Nobody understands the power of the media on public perception quite like Donald Trump. The former reality television star and tabloid king, who has relied on free news coverage and social media to power his presidential campaign, is uniquely obsessed with how the news media portray his events.
Trump routinely orders news camera operators to pan the crowds at his rallies to show how large the gatherings are — and then chastises them, with disgust, when they fail to obey. His team has experimented with event setups, often placing groups of supporters on risers behind the candidate so that cameras can't miss the carefully curated faces.
He's fumed over television reporters doing live shots from empty auditoriums once his supporters have left. And on Twitter, Trump is one of the most prolific media critics, offering his live commentary of cable news reporters and analysts, lashing out at news outlets he feels have treated him unfairly.
The approach is yet another aspect of Trump's unorthodox campaign. As other candidates and their affiliated super PACs have spent millions of dollars on expensive television ads, Trump's campaign has reported spending just $300,000 on a sprinkling of radio ads. Instead, Trump has logged a whopping 22 hours and 46 minutes of free airtime from May 1 to December 15 on Fox News alone, according to a tally by Media Matters for America, a liberal nonprofit group. That's more than twice as much as any other candidate and more than Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio combined.
While other candidates spend their time at small-scale retail events interacting one-on-one with voters, Trump's campaign centerpiece is the large-scale rally, where he is greeted like a rock star by thousands of adoring — and increasingly boisterous — fans. The events are often held in arenas and convention centers, with crowd sizes that dwarf his rivals — a fact he is never shy to point out.