Donald Trump is done talking about a rigged media and ready to take action. Last night, his campaign debuted the first episode of a new nightly news program called “Trump Tower Live” on Facebook. The media joked about it as the genesis of Trump TV but I think we should seriously consider what this means for the future of political reporting.
There was a time when getting on television was one of the only ways to bring attention to your platform and your candidacy. That is no more. Monday’s broadcast from the Trump campaign “war room” premiered at 6:30PM, a time slot normally reserved for veteran television anchors. Nearly 60,000 people tuned in as Trump adviser Cliff Simms explained the point of the program as “an effort to bring our message directly to you.”
The premiere of Trump Tower Live should come as no surprise for a campaign that has heavily depended on social media as their primary means of communication with supporters. Just as Twitter has provided Donald Trump with an avenue for his unfettered and uncouth opinions, “Trump Tower Live” puts the control back into the hands of campaign advisers who would prefer to deliver talking points without question or interruption from what they consider a rigged media.
In July during the week of the Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton’s campaign laid the groundwork for this type of show. Instead of relying on the major networks to promote the then presumptive Democratic nominee, the Clinton campaign premiered “Studio 2016”. It had all the hallmarks of a regular television newscast except the entire point was to directly persuade voters to choose Hillary Clinton for president.
Is this the new normal? Will all future presidential campaigns eventually stop submitting themselves to tough scrutiny and instead gravitate towards the more friendly platform of live social media?
It’s a scary thought. Voters depend on good reporting to hold candidates accountable. We expect to be shown both sides of the political coin so we can make informed decisions about who to elect. But if candidates eschew the intense cross-examination in favor of the soft-ball discussions that come with having their own show, it’ll be the American people who lose out far more than the network producers hoping to get an interview.
Stuck in the middle of this discussion are the social media websites themselves. Facebook, a platform that initially positioned itself as a space for diverse voices, was accused in May of suppressing conservative news stories after former employees spilled the beans on the social media behemoth. At the time, Facebook was criticized for operating like a newsroom. If shows like “Studio 2016” and “Trump Tower Live” continue to thrive, it may actually become one.
Still, these shows will never garner the type of audience sizes that traditional media outlets can accomplish. Even if this is the new normal, that fact should force future campaigns to treated dedicated livestreams as complements rather than alternatives. But as this country falls deeper down the rabbit hole of polarization I wouldn’t put it past either party to try to take on the media, avoiding opposition altogether to deliver their one-sided message.
* * *