Donald Trump has led the Republican presidential primary almost from the moment he entered it, in no small part because of his masterful exploitation of broadcast media’s willingness to keep giving him free exposure. Trump, since warning that Mexico was sending rapists and murderers across the southern border in his announcement speech, has realized that if he makes some sort of over-the-top claim every week or so, it will be followed by days’ worth of free media cataloguing the statement, the reaction, Trump’s counter-punch and so on ad nauseam.
Some outlets, at least, appear to be increasingly willing to challenge Trump and his advisors directly on their assertions, and the growing pushback suggests that, while the media ride isn’t over, Trump might have to start paying his fare by facing tougher questioning.
However, if Wednesday afternoon is any indication, Trump’s months of blanket coverage may have left him positioned to continue reaching out to his audience with or without the help of the mainstream press.
On Wednesday afternoon, for example, Trump made an appearance on the Alex Jones radio show. Jones, a conspiracy theorist of prodigious proportions, reaches millions with his show, videos and website.
For more than half an hour, Trump chatted with Jones, who not only believes the 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by the U.S. government, but believes mass shootings, like Sandy Hook, were also “false flag” government operations. Jones compared Trump to George Washington, and said the he believes about 90 percent of his listeners are Trump supporters.
Now, an appearance on Jones’ InfoWars isn’t exactly a sit-down with Barbara Walters, which Trump also got, but it still reaches an awful lot of people — and it’s free. For Trump, who is self-funding his campaign, that means something. And the appearance, archived online, can be shared by Trump supporters, again, at no cost to the candidate.
Not long after he finished with Jones, Trump tweeted out an invitation to his Twitter followers to join an online chat on Facebook and Periscope, the Twitter-owned service that allows users to broadcast events live to their followers. Again, for free.
The Facebook connection failed — according to Trump because of overwhelming interest. The Periscope chat did happen, though, allowing Trump to hold forth on various topics, again for free, to the thousands of people who tuned in. The candidate says that he will continue doing the broadcasts on a weekly basis.
That means, for people unfamiliar with the service, that folks with the Periscope app on their phones who follow Donald Trump will get a notification whenever he decides he wants to start broadcasting to them. For the record, Wednesday afternoon was Trump’s first Periscope broadcast. He announced it 20 minutes in advance on Twitter, and he had more than 150,000 followers by the time it went live.
The broadcast media may be rethinking its treatment of Trump. But it’s not clear he needs them anymore.