Trump, Live From New York -- But Also Canned, From Iowa

In a year in which the endless run-up to the presidential election has been all about the outliers, Donald Trump hosts “Saturday Night Live” this weekend, and again proves himself to be the King of Free Media.  As Trump has already made clear, his closest rival, Ben Carson, (who is now neck-in-neck, or even beating him, in some Iowa polls) was not — and never will be — asked to host such an esteemed show, because he’s too boring and low-energy.

Of course, the thin-skinned eminence has always been able to manipulate the media; he’s obsessed with measurement, and it’s part of his shtick to promote himself as ratings bait.  But lately he has achieved Absolute Frank Sinatra-levels of “I Did It (to the media) My Way.”

Who but the molder of Apprentices would even think of dictating the terms of a debate to the various networks?

With his patented “phone-in,” the real estate baron has even managed to revolutionize (and retro-ize) the concept of a TV “appearance.”  Rather than having to show up in the studio, he gets to be the voice-cloud of Trumpiness hovering over the anchor desk with no corporeal form.  



Of course, the thing about television is that it’s visual.  Before this election, no self-respecting network TV news program would allow “phone-ins”  from anyone, unless it was to cover a national emergency. The image of Walter Cronkite hanging up the heavy black receiver, removing his glasses, dabbing his eyes, and turning to the camera and announcing John F. Kennedy’s death comes to mind, but that grave and iconic moment happened more than a half century ago.  

But with his old-school phone moves, Trump can be everywhere at once — for free.  Indeed, it has come to the point where we “watch” the anchors speaking to this invisible deity, who, by dint of his nasty verbal tangents, and obsession with revenge and metrics, still makes for amazing auditory theater.

This past Tuesday, Chris Cuomo, CNN’s “New Day” co-anchor, presided over just such a call-in. Ostensibly, Trump was on the line to talk about his new book,  “Crippled America.”  Instead, he went on a tirade about how the CNN reporter assigned to cover him didn’t show the huge lines of people at his book signing, and instead kept the camera on herself. He then started bashing Wayne Barrett, a journalist who wrote a book about him that was published in 1992.

When it was over, Cuomo turned to his fellow anchors — and the reaction was palpable, as if they had all been holding their breath. It was like going from black and white to living color in the studio, as they came back to life. (Call it post-traumatic Trump-phoner disorder.)

Two days (and many phone-ins) later, Trump released his first-ever paid radio ads.  (A $300,000 buy.)  If, as a disembodied voice, Trump can be so mesmerizing on television, why would he ever need paid ads?

Well, for one thing, he seemed to be losing it with Cuomo, and radio spots are one  cheap way to stay disciplined and “on message.”

Reportedly, Carson has used traditional paid media in Iowa effectively to reach his evangelical base.  Perhaps Trump felt that he also had to run spots on certain evangelical stations to counter Carson’s recent surge.

But, to quote one of Trump’s most lethal put-downs, his 60-second spots are really low-energy.

Trump voices one himself; the other features a soothing female voiceover (to remind us that he cherishes women?)   But why use radio spots to rehash the exact same points that he makes on the campaign trail and in his new book?  Why not use them to answer other questions — like, will you really stay in the race? —  or to get into the specifics of one particular issue?

Interestingly, the spots feature no flourishes at all — not even any background music. The one with the Donald’s voice comes off as grinding and stentorian, 60 seconds of nonstop talking points that seem to defeat the purpose of his putting down other pols as “all talk, no action.”
By contrast, the woman’s voice is lulling and almost hypnotic. I was nodding off until she got to the line reading that Donald Trump will “react brutally and quickly and cut the head off ISIS.”

So the outliers are going old-school now, coming out with books and radio spots.  As this race gets tougher, it seems that Trump will have to learn new tricks.

In the end, he’ll find that no matter what deals he was able to make previously, and however easy it’s been for him to be the ringleader, he can’t fire the media.  And maybe he’ll realize that, like the nighttime tweeting, perhaps he should leave the advertising to professionals.

12 comments about "Trump, Live From New York -- But Also Canned, From Iowa".
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  1. Bill Weber from Bill Weber Studios, November 6, 2015 at 2:01 a.m.

    I was a magazine publisher and Trump an advertiser in the late 80s.  I considered myself lucky that he paid me -- most likely because he was advertising the Trump skating rink and was being watched by the Parks Department.  I feel sorry for the radio stations and other local media he will be buying now -- New York businesspeople know the Donald's M.O.: buy, complain, refuse to pay, then say "Sue me."  That sounds just like how is running his campaign and what he is promising to do with the U.S. government (see "Mexican Wall.")" Caveat Venditor.

  2. Judy Colbert from Tuff Turtle, November 6, 2015 at 5:10 a.m.

    Neck-in-neck or neck-and-neck? Are you writing about them being sort of tied in the old or is there some new expression in today's jargon that I've missed?

  3. Judy Colbert from Tuff Turtle, November 6, 2015 at 5:12 a.m.

    That that should be polls, not old. iPad typing can be tricky.

