Therefore, network news outlets know that the race is in the ratings, not in the rhetoric.
To create a sense of urgency, cable news giants like CNN and FOX News more frequently announce items as “Breaking News” and “News Alert” respectively to highlight the ever-growing importance of the upcoming presidential election — or anything else that happens to occur anywhere at anytime to anyone.
CNN went so far as to put up a TWO-DAY countdown timer (including the seconds) for every possible upcoming debate or speech. In fact, with the crawl at the bottom of the screen, the current banner-topic theme of the interview, the “Breaking News” stamp, and the giant countdown timer — there is barely enough space left on the screen for any people! It’s like reading the radio!
The news media needs to keep reporting the polls showing that “the race is tightening”. Or else, no news means no views!
The TRUMP Card
The media NEEDS an audience and what better way to create one than to “Trump” up reasons to tune-in? As soon as Donald Trump threw his hat into the ring, the news media found life.
During the primaries, Trump was either the subject or the object of controversy, each and every day. Trump played the media well with outrageous statements offered at timed intervals to continually create headlines that fueled the never-ending discussions among the never-empty list of never-heard-of experts who will never be on the news again after the elections end.
You couldn’t find a media outlet that did not have a Trump moment being dissected, argued, advanced, despised, or Sinatra-fied — bewitched, bothered, and bewildered! Trump kept winning — despite the predictions of the experts.
But before the media could let the ratings surge for Trump escalate, they luckily had Trump to thank for shrinking the gap, because he just can’t learn to stay silent sometimes and the media made sure that everything he said since June of 2015 would be played over and over — to keep that controversy brewing, to keep the race close, to keep those ratings high.
Of course, building a presidential RACE was not limited to the Republican field of 16. It takes two to tango. Hillary Clinton initially had no competition, until the media kept focusing on Bernie Sanders and on those never-ending Clinton emails to keep things interesting.
And when Hillary became the democratic choice and the national polls showed her surging ahead of Trump, the media moved to the next stage of controversy — the Clinton Foundation. This issue tightened the race, once again.
In early September, she still leads in most of the polls, and in the key battleground states, and with the key demographics (minorities, women,etc.) — but the media will need to tone that lead down somehow, or else the race becomes a short sprint, rather than a marathon.
In October, if Clinton is too far ahead in the polls, don’t be surprised if yet another news bombshell surfaces to close the gap.
Debating the Debates
Forget about who is more prepared for each of the upcoming presidential debates. The media declares the winner of each debate. Historically, the “incumbent” loses the first debate. That gives a reason for everyone to tune in for the next two.
Hillary Clinton is considered the ‘incumbent” in this case, simply because she has more political experience than Donald Trump. Thus, she must lose the first debate.
The media is already setting the stage by claiming many will have lower expectations of Trump, who is not good in one-to-one debates. So, no matter what Trump does, he will be declared as the winner the first debate — and, amazingly, the race will get tighter!
Speaking of the other two debates — Hillary automatically wins the third debate, which focuses on foreign policy. She wins because she has more experience (albeit a lot of negative stuff too) and Trump has none.
The third debate is also “sit-down” scenario, so the physical difference in height is mitigated, which puts Trump at a disadvantage. Declaring Hillary the winner on this debate is an easy call for the media — and it doesn’t affect ratings because there will be no more debates.
Walk the Talk
The second debate is the key to everything. The TOWN HALL structure pits the candidates in free-to-roam-around, standing positions, where nonverbal cues (body language, gestures, eye contact, and jockeying for position) play a significant role in determining the winner.
See the 2012 Town Hall Debate analysis to get a better idea of what is at stake. I would prepare my candidate for THIS debate more than for the other two, which are more about substance.
But the town hall is always about style. And in a visual-based society — where “how it looks” matters — style can easily out-duel substance. Trump will need to physically keep his distance from Hillary or he will look very intimidating. Hillary needs to get on a level horizontal plane with Trump before challenging anything he says or she will appear weak.
There are more strategies to consider when preparing the candidates for these debates — but the media will have the most influence — from commentary to camera angles — while conjuring up just the right amount of controversy to keep us corralled in continual conversations.
Bottom line: News networks matter more, and make the difference, when ratings rule the race!