Battle lines are drawn as two cable networks skip Trump kickoff

When President Trump kicked off his reelection campaign in Orlando, two of the three cable news networks chose to blow it off.

MSNBC didn't air any of the speech, and CNN dumped out of it after a few brief minutes (just as Trump started bashing the press and the crowd chanted "CNN sucks"). Instead, they had their own pundits and prognosticators talk throughout the event and spent yesterday critiquing the speech that they decided not to share with viewers.

This is an important moment.

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In passing up the speech (which was carried in its entirety by Fox), the networks were, intentionally or otherwise, making a statement. They were saying that what we have to say is more important than letting you hear from the leader of the free world as he makes his case for a second term.

That, in my view, plays into the old Steve Bannon charge about the media acting as the opposition party.

I'm not saying that the cable news channels need to air every Trump rally, even though Fox carries many of them. And the Orlando speech did turn out to be highly partisan, with the president ripping not just the media but the Mueller "witch hunt," "18 angry Democrats," "Crooked Hillary," and "radical" Democrats "driven by hatred, prejudice and rage." That's how he chose to frame his launch, with little about what he'd do in a second term.

So run the speech and then your anchors, reporters, commentators, and analysts can rip it any way they want. If it's important enough to cover on program after program, why isn't it important enough to air?

Can anyone imagine CNN and MSNBC not carrying Barack Obama's reelection launch? When he held his first official 2012 campaign rally in Columbus, they covered it, along with Fox.

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When Hillary Clinton gave her 2015 kickoff speech on New York's Roosevelt Island — I was there and part of the coverage — Fox carried it live along with the other news channels.

(In a mirror-image move, South Carolina Democrats have barred CNN, Fox and even C-SPAN from covering this weekend's party convention, giving exclusive rights to MSNBC. This is a dumb move that will limit the exposure of the 21 presidential candidates who are slated to speak.)

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The whole question of air time and balance is going to be a tricky one for television networks and the press as this campaign unfolds. That's because Trump's mighty media megaphone is such a powerful force — and a dilemma for the Democrats.

The Washington Post has just documented Trump's dominance:

"Through the first five months of the year, Trump has received about three times as much Google search interest in the United States, on average, as all his Democratic rivals put together.

"He has been having about 75 percent more social media interactions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram than his rivals combined since February.

"And when it comes to CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel, Trump was mentioned nearly twice as often as the 23 Democrats last month."

The Democrats, the paper says, are trying to figure out how to get higher ratings, even if they're not at Trumpian levels.

The highest-rated town hall — Bernie Sanders on Fox — drew over 2.5 million viewers. But that pales next to the 24 million who tuned into the first debate between Trump and other Republicans, also on Fox, back in August 2015.

During that campaign, according to a Harvard study cited by the Post, Trump drew 63 percent of the primary coverage in a field of 17 candidates, and 15 percent more than Hillary Clinton that fall. I said over and over during that campaign that even negative coverage benefits Trump because it means he's dominating the agenda.

Guy Cecil, chairman of an anti-Trump super PAC, is quoted as saying: "We have a culture that rewards the clown show at the expense of real issues." But that's been true for decades, and successful politicians adapt to the culture.

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The current crop of 2020 Dems is doing plenty of interviews, but these are diluted by the sheer size of the field.

They will have one advantage in the coming months: the Democrats will be engaged in a race, with no contest on the GOP side. But they'll still be competing for ink and air time with an incumbent president who can make news at will.

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Footnote: Donald Trump has called much of the media fake, dishonest and treasonous, but he was outdone in Orlando by his "spiritual adviser."

Paula White said, during an opening prayer no less: "Let every demonic network that has aligned itself against the purpose, against the calling of President Trump, let it be broken, let it be torn down in the name of Jesus."

Do we really need this kind of demonizing, literally, in the name of religion?