  4. Laurence Rutter from Rudders & Moorings Yacht Sales, November 6, 2015 at 6:14 a.m.

    Your article seemed highly critical of Trump but did exactly what he wanted you to do. Give him more coverage - for free. If you don't want him to be the next President, don't cover him. But his activities are so compelling the media just can't leave him alone. Exactly what he wants. Have you written similar articles about any of the other candidates. 

  5. Jane Farrell from Freelance, November 6, 2015 at 10:11 a.m.

    I almost never blame the media. However, I'll make an exception in this case. Whether through thoughtful analysis or a kind of heat-seeking instinct (I'll go with the latter), Trump has learned to feast on the perpetual demands of a 24-hour news cycle and the endless need for "controversial" sound bites. Most reporters seem content to let him run on, and why not? He can provide an entertaining story all by himself. They don't have to do a thing. 

    Maybe this is naive, but I hardly believe people are flipping back and forth among CNN, Fox and MSNBC to catch his latest proclamation. In other words, I am not sure this reliance on Trump contributes to ratings. 

    But even Trump (or his advisers?) knows when he's gone too far. Your point about radio ads enabling him to stay on message is a good one.

    As for his being able to fire the media, you are also right: he can't do that. However, I don't know if the media actually wants to be fired. The current setup works just fine for them. 

  6. George Parker from Parker Consultants, November 6, 2015 at 10:16 a.m.

    As I say on AdScam, these days, the only thing more screwed up than the ad biz is politics. Now that Ben Carson tells us the pyramids were built by Joseph to store grain and we should not believe scientists who want us to believe they were built by aliens (StarGate?) You can't make this shit up... No wonder the rest of the world thinks we are nuts.

  7. Claudia Caplan from MDC Partners, November 6, 2015 at 11:01 a.m.

    In the intelligent and rational bubble most of us inhabit, it's literally impossible to understand the attraction of Trump and Carson. My personal theory about Trump is that many people have spent season after season watching him as the "boss."  We've seen celebrities (the most important people in America), give him obeisance and call him Mr. Trump.  So why shouldn't most people believe that he's "large and in charge?"  He may not be a world leader, but he plays one on TV.  He has the mansions, the helicopters, the underlings.  All the markers of domination.  By contrast, we see our actual political leaders as frequently ineffectual in the face of complicated issues.  Trump understands the message of the Gordian Knot.

  8. Don Perman from self, November 6, 2015 at 12:43 p.m.

    Another thoughtful, stimulating read...about a lunatic moment in our collective history.

  9. Chuck Lantz from, network, November 6, 2015 at 5:29 p.m.

    A few weeks ago while waiting for a connecting flight back from the East to the West coast, in Atlanta, I was sitting beneath a TV, tuned to Fox News. I couldn't see what was on-screen, and the sound was off. Seated in front of me was a pretty fair cross section of people, young and old. Normal folks. Maybe a dozen of them were staring at the screen, wide-eyed, most with mouths open, "mesmerized" would be an apt description.  When I looked up to see who was on-screen - expecting to see a Kardashian or the Pope - of course it was Trump, looking all Trump-ish. 

    I looked back at the faces of the small crowd, a bit wide-eyed and open-mouthed myself by then, truly afraid, for the first time, that that clown may have a chance of winning after all.

  10. Jim English from The Met Museum, November 6, 2015 at 11:31 p.m.

    An anti-Trump I am encouraged by Carson's and Rubio's rise in the polls. Thinking about NY Times columnist David Brooks' prediction that soon Donald Trump will no longer be considered a serious presidential candidate.

  11. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, November 9, 2015 at 10:25 p.m.

    a) Political advertisers and issue advertiers are the those that the media will not give credit to. The either pay up front or post a bond. That goes for print as well. I don't know about Digital, but see no reason that they would be trusting. Somewhat ironic that purveyors of Florida swampland, to cite one example, are trusted more than pols.
    b) In 1987, my partners and I did an ad for Mr. Trump. We did a headline and sub-head for his Open Letter re: Japanese trade. We designed it, produced it, shipped it, and "bought the space" for it in The NY Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe. He paid the media upfront and us a 15% commission on the space and 17.65% on production very on-time.
    c) Hard to figure radio as a political ad medium. As Barbara notes, maybe there is history in Iowa for it. The only time I worked on a campaign that was competing in Iowa was 1988 Bush. We lost to Dole and I figured it was because he was from Kansas and talked about wheat and corn. But I didn't think paid media ever played much of a part outside TV. I suggested a print ad on the Sunday before the Bush vs. Dole vs. Kemp caucuses and you woulda thought I suggested skywriting or shirt cardboards. Brought silence to the room and an effort to move the meeting along.

  12. Alan Wasserstrom from None, November 10, 2015 at 9:58 a.m.

    Another thoughtful and interesting read some of which I agree with,some I don't. Trump would have to be a complete idiot not to ride the free and extensive publicity train provided by the media.This past week MSNBC provided a full 30 minutes of nonstop coverage of a Trump'press' conference,easily trumping even coverage of Obama's important opening of consideration of criminal justice reform. perhaps the new press obssession with mainly not provable AUTO biographical will supplant Trump for a while but I am guessing he will be back on the free train soon.Good job,barbara!

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