In Politics, a Closed Mouth Gathers No Foot—or Free Press

Trump´s accessibility to the media is both free advertising and bad press

Posted Aug 13, 2016

Where other politicians spend millions of dollars on television advertising, Trump is a walking advertisement.  Sometimes positive, often negative.  He is not spending money on television advertisements because he gets the press for free.[1] Yet he is no doubt learning that there is, in fact, such a thing as bad press.

Trump´s campaign is constantly in the spotlight.  Where other candidates speak in sound bites, Donald Trump speaks in headlines—although not always the type of headlines his supporters want to see.  The more Trump puts his foot in his mouth, the more media coverage he gets, often completely overshadowing significant opportunities to discuss the missteps of his rival Hillary Clinton. 

The question for his campaign team, is whether there is a way to take advantage of Trump´s willingness to make himself accessible to the media, without consistently accumulating bad press.

When It Comes to Political Coverage, Less is Not More

A candidate running for President is expected to be accessible to the media.  Hillary has been attracting negative press by avoiding the press.  She is reported to be one of the least accessible candidates to the media,[2] accused of being “allergic” to open press conferences.[3]  And no wonder.  When she does hold them, they often go very badly and sometimes turn into adversarial inquisitions.[4]  Regardless of her motivation, her reluctance to engage with the press has an enormous impact on the viewing public, because viewers are voters.

Research indicates the media is a very effective tool that politicians can use to their advantage—if they use the media in the right way. 

Maximizing Media Coverage Because Viewers are Voters

Newscasters are considered to be trustworthy communicators.[5]  Political candidates are not.[6]  It therefore stands to reason that politicians play nice with the media in order to benefit from positive coverage, because research also shows that people like the candidates that their favorite newscaster appears to like.[7]  In fact, studies have demonstrated that even a newscaster smiling when discussing a particular political candidate can boost the candidate´s electability.[8] 

Donald Trump often loses the opportunity to benefit from the public´s trust of the media  because his antics often reach the viewing public without a filter—both literally and figuratively.  In other words, his comments and behavior are not reported by a voter´s favorite anchor, but broadcast live, delivered to living rooms across America raw and uncensored, analyzed by the media only after the fact—by which time it often involves harshly negative analysis. 

When Reactive Becomes Radioactive: There is Such a Thing as Bad Press

Recently, Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus advised an audience at a Trump Rally to ignore Donald Trump´s bad press.[9]  During this same rally, Trump was interrupted by a protestor, which you would think Trump is used to by now.  Nonetheless, Trump felt the need to respond.  “Go home to mommy,” he said, taunting the protester, “And your mother is voting for Trump. It’s true. It’s true.”[10] 

As demonstrated by this incident, some of Trump´s bad press stems from his inability to resist the temptation to respond to detractors.  Unfortunately, what Trump sees as being reactive is often perceived as radioactive. 

This is especially true when Trump attacks the wrong people.  After the Democratic Convention, Trump claimed to have been playing nice with rival Hillary Clinton, but after the things she said at the Convention, he will be taking off the gloves.[11]  (Many people doubt that they were ever on).  Yet his target choice was appropriate, as Hillary is his opponent.   

But instead, Trump proceeded to spend the entire weekend attacking not Clinton, but a Gold Star Family, the parents of a slain Muslim American soldier killed in Iraq.[12]  He focused his attack on both Mr. Kahn, who spoke out against Trump at the Democratic convention, as well as Kahn´s wife—speculating about why she did not speak.  One thing Trump did accomplish in this process, however, is proving once and for all there is certainly such a thing as bad press. 

As the general election continues, Trump has an opportunity to use the media to his advantage, acquiring free positive press by making himself both accessible and amicable.  Staying on script and ignoring jeering protestors may make a difference in his success in the polls.  We shall see.





[5] Virginia Andreoli and Stephen Worchel, ”Effects of Media, Communicator, and Message Position on Attitude Change,” Public Opinion Quarterly Vol. 42, No. 1 (1978): 59-70.

[6] Andreoli and Worchel, ”Effects of Media, Communicator, and Message Position on Attitude Change.”

[7] Brian Mullen, David Futrell, Debbie Stairs, Dianne M. Tice, Kathryn E. Dawson, Catherine A. Riordan, John G. Kennedy, Roy F. Baumeister, Christine E. Radloff, George R. Goethals, and Paul Rlsenfeld, ”Newscasters´ Facial Expressions and Voting Behavior of Viewers: Can a Smile Elect a President?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Vol. 51,  No. 2 (1986): 291-295.

[8] Ibid.