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Communication in the Age of Trump


Edited By Arthur S. Hayes

Franklin Delano Roosevelt used radio fireside chats to connect with millions of ordinary Americans. The highly articulate and telegenic John F. Kennedy was dubbed the first TV president. Ronald Reagan, the so-called Great Communicator, had a conversational way of speaking to the common man. Bill Clinton left his mark on media industries by championing and signing the landmark Telecommunications Act of 1996 into law. Barack Obama was the first social media presidential campaigner and president. And now there is President Donald J. Trump.

Because so much of what has made Donald Trump’s candidacy and presidency unconventional has been about communication—how he has used Twitter to convey his political messages and how the news media and voters have interpreted and responded to his public words and persona—21 communication and media scholars examine the Trump phenomenon in Communication in the Age of Trump. This collection of essays and studies, suitable for communication and political science students and scholars, covers the 2016 presidential campaign and the first year of the Trump presidency.

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5. American Media and the Rise of Trump (Victor Pickard)


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5. American Media and the Rise of Trump


Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania

The factors contributing to Donald Trump’s election are many.1 They include varying degrees of racism, misogyny, nativism, and xenophobia among sections of the American public. Trump, adopting a fake populism, also benefitted from economic conditions resulting from Republican and Democratic administrations’ trade policies. In addition to these factors is the role of media, whether misinformation amplified through social media, or various failures in the more traditional news media (Pickard, 2017b). The latter institutions in particular deserve special scrutiny for their role in accelerating Trump’s candidacy, most obviously because they help set agendas and frame political debates each election cycle (Confessore, 2016; Frank, 2016; Tufekci, 2016). News media’s constant coverage has boosted Trump’s visibility and helped popularize him, even in aggressive confrontations with the candidate. The benefit, however, is mutual.

As Trump attacked the press—mocking and feuding with journalists, threatening to change libel laws, holding campaign events where reporters are corralled and roughed up—he still served the media well (Becker, 2016; Hampson, 2016). Indeed, the news organizations covering Trump, particularly television news, accumulated vast amounts of money from their election coverage (Poggi, 2015). Cable news organizations, for example, made billions of dollars during the election season (Gold & Weprin, 2016).

This profit motive helps explain Trump’s constant media exposure, which greatly advantaged his campaign over...

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