(Photo: Seth Wenig/AP)
The word "exclusive" is one of those things that probably once meant something in television news. Now, though, all it really means is that a TV network or station is doing a very specific thing at a very specific point in time in a very specific way that nobody else is doing, if only because matter can't occupy two spaces at once. Case in point: NBC's weekend interview with Donald Trump on Meet the Press wasn't really all that exclusive considering that Trump is running for president and is always talking, and since it's literally impossible to derail Trump, as he has no shame whatsoever and is therefore "gaffe-proof," it's not as if anything Chuck Todd asked him could produce any sort of breaking news regardless. But according to The Huffington Post, MSNBC has continued to run the Todd "exclusive" on a nearly 24/7 clock since the interview happened on Sunday morning. The network has apparently become so all-Trump-all-the-time that HuffPo media editor Gabriel Arana wonders whether the network's producers have lost their minds.
This is the thing with Trump. It's the reason he's leading the latest Fox News poll with nearly double the support of his closest challenger: because the truth is whichever candidate gets the most media coverage is the one who surges ahead. The one who controls the narrative controls the race. And Trump hasn't just controlled the media and the narrative since entering the race, he's dominated them. Donald Trump's buffoonish antics are catnip for the political press and as long as it stays manically high, bounding around the room under the influence of Trump, the candidate is going to continue to keep his lead.
Last week, Donald Trump did something extraordinary: he grabbed Fox News, the most powerful force driving right-wing politics in America, and made it heel in submission. When you consider how infamous Fox News is for not taking shit from its critics, the fact that Trump was able to publicly insult Megyn Kelly -- perhaps the network's biggest star right now -- and not only get away with it but put Roger Ailes in a position where he had to assure both Trump and Fox News's audience that he wouldn't "go to war" with the billionaire was nothing short of astonishing. This is the network that has its own enemies list, that's raised to an art form smacking-down anyone who dares take it on. And Donald Trump owns it now. Ailes knows he can't win a fight with Trump because not only is Trump more beloved by Fox News's viewers than Fox News is, but being the official press secretariat of Trump means being even more dominant in the ratings than it already is.
So you have Fox News, which is on top of the cable news pile, hanging its own people out to dry so that it can act as Trump's private bullhorn should he actually need one; MSNBC running parts of its own Trump interview 79 times in just 24 hours; and CNN still touting the fact that it was the network that got the original exclusive sit-down with Trump, all the way back in late July. All of this adds up to a comfortable amount of authority for Trump in terms of media coverage. This is what's been going on for the Republicans since the day Trump first tossed his big red nose into the middle ring of the clown show: Trump has held the media in his hands like so much putty and that relationship has kept Trump on top by a wide margin. It's simply impossible for any serious or even unserious candidate to pick up an ounce of momentum when Donald Trump is on the positive end of the zero-sum game that is media narrative politics.
It's impossible to imagine anyone gaining ground on him as long as the press is keeping him afloat. And they have yet to let him down.