Donald Trump is using the upcoming Republican primary debate as an opportunity to assert his dominance over the GOP field while simultaneously encouraging CNN to donate all ad revenue to veterans groups.
It’s a genius PR move by the Trump team, which sent a note to CNN President Jeff Zucker asking that the change be made. The note was issued after sites like Advertising Age began reporting that CNN would be charging $200,000 for a 30-second spot during the debate. Trump, of course, says that “tremendous increase in viewer interest and advertising is due 100 percent to ‘Donald J. Trump.’”
In the note, Trump sneaks in a few key aspects of his campaign platform. He explains how he doesn’t want money from lobbyists or special interest groups, encouraging the media to stop profiting off the presidential race and political process as well.
He also reestablishes his support for veterans and his distaste for illegal immigrants, writing, “Some would say (veterans) are treated like third class citizens — even worse, in many cases than illegal immigrants.” Everything Trump writes in the letter is calculated to improve his stature among his supporters while pressuring CNN to donate its profits to charity.
Despite all the braggadocio and pandering in the letter, Trump makes one valid point: Debates should be a public service. “You should view the second debate broadcast as a public service and not accept the massive profits that this airing will generate,” Trump writes.
It’s far too easy for one rich individual to pressure a corporation to be more charitable — in order to boost his own reputation for supporting veterans — yet Trump has identified another major flaw in the American campaign process.
At this point, it’s impossible to deny that the media has an impact on presidential elections. Companies like CNN and Fox News have major influence based on which candidates they choose to cover, as well as the ways in which they portray those candidates.
It’s not a coincidence that Trump has both dominated media coverage for the past couple months while sitting atop the GOP polls. Trump’s using hyperbole when he claims he’s 100 percent responsible for the debate’s high ad rates, but he’s not far off.
Interestingly, CNN was already planning on offering a free live stream of the upcoming debate to non-subscribers. It also moved the debate from 9 p.m. EST to 8 p.m. EST to maximize viewership. Andrew Morse, head of U.S. editorial operations and worldwide digital at CNN, told Mashable that the free stream is strictly a business move.
“We are offering this as a preview. To me, there’s a longer play here, which is that we want our audiences to know this is a service they can get from CNN going forward. We want to build that user behavior,” Morse said. Even though it’s doing the country a service by airing the debate for free, CNN still has profit as the most important factor on its mind.
Debates offer one of the most convenient ways for voters to learn more about their party’s candidates. Yet they are moderated and controlled by media corporations that care more about profit than politics.
Fox News put Donald Trump center stage because it knew he needed the most airtime to keep viewers interested. CNN won’t be any different.
It’s unfair for Trump to single out a company and demand it donate the profits of the debate to the charities of his choosing, but his point is still important. If we want to have a more equitable campaign process, debates should be considered a public service.