Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

How Donald Trump Gets Millions in Campaign Airtime Without Paying A Dime

Gage Skidmore/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Has GOP frontrunner Donald Trump earned all this media coverage?

From Texas Standard:

An AP headline puts it plainest: Rattled Republicans Seek a Last-Ditch Strategy to Stop Trump.

Reports have been saying GOP leaders sense a window of opportunity closing. It points to a theme in this election season – those who thought Donald Trump would self-destruct were wrong, and the decision to take him seriously came a little too late in the proceedings. To be fair, this isn't just about Trump. Let's back up for a moment.


The bogeyman in the American political conversation of recent years has been campaign spending: the scurrilous relationship between deep-pocketed donors, corporations, and politicians. Money is the lifeblood because it pays for political ads. But for all his billionaire bluster, Donald Trump hasn't spent much at all.

Media time has been given to him, free of charge. Campaigns and public relations experts have a phrase for this: "earned" media –publicity gained without a dollar spent on advertising. What exactly has Donald Trump done to earn him the sort of open microphone that the media has been more than willing to give him thus far?

Some pundits and lawmakers, including one-time Republican nominee for president Rand Paul, have blamed the media, in part, for Trump's current position as GOP frontrunner.

According to the right-leaning non-profit Media Research Center, ABC, CBS and NBC devoted a majority of their Republican primary coverage to Donald Trump in 2015. He got more than triple the airtime that Sen. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz received. That has been pretty standard on cable news mentions as well, since Trump announced his candidacy back in June.

Walter Borges, assistant professor at the University of North Texas at Dallas, says Trump knows how to keep the spotlight. So far, the mainstream media has taken Trump's bait – with the goal of keeping readers and viewers in place.

"With the challenges from the internet, traditional media needs to find a new market model," he says. "There's a lot more concern about the entertainment value of news for an audience. It basically dwarfs the idea that public service is what news operations perform."

Trump provides drama and outrage, Borges says, which satisfies the audience's expectation of entertainment. Modern campaigns are as focused on projecting a specific image of a candidate as explaining the candidate's views.

"It would be better for the media to primarily focus on issues," he says, "but is that really what the audience wants?"

Rhonda joined KUT in late 2013 as producer for the station's new daily news program, Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.
Related Content