This insight is courtesy of our special contributor, Jim O’Brien. For more of Jim’s work, please check out baconbooksandbullets.com.
It could not have been played any better.
Make no mistake about it, Donald Trump knows how to manipulate the media. Not only is he the undisputed champ of getting near-constant attention all over TV with free earned media, he knows how to get the better of pundits, prognosticators and pretentious reporters by using their own words against them.
And what’s most remarkable — the mainstream media doesn’t even know they’ve been played. Consider the following.
Yesterday, during the course of a press conference, Donald Trump made a sarcastic but highly calculated statement referring to both the recent DNC email leak and the Clinton email scandal: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
In one verbal swipe, Trump accomplished six goals: (1) he brought the subject of the Clinton email controversy back to the forefront; (2) he stole the headlines from Hillary’s coronation; (3) he effectively called out the media for its pathetically lackadaisical investigation into the original scandal; (4) he reinforced the narrative that the system was rigged in favor of powerful elites like Hillary Clinton; (5) he inspired a significant amount of fear into the Democratic voters who are already leery about Clinton; and (6) he made the media bite – and bite they did.
The sixth may be the most important of the goals. Without their unwitting participation, the line would have been lost forever. Thankfully, Trump knows the mainstream media sharks better than they know themselves. And he isn’t afraid to throw them juicy, red meat.
It is important to remember that Trump had a longstanding and very cozy relationship with the media before he became a Republican presidential candidate. He sat in the newsrooms of the myriad NBC media venues. He learned what drives reporters. More importantly, he learned how they respond to Republicans – regardless of whether their name is Bush, Cruz, Palin or Trump.
With that knowledge he set the perfect trap.
Trump knew that the media would misconstrue his words. Nothing in his statement advocated hacking. In fact, it was quite the opposite. But that did not matter.
First, Trump got most mainstream media news outlets to refocus on the Clinton email controversy with front-page vigor. The controversy never got that much attention when it was being investigated in Congress. Now, it is on the cover of every newspaper for the world to read.
Second, Trump’s comments stole the headlines from the Democrats’ vice presidential rollout and President Obama’s speech on day three of the convention. No one is talking about Tim Kaine, certainly, and Barack Obama’s oversized ego must be smarting from the lack of attention. Everyone is talking about Trump.
Third, he took another dig at the mainstream media, and they are printing his criticism everywhere. Re-quoting the brilliant line, “…I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press,” was sarcasm at its finest. Everyone knows that the press will never print anything negative about a Democrat unless forced to do so, or unless they’re trying to raise a friendly warning flag about changing course. Consequently, they will definitely not be “rewarded.” Republicans and conservative-leaning Independents should be laughing at this line.
Fourth, Trump reinforced the rigged system narrative. All week long, Bernie Sanders supporters and the DNC have been arguing over the obviously rigged system that favored Hillary Clinton. Now Trump has expounded upon that narrative. He knows you cannot steal deleted emails. After all, how could the Russians hack that to which FBI Director James Comey testified was destroyed beyond any possible recovery? Unless, of course, the FBI was lying…
Trump watered the mental seed that is growing in everyone who believes the system is rigged. If those emails do not exist, why worry about hacking? If they do exist, why did the FBI not produce them?
Fifth, Trump reopened a festering wound in the psyche of the Democratic voter: what if those emails do contain something that can sink Hillary in November? No doubt, a significant portion of the “outrage” over Trump’s alleged hacking comments was really just preemptive damage control. If Hillary Clinton did something so egregious that one of those emails contained more than yoga schedules, then the DNC will have a hard time distracting the American public from that news story. The only thing that might work is faux indignation over the possibility that a foreign government is intervening in our affairs.
The sixth and most brilliant Trump achievement was how hard the media bit. The accusations levied against Trump were over-the-top. From Russian collusion to treason, the words he actually said reached none of the hype the media reported them to be. Now, normal people who do not live in New York City, Washington, D.C. or Los Angeles are reading those words and thinking “wow, that comment is meaningless… hardly treasonous… the media really has it in for this guy.”
Trump needed the mainstream media to react the way they did. It makes them seem irrational. It worked.
Thus, like a really good developer, Donald Trump just laid the cornerstone of every argument he will use for the next few months: “The system is rigged and the media is the militant arm of the system. I represent real change from the status quo. Anything I say cannot be as bad as anything Clinton has done. Do not listen to the media; they always lie about me, always.”
And like any good builder, he selected the perfect contractors necessary to get the job done: he enlisted the compliant mainstreamers. Now, it’s not just the libs who know how to play the media.