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Thursday, March 3, 2016
The MRC's Trump-Media Conspiracy
Topic: Media Research Center

The Media Research Center has been obsessing over the amount of time network news (but never the cable news channels) devote to covering Donald Trump. The endgame of that obsession is clear: a conspiracy theory that the "liberal media" is plotting to get Trump the Republican nomination so that he will be trounced by the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, in November.

The MRC's Curtis Houck  expresses the conspiracy clearly in a Feb. 29 post:

By essentially deleting his opponents from their airwaves, the networks (and cable outlets) have been employing a visible strategy to force the billionaire on GOP primary voters and through to the general election against Clinton or Sanders.

My colleague Rich Noyes brilliantly highlighted this very problem as it was evident for months with the month of January seeing Trump be bequeathed 60 percent of the total GOP race airtime on the network evening newscasts (with Cruz well behind at 30 percent and Rubio at four percent).

The Media Research Center’s Bias the Minute writer Mike Ciandella outlined the same pattern on CNN in an even shorter window as between August 24, 2015 and September 4, 2015, Trump was the topic of discussion in over 77 percent of their primetime election segments. For reference, Jeb Bush came in second for this study but only attracted roughly 12 percent. 

MRC chief Brent Bozell and right-hand man Tim Graham echoed the conspiracy in their March 2 column:

These supposed opponents of "Big Money" dominating our democracy have spent month after month giving the lion's share of their political coverage to the billionaire reality TV host. Through Feb. 25, Trump's presidential campaign has received 923 minutes of coverage on the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts, nearly five times given to Ted Cruz (205 minutes) and seven times the amount of coverage provided to Marco Rubio (139 minutes).

The tone of Trump coverage is routinely negative. But it still plays into Trump's strategy of saying outrageous things to starve the other candidates of any oxygen from the establishment press. The billionaire pledged to self-fund his campaign but has spent little. It's being fueled almost entirely by free TV airtime.

But there's one thing Trump doesn't want covered, and again the networks are complying. In that overflowing tank of news hours, only a small amount (14 minutes, or 1.5 percent of Trump's total) were spent talking about Trump's past record of support for liberal positions and liberal politicians. Put that number in this perspective: Twice as much time was devoted to Trump's negative comments about Fox News host Megyn Kelly. Almost an hour was dedicated to Trump's proposed (temporary) ban on Muslim immigration.


It used to be said that when the GOP field is winnowed from 17 to about six, Trump would no longer dominate. Wrong. On the night before Super Tuesday voting, the networks obsessed over Trump with more than 15 minutes of coverage, compared to just two for Rubio and less than a minute for Cruz.

The accusation should be made. The liberal media want this vulnerable, blabby billionaire with the high unfavorable numbers to be the Republican nominee.

Employing the Occam's Razor approach to the issue -- which the MRC is steadfastly refusing to do --  most objective media analysts would argue that Trump is being covered because he is, in fact, the most popular Republican running and has been for months. Trump dominated Super Tuesday coverage because he won the most states.

The idea that Trump is being "forced" onto voters is belied by the fact that the voters don't seem to mind. And Bozell and Graham would be screaming about "negative" coverage of any other Republican, so their claim that "negative" coverage of Trump is part of the conspiracy is ridiculous.

Further, the entire MRC conspiracy coterie has been silent about the one media outlet that has done more to promote Trump than any other: Fox News, which effectively established his campaign by giving him more than $30 million in free airtime in 2015. And the night before Super Tuesday, Sean Hannity devoted half his show to an interview with Trump.

The MRC's absolute refusal to scrutinize Trump's symbiosis with Fox News is not just a huge blind spot in its so-called media research, it's also self-serving. As they've shown in their selective outrage over how various media outlets have conducted GOP debates -- slobbering all over Fox-hosted debates and bashing everyone else -- Bozell and Co. don't want to go after Fox because it's their main TV outlet. Bozell has a weekly spot on Hannity's show, and he and others pop up regularly on Fox News and Fox Business.

One of the things the rise of Trump has exposed is the hollowness and shoddiness of the MRC's "media research." So Bozell and crew must continue to blow smoke about the "liberal media" so his fellow conservatives don't figure that out.

Posted by Terry K. at 5:19 PM EST
Updated: Thursday, March 3, 2016 5:28 PM EST

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