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NPR correspondent explains ‘the Trump equation’

As the 2016 presidential election process continues to play out, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik blames the media for missing the political rise of Donald Trump.

Folkenflik presented “The Elections, the Media and the Donald: How We Missed the Story” Wednesday at the Kern Auditorium at Penn State.

A four-time winner of the Arthur Rowse Award for Press Criticism from the National Press Club, Folkenflik questioned the fairness in the candidate’s availability on broadcast media, which is unprecedented by a presidential candidate.

As Trump claimed victory in Florida, Illinois and North Carolina on Tuesday in the Republican primaries, Folkenflik analyzed what he calls “the Trump equation” that factors in genuine newsworthiness, high interest and huge ratings in an era when TV viewers are declining.

Folkenflik discussed the lack of a thoughtful scrutiny of Trump’s policies by the media that has instead been replaced by his unfiltered speeches at rallies and interviews.

He believes the media don’t know how to give Trump a serious unpacking of his policies, which include a proposed ban on Muslim entry to the U.S. and a wall on the Mexican border.

“Trump’s accessibility, his ability to apply coverage in 140 characters online, his apparent willingness to say just about anything, his ability to turn offensive things into positives for his campaign have helped him enormously,” said Folkenflik. “And only now, or in recent weeks, has the press started treating him seriously.”.

Although Folkenflik recognizes signs of an improving economy, such as lower unemployment rates, he said he thinks the electorate is filled with anxiety after the 9/11 attacks and the 2008 financial crisis. Trump seems to be making the right statements at the right time, he said.

Folkenflik credited Trump’s popularity with the media and the public to the unexpectedness of his speech, which tends to be hostile at times. He thinks this is a question of fairness and transparency for the media.

If you’re beyond shame, you’re bullet-proof to embarrassing headlines — this is Donald Trump’s life.

NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik

“If you’re beyond shame, you’re bullet-proof to embarrassing headlines — this is Donald Trump’s life,” said Folkenflik, who reminded the audience of Trump’s mocking of Serge Kovaleski, a New York Times reporter who suffers from a congenital joint condition.

He said the self-funded Republican candidate, who has 6.96 million followers on Twitter, has taken advantage of the airwaves and saved $2.8 million in advertising with the amount of free airtime he was given at the press conference after the Super Tuesday results were announced.

Folkenflik said this is as much of an economic reality, due to profitable ratings, as it is a failure of the media in assuming a candidate’s failure ahead of time.

“The media helped create Donald Trump. With some exceptions, I think, the media missed the story, and in many instances, it also enabled its rise,” said Folkenflik.

The lecture was part of the Dr. N.N. Oweida Lecture in Journalism Ethics, funded by Margaret L. Oweida in memory of her late husband, Dr. N.N. Oweida.

Victoria Arabskyj is a Penn State journalism student.

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