As It Happens

Is Donald Trump fast-forwarding to a post-election Trump TV?

Donald Trump may be rigging the post-election — and while the chance of some kind of Trump TV media venture surprises some, reporter Sarah Ellison saw it coming months ago.
Republican U.S presidential nominee Donald Trump appears on TV monitors in the media filing room on the campus of University of Nevada, Las Vegas, during the third and last 2016 U.S. presidential debate. (REUTERS/Jim Urquhart)

Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump swears the "mainstream media" is against him. And his supporters agree. So what if their candidate was planning on setting up his own, alternative media outlet to serve them after the election? 

Rumours suggesting just that have been swirling for months. They picked up steam Monday when his handlers live-streamed "campaign coverage" from Trump Tower in New York City. The campaign plans to keep that up every night until the election. 

Speaking on a Cincinnati radio station on Tuesday, Trump denied the rumours. 

Trump denies plans for Trump TV on Cincinnati radio earlier today.

Sarah Ellison doesn't buy it. She first reported on a Trump TV venture in Vanity Fair back in June. She spoke with As it Happens host Carol Off from New York City. Here's part of their conversation.

Carol Off: Sarah, when you hear Mr. Trump saying he has no interest in Trump TV, why do you think he's still interested?

"[I]t's always been treacherous for him to discuss an alternate motive of the presidential campaign. There's no guarantee that he's going to actually go through with it. But he has certainly been discussing it.- Sarah Ellison

Sarah Ellison: Well, this is not a change from what his campaign has said from the beginning. When I was first reporting this back in June, Hope Hicks — his campaign spokeswoman — vehemently denied that they were considering it, the same week that I was talking to people who were in active conversations with him and with Jared Kushner, his son in law, about setting something like this up. So I think it's always been treacherous for him to discuss an alternate motive of the presidential campaign — particularly now when we're two weeks away from it. There's no guarantee that he's going to actually go through with it. But he has certainly been discussing it.

(Courtesy of Sarah Ellison)

CO: And why would he want to start this media venture?

SE: My understanding is that the original impetus for this was that early on, when the campaign was doing really well, and Trump was — and still is — boosting the ratings of other news networks and cable channels, that he had this feeling that he had identified something, and the campaign had identified something, that no one else had identified. Not even Fox News. And he said, "Why are we boosting the ratings and making money for other media outlets? I'm a business man. How could we monetize this? How could we take advantage of this?" And that was the motivation — that they had identified something that was outside the traditional Republican philosophy. And that no other outlet had identified that yet.

CO: Does he have any kind of allies in this?

SE: He definitely has people with whom he might be able to collaborate. My reporting on this predates Steve Bannon becoming the CEO of the campaign. Or Roger Ailes informally advising him on the debate prep. When he appointed Steve Bannon the CEO of his campaign, it whipped up a lot of speculation that this was the only thing that would make sense: that instead of pivoting for the election, Trump was doubling-down on the kind of messages — and the controversial messages — in appointing somebody like a Steve Bannon, formerly of Breitbart News, and a real flame-thrower. Now [Bannon] has not denied this. So no one has said that this is something he is definitely going to do. But I don't think [Trump's] denial today changes anything.

Most politicians look at it as a portion of the electorate. Trump has identified it as an audience.- Sarah Ellison

CO: Doesn't he have a point? Whether he wins or loses in this campaign, he does have this extraordinary potential audience.

SE: Absolutely. He is 100% right about that. That's the thing that doesn't change — whether he wins or loses the election, whether or not he proclaims his interest in this, he has identified an audience and political positions that are absolutely outside the Republican and Democrat orthodoxy here. Most politicians look at it as a portion of the electorate. Trump has identified it as an audience. 

CO: And who makes up that audience? Who are those people, and what kind of numbers might they be?

SE: One of the things that Trump has constantly said is that he has this huge audience. And a passionate audience at his campaign rallies. The numbers are much much smaller than what you would want to have if you were going to launch a broad-based media outlet. But the media is increasingly fragmented. And what you do need — even if it's a niche audience — is a dedicated audience. And so the question is who are his supporters? They're trying to figure out what the advertising play would be. It's another puzzle that has yet to be worked out.

CO: On debate night, Mr. Trump's campaigned streamed coverage using Facebook Live. And yesterday the campaign started live-streaming a kind of "newscast" from Trump Tower. Is that sort of a prototype of some kind? Do you think that's something that's playing with the possibility of Trump TV?

SE: I think that that does two things. One, it's a way to deliver what has now become a pillar of the campaign's message, which is that the media is unreliable, and stacked against Donald Trump, and that they won't report honestly on his campaign. And you can't believe the polls either, so that having a way for his audience to listen to his advisors directly on a Facebook Live, that's become a pillar of the campaign. It's also a way for them to play around with what it would entail. If you were going to attempt to launch some kind of a 24-hour channel, you'd have to have somebody more than Donald Trump. So there have been a lot of headlines here about 'is this the soft launch of Trump TV?' That is going to happen for the next two weeks until the election.

For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Sarah Ellison and read her Vanity Fair piece here.

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