Weeks after Donald Trump launched his candidacy with a controversial speech that singled out Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug traffickers, the New York real estate developer held a press conference at the southern border.
“It was fascinating TV,” Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly told journalist Katie Couric during an interview on Wednesday night at the Women in the World summit in Manhattan.
“We put it on the Kelly File at 9 o’clock and we watched it and it was the first sort of ‘Oh my god, I can’t take my eyes off of this. What’s he going to say next? There’s something so compelling about this.’ And we saw our numbers the next day and they had soared.”
Like many networks, Kelly and her team had discovered the Trump effect – and it was intoxicating. But in that early state of delirium, when networks began carrying blanket coverage of his press conferences and rallies, journalists missed an opportunity to challenge the candidate, Kelly said. Instead, she said, the news media helped fuel his rise.
“The media would sit there and say ‘it’s amazing how the polls are just up, up,.’ And it’s like, you’re putting your thumb on the scale,” she said of the relentless media coverage. “It’s not an anti-Trump thing. It’s just a responsibility as journalists thing.”
A New York Times analysis calculated that the live-wire coverage of his campaign had earned Trump $1.9bn worth of “free media” over the course of his campaign, compared with $746m for Hillary Clinton and $313m for Ted Cruz.
In the last month, cable news networks have mentioned Donald Trump more than 110,636 times, according to the GDELT Project, which uses data from the Internet Archive’s Television News Archive. At a distant second, Hillary Clinton was mentioned 29,931 times by the same nine networks, and Ted Cruz, Trump’s Republican rival, was mentioned just 17,020 times.
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