Stelter explains why the cable channel gave Trump so much time — and what happened when it hired his former campaign manager.
Brian Stelter has been writing about the business of cable news since he was just a fan, starting a blog from his dorm room called TVNewser before moving on to the media desk of the New York Times.
Today, Stelter is still thinking and writing about cable news. Except now he’s doing it from a desk at CNN, where he hosts the weekly show “Reliable Sources.” From that desk, he has had a near-ideal spot to observe how and why TV journalists flocked to the once-unlikely candidacy of Donald Trump.
“There was definitely something about Trump and his entertainment value that appealed to CNN and appealed to cable news,” Stelter recalled on the latest episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka. “Trump knew media like nobody else in politics. He still does. He’s running a media campaign and an anti-media campaign simultaneously.”
But Stelter isn’t completely separate from the fray. CNN, like other cable networks, gave a lot of air time to Donald Trump’s rallies and speeches throughout the campaign. Some critics alleged that they did so because those oft-controversial speeches were good for ratings and, hence, their ad dollars — a claim Stelter doubts.
“I don’t think there’s anything to the idea that cable news intentionally weighted the scale for business reasons,” he said. “I’ve never seen any evidence that these outlets work that way. Things that look intentional are almost always accidental, both good and bad, in media.”
The reason for TV’s love of Trump, Stelter explained, is all about his combination of unpredictability and media savvy.
“I was immensely frustrated by the end of 2015 that other candidates weren’t learning more from Trump,” Stelter said. “And when I say ‘learn from Trump,’ I don’t just mean ‘be more entertaining and say provocative and offensive things.’ I also mean, if you’re a candidate and you’d like to reach the highest number of viewers, come speak in prime time.”
On the new podcast, he also discussed CNN’s hiring of former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, a topic that Stelter devoted ten minutes of the “Reliable Sources” hour to debating shortly after it happened. He acknowledged that the move was “highly controversial,” but said initial unease within CNN’s ranks had died down.
“I would put this test on it: If this was happening at MSNBC or Fox instead of CNN, what would I do about it?” Stelter said. “If Corey Lewandowski had been hired by MSNBC, I would’ve done eight minutes on it, maybe not 10, but I would’ve given it the same amount of time.”
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