Schreurs, the founder and chief executive of Strategic America, a marketing and advertising firm based in Iowa. “He’s probably a more sophisticated user of media than any other presidential candidate we’ve ever seen.”

Can we stop right here? Donald Trump’s “discovery,” if it can be called that, is that the American media is a sucker for anything outrageous. That’s it. They aren’t covering Trump because he’s Trump, they’re covering him because he says Mexicans are murderers and rapists and politicians are all losers and Carly Fiorina is ugly. Whatever other virtues and faults Jeb Bush has, he’s not willing to say stuff like that—so the media ignores him.

I’d like to see Parker do a follow-up piece that sheds the fiction of Trump somehow discovering a whole new strategy to get publicity. He hasn’t. It’s the same strategy he’s always had to get airtime on entertainment shows. The difference is that most presidential candidates in the past figured they had to act at least nominally presidential if they didn’t want to end up as ignored as Alan Keyes. But apparently the political media has changed. Reporters and editors are now as eager as any gossip show to cover obvious buffoonery, and both Trump and Ben Carson have ridden that wave.

Why? Is it just an artifact of struggling mainstream outlets that are desperate for something to pay the bills? Is it a sense that they have to compete with BuzzFeed and HuffPo? Forget Trump and Carson. Someone ought to write about changes in campaign reporting that have made the two of them possible.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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