Donald Trump won the GOP Primary because he manipulated the media each and every day. I’ve had this thought in my head for a while but it came back to me this week as I was sitting on the tube reading the 2012 book Trust Me; I’m Lying the confessions of media manipulator Ryan Holiday the former CMO of American Apparel.
The book details the economic incentives that drive bloggers and the online news cycle of clickbait articles and scandal and how the author has used them time and time again to dominate media coverage and garner support for his clients. Holiday worked under the same media philosophy that Trump does, All press is good press. Especially in a world saturated by media where the worst thing is obscurity.
I’ve lived in this world so it took me a while to read this book, but for those who haven’t had the curtain pulled back Holiday does so succinctly in this paragraph:
“A portion of the advertising on blogs is sold directly by the publisher, a portion is sold by sales reps who work on commission, and the rest is sold by advertising networks that specialize in the remaining inventory. Regardless of who sells it or who buys it, what matters is that every ad impression on a site is monetized, if only for a few pennies. Each and every pageview is money in the pocket of the publisher.”
While 4 years old, this book remains relevant as the situation has only gotten worse. With the NYTimes selling articles to advertisers the entire publishing world has become consumed with getting traffic to its pages to resell as ads.
Because of this, it is relatively simple to manipulate the press and thus public opinion. Donald Trump is a master at this. He knew that as long as the story was focused on him then it would take the focus away from his opponents. If he wanted to take over 3 days worth of news, just simply say an absurdity and then either walk it back or enjoy the flocks of people with whom that rhetoric resonates with.
The purest example of this is that the day Ted Cruz overtook Trump in Iowa by 10 points in polling Donald Trump announced a plan to ban all muslims from entering the country. Trump knew that if he stayed silent the news would be incentivized to focus on Cruz’s surge. Instead he gave them a juicier story guaranteed to steal the attention and for which editors would get the clicks they needed.
If you are an editor which do you care about more, the truth that is boring or a sensational story that will boost your ratings? This isn’t a new phenomena as Ed Murrow once famously stated:
“If we were to do the Second Coming of Christ in color for a full hour, there would be a considerable number of stations which would decline to carry it on the grounds that a Western or a quiz show would be more profitable.”
While this isn’t new, the media is today being manipulated to promote a xenophobe. We can change that by installing AdBlockers and paying for quality news. By disavowing Trump for the xenophobe he is but also anyone who supports his xenophobic philosophy.
Ryan Holiday concludes his book with this paragraph and it is how I will leave you today.
“You cannot have your news instantly and have it done well. You cannot have your news reduced to 140 characters or less without losing large parts of it. You cannot manipulate the news but not expect it to be manipulated against you. You cannot have your news for free; you can only obscure the costs. If, as a culture, we can learn this lesson, and if we can learn to love the hard work, we will save ourselves much trouble and collateral damage. We must remember: There is no easy way.”