Now that it looks like the GOP nomination won't be decided until a contested convention in Cleveland, Donald Trump and his supporters assert that the whole system is undemocratic.
But if democracy was organized to give everyone a fair and equal shot to impress voters with their knowledge and experience, then our system has been rigged for Trump for the last nine months. The media -- not just the liberal media, but some "conservative" media, too -- have been the gale-force wind beneath Trump's wings.
On the nightly news shows on ABC, CBS and NBC, Trump has far outpaced anyone other GOP candidate for attention. From last July through April 6, he's drawn 1,228 minutes of airtime, or 56 percent of the total coverage of the Republican primary race. The other 16 candidates have split the remaining 44 percent. Trump's closest rival, Sen. Ted Cruz, has only been granted 269 minutes of airtime, or 12 percent. That's roughly a 5 to 1 disparity. Gov. John Kasich has received only 46 minutes, or 2.1 percent of the Republican nightly news pie. Even when Cruz or Kasich win a primary, the dominant story is Trump stumbling, not them winning. It's Trump or virtually nothing by design.
The media carnival for Trump was intense in the beginning, with the reality TV star getting 71 percent of the coverage in July and August last year. Now we're late in the primaries and nothing's changed. When the field shrunk to three candidates in March, Trump surged again with 72 percent of the coverage. He was given 267 minutes of airtime, compared to just 52 minutes for Cruz (14 percent) and a mere 18 minutes for Kasich (4.8 percent).
Even in the first week of April, when Cruz won Wisconsin, Trump drew 74.5 percent of news minutes. Overall, Trump has received more than four times the coverage as Cruz, and 26 times more times than Kasich. Forget about fairness and balance. Anyone who tunes in is aware that the networks' coverage of Trump is often negative, but they still deny airtime to his opponents.
Defenders of this overcoverage insist that Trump is the most newsworthy one, so his actions make the most news. But the problem is not just the quantity of Trump segments, but the quality. Reporters let his bluster and theatrics dominate, and they ignore the substance of his assertions.
Take the delegate selection in Colorado. News headlines everywhere covered Trump complaining that the Colorado primary was rigged, saying, "I'm hundreds of delegates ahead, but the system, folks, is rigged. It's a rigged, disgusting, dirty system." What was not news, except as a rejoinder by a Cruz partisan (whose very presence cast suspicion on the veracity of the "opinion"), is that Trump is not being truthful.
Colorado established its delegate rules last August, and Trump either didn't have an organization in the state, or he didn't care. The real story is Trump dishonestly crying foul about every state he loses: Every loss is due to stupid voters and/or a corrupt process. Show us how many networks have made that a story.
In effect, the media have handed Trump the microphone and let him say whatever he wants about anything he wishes. It has granted him credibility no matter how outrageous the claim, and has let him control the campaign narrative.
It's quite possible in the coming months that, even if Trump is denied the nomination, he will continue to dominate the narrative. Just as he still dominates after Cruz wins primaries, he could dominate if someone else becomes the nominee, by constantly needling whoever took his place. Whether or not he could succeed or even run as a third-party candidate, the media could continue to let Trump's commentary on the campaign dominate.
Let's have full disclosure here: We have personally endorsed Ted Cruz, which for some might cast doubt on this column. But we challenge you to dispute any of what is written above.
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