Seven hours after being arraigned on charges for his alleged role in coordinating hush-money to payments to a porn star and falsifying business records, former President Donald Trump gave a 21-minute speech on primetime radio and TV on April, 4. Fox News and CNN transmitted his speech, in which he portrayed the case as politically motivated. Later, the CNN Politics webpage published fact checks of at least seven false claims he made. MSNBC News took a different route. The news channel said it had everything prepared to broadcast his speech, but decided not to.
“This is basically a campaign speech in which he is repeating his same lies and allegations against his perceived enemies,” said Rachel Maddow, MSNBC News anchor. “We don’t consider that necessarily newsworthy and there’s a cost to us as a news organization of knowingly broadcasting untrue things. So, our deal with you is that we will monitor these remarks. If he does say anything newsworthy, we will turn them around and report on that right away. But for now, just know that it’s happening and we are not taking it.”
Trump has had a corrupting impact on journalism, leading some news organizations to become overly reliant on covering him and potentially becoming addicted to doing so, says John Harris, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Politico. “They’re in business together,” he said. “Trump knows he’s good for the publications, the cable networks and the web-based publications, they can’t give him up.”
The debate on the co-dependent relationship between the media and Donald Trump has been going since Trump was a presidential candidate in 2017. In an article written in 2015, Matt Bai, a Yahoo News Columnist, summarized this relationship: “It is clear there’s a powerful symbiosis between Trump and the media. We need him for the narrative power, for the clicks and debate ratings and sheer fascination factor. He needs us for the free publicity and the easy, evocative foil.”
Back then, fearing that Trump was playing the media, Colette A.M. Phillips, a public relations executive at the Huffington Post, called for the media to impose a blackout on Trump’s coverage. “I can tell you that if they do not cover him, he will go away,” she said.
A move that The Washington Post’s Columnist Callum Borchers did not agree with at that time: “Yes, Donald Trump is playing the media to his benefit. But it’s not the media’s fault. Even if the media could pull this off, it shouldn’t. That’s not the role of the press.”
As a principle, journalists should not decide who is right, who is wrong on issues, according to Rob Hubbard, president at Hubbard Broadcasting. And the same rule apply for adverts, he said.
“Once they are candidate, we have to run any spot they give to us,” he said.
All of that comes with a price that might be hard to measure for the press, which is being damaged, but easier to quantify for Trump. During his campaign, Trump earned close to $2 billion worth of media attention – twice as much as Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate he was running against in 2016, according to a survey done by mediaQuant and SMG Delta.
The New York Times states that amounts to twice as much “free” coverage as even the most expensive presidential campaigns in history.
Joseph Kahn, executive director of the newspaper, said part of the media’s role is to hold people in positions of power to account, “for any major public office regardless of the political orientation of the individual figure.”