“It’s very sad,” a certain presidential candidate declared during Tuesday night’s CNN-sponsored Republican debate in Las Vegas, complaining of the disproportionate media attention paid to GOP frontrunner Donald Trump.
Indeed, the coverage of All Things Trump is widely deemed so excessive that former CNN anchor Campbell Brown and the progressive-activist philanthropy CREDO Action have launched separate petition drives demanding that it be stopped.
At least one candidate at Tuesday’s debate seemed to agree.
“I think it’s very sad that CNN leads Jeb Bush, Gov. Bush, down a road by starting off virtually all of the questions: ‘Mr. Trump this, Mr. Trump that,’” the candidate continued.
“I watched the first debate. And the first long number of questions were, ‘Mr. Trump said this, Mr. Trump said that, Mr. Trump!’ … I thought it was very unfair that virtually the entire early portion of the debate was ‘Trump this, Trump that!’ in order to get ratings.”
And who was this carping candidate?
Ironically, it was Donald Trump, who has dominated the cable and broadcast networks—and, truth be told, received more than generous play throughout print and online media, including The Daily Beast—ever since he announced for the White House in June.
It was a rare burst of agreement with the reality television mogul-turned-celebrity politician that CREDO Action otherwise slams as “racist and Islamophobic.”
A Trump campaign spokesperson didn’t respond by deadline to an email from The Daily Beast requesting comment.
The 33-year-old Nelson, Credo Action’s communications director, had been nursing the idea of petition against over-the-top, uncritical Trump coverage for weeks when on Dec. 7—a night that apparently will live in media infamy—both CNN and MSNBC broke off from their usual programming for an extended live broadcast of the Trump for President rally at which the potty-mouthed billionaire touted his plan to ban Muslims from entering the United States.
“It was pretty much happening all the time, where there would be a roundtable discussion about policy on cable television, and then they would interrupt somebody in mid-sentence to go to the live coverage of a Trump campaign event—pretty much giving him free publicity,” Nelson told The Daily Beast from San Francisco, where CREDO Action is based.
The group donates an eye-popping $200,000 each month to various liberal-leaning causes and nonprofits—about 1 percent of the revenue generated by a privately held mobile phone company, also named CREDO, that was founded 30 years ago explicitly to support progressive activism.
The night of last week’s rally, Nelson added, “we started talking about whether there was something we could do here to get the idea out there that the media’s obsession with Donald Trump has gone too far.”
By last Wednesday, the CREDO Action petition—calling on CNN and MSNBC to “stop promoting Donald Trump’s racist presidential campaign”—was posted online.
As of this writing, it had accumulated more than 190,000 signatures on its way to a goal of 250,000—and Nelson and his colleagues were considering whether to “escalate” their campaign, as he put it, by flooding the cable outlets’ switchboards with phone calls.
An MSNBC spokesperson declined to comment on CREDO’s petition drive, and CNN’s publicity department didn’t respond to multiple emails.
Nelson said CREDO has exempted the Fox News Channel from its campaign—a relief, no doubt, to Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes and his minions—because “we don’t think Fox is necessarily a credible news outlet at this point, and we didn’t think there was any possible circumstance where Fox was going to listen to progressive activists.”
Repeating a liberal truism that the top-rated cable news network is a Republican-friendly, conservative-leaning media juggernaut—a charge that might apply to Fox’s opinion shows but, as the channel always insists, is an unfair hit on its straight-news programming—Nelson added: “We don’t expect responsible coverage from Fox on this or anything else.”
“Fox News mentioned Trump 452 times, but the biggest guns by far were CNN and MSNBC, who apparently have serious Trump obsessions,” wrote Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum. “CNN mentioned him 1,375 times and MSNBC mentioned him 1,484 times…
“As for Trumpmania, CNN is by far the biggest offender. Both Fox and MSNBC have given Trump about half of all Republican mentions over the past week. CNN has given him 70 percent. they’ve all but quit covering the other candidates entirely. Needless to say, this has gone beyond mere reporting and is now edging toward outright advocacy. This kind of coverage is obviously a huge benefit for Trump.”
The 47-year-old Brown, a veteran political reporter who co-hosted NBC’s Weekend Today show before getting her own prime-time program on CNN in 2007, had independently decided that the frontrunner deserves far less airtime than he’s getting, penning a polemic in Politico pleading for a Trump moratorium—which would even entail banning of any mention of his name.
“Dear Former TV Colleagues, Give Us a Week Without Trump,” was the headline.
Brown’s petition on change.org has so far garnered a little more than 1,000 signatures—a fraction of CREDO’s—and she acknowledged that her campaign has scant chance of success.
“I never thought that this would be an easy sell. I am not that naïve,” Brown emailed The Daily Beast. “I have been in too many editorial meetings with TV executives to try to pretend that ratings are not the primary driver of decisions about what to cover.”
She added: “The public should understand how explicit the conversations are in the newsroom about what stories will generate big numbers. Some coverage of Trump is legitimate, but I would argue much if not most of the coverage is ratings-driven. That means TV is giving viewers a skewed perspective on these candidates and the impact they are really having.
“Calling for a Trump ban, however unlikely, was a way to say to my colleagues: be honest with yourselves about what you are doing and the impact its having on this campaign and on the national dialogue. He is partly your creation, and you are partly responsible for the direction the campaign has taken.”