Ever since the fateful day when Donald Trump took the lead in the Republican presidential polls, it has seemed as though every major news network cannot go a day without feigning bewilderment at that fact. I say “feigning” because the media are largely responsible for Trump’s polling success, more so than his blunt talk and reality-star appeal, and the media know it. The media scrutinize every action Trump makes, splattering each offensive comment across the Internet and broadcasting his every decision to thousands, if not millions, of TVs in households nationwide. By antagonizing Mexicans and women with shameless insults, Trump gains what every other candidate yearns for: constant, prime-time media exposure. With such a large field of candidates, the average voter, who is not deeply engrossed in politics, has enough difficulty identifying exactly who is in the presidential race, let alone discerning who the best candidates are. As a result, voters favor the candidates they hear the most about, which in this case is Trump.
Look at the bottom of any legitimate poll and you will see George Pataki and Jim Gilmore. That’s right, who? Since Trump monopolizes the national spotlight, candidates like Pataki and Gilmore cannot even get media attention, let alone polling points. For example, a quick Google search for CNN coverage of Pataki only comes up with a few stories. Very few focus on his policy and campaign ideas. To CNN, his most notable campaign achievements so far are his denouncements of Trump’s actions. In terms of media exposure, that is one step forward for Pataki and two steps forward for Trump. If Pataki can’t vie for media attention, he has no hope of rising in the polls. The lower-tier candidates fall victim to the tragic reality of politics: fame outweighs ideas, intentions and policies. If people do not know who you are, they will never vote for you. The sad truth is that society would rather elect a bad — I mean, the absolute worst — candidate over someone of whom it has never heard.
Trump, the media and average Americans create a cycle, where the natural tendencies of one will influence those of the others, thus perpetuating the cycle. Here’s how it works: Trump does Trump things. The media broadcast the absurdity. Average Americans tune in for the entertainment. News networks recognize the growing audience, so they feed Americans an all-you-can-eat platter of Trump. When polls and surveys are conducted, many Americans select Trump because they are unaware of other candidates and their policies, justifying their ludicrous choice by relating to Trump’s blunt talk and his audacity to say what others won’t. The media, properly doing their job, report the astonishing and startling news of Trump’s underdog story, leaving us with a whopping bowl of even more Trump for dessert. The cycle continues, and it worsens with every word Trump utters.
Can we fault the media for their role in Trump’s campaign? After all, the genius of Trump’s success is his control of the media. He leaves the media with two conflicting choices that both benefit him. On the one hand, his antics draw viewers as people keep tuning in to see what he does next, thus encouraging the media outlets to keep audiences satisfied with Trump coverage. On the other hand, the media understand that Trump as president is a worst-case scenario for our country. Networks focus their reports on the atrocities that come out of his mouth, hoping his comments can become his downfall. However, unlike anything we have ever seen before, Trump turns comments and insults into an image that works.
Big-time media, don’t act so surprised by the polls. You understand this game of social psychology and you know that you have substantial influence over public opinion through what you report and how you report it. Am I saying to stop covering Trump entirely? Certainly not. After all, he is newsworthy. However, shift the focus of your coverage onto other candidates — the polls will reflect the change.
Lam Nguyen in a sophomore in the College. But I Digress appears every other Friday.