What would a Trump TV network mean for America?
surfacing models of thought
Donald Trump's candidacy has struck a chord with a large segment of Americans who feel they have been left behind by mainstream politics. That sentiment is unlikely to disappear after Election Day.
Roughly 200,000 viewers tuned in to watch the third and final presidential debate through a live stream on Donald Trump's Facebook page Wednesday night, marking what many deemed the unofficial birth of "Trump TV."
The Facebook broadcast – complete with news crawl banners, pre-debate commentary from Trump surrogates, and Trump campaign advertisements – came less than a week after Mr. Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, reportedly met with investment firm LionTree to discuss the possibility of a Trump television network, adding to mounting speculation that such an endeavor could be in the works in the event of a Clinton victory.
Though the practical likelihood that any such plan will become a reality is widely debated, the rumors have led some to celebrate, others to worry, and all to wonder: What would an America with a Trump TV network look like, exactly?
The launch of a Trumpian network would be unlikely to dramatically alter the already highly polarized media landscape, media observers say. But it could broaden national dialogue by giving an enduring voice to the largely white, working-class, far-right demographic that feels ignored by the media and political leaders, and which Trump's campaign has brought into the spotlight.
In other words, says Matthew Baum, a professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, Mass., it could ensure that issues championed by Trump – illegal immigration, US job loss due to global competition, how to fight ISIS – don't fade out of mainstream discourse anytime soon.
A Trump network could "shine more light on some ideas that have traditionally been relegated to the fringe and, until this campaign, really haven't been heard much in the mainstream," Dr. Baum tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview. "Some of that’s sort of been brought out of the shadows, and I guess you could say this could keep it out of the shadows."
Trump's campaign, and the rumors of his next media endeavor, come at a time when Americans are as polarized on politics as they've ever been. This polarization is due in part, political analysts say, to the rise of the internet and cable news channels, which have carved out a space for highly partisan, niche news sources.
The current media climate suggests that a Trump television network, if launched, could be "quite successful," says David Jones, a professor of political science at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. – assuming, of course, "he doesn't completely tarnish himself" before election day.
"There seems to be a demand for highly opinionated, explicitly one-sided information that affirms the reader or viewer’s existing viewpoints," Dr. Jones says in a phone interview with the Monitor. "There's enough dissatisfaction out there with establishment Republicans – and, for that matter, establishment Democrats – and even the existing popular partisan outlets seem more connected with the establishment than many people are happy with."
Fox News, a longtime bastion of conservative views on television, isn't enough anymore for some Republicans, and particularly those in Trump's core fanbase, Jones adds, "especially since Fox News has been willing to raise tough questions about Donald Trump on some of its programs."
Furthermore, Trump's far-right rhetoric has entered the political sphere at a time when Fox News is beginning to shift to a less blatantly partisan, more "even-keeled" approach to journalism, says Danielle Sarver Coombs, associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State University in Ohio.
The slow, subtle rebranding of Fox News could leave a void for the Trump network to fill, allowing it to "take on some of that more bombastic approach" that Fox has begun to shift away from, Dr. Coombs tells the Monitor in a phone interview. That approach, she says, would be characterized by "more of a hardcore, 'We're going to speak to people who agree with us, who think like us' " mentality.
Whether "Trump TV" will ever reach Americans' televisions or even computer screens is yet unknown, and launching such an effort would take, at the very least, several months, media experts say. But in the meantime, if a television network truly is in Trump's sights, that goal could affect the Republican nominee's behavior in the final weeks of, and immediately following, the election.
The "worst possible thing," Baum says, "would be for him to sort of fade into the background for an extended period of time" between November and the launch of a network or other form of media, "because if he does, some other entrepreneur is going to try to fill that space."
But maintaining the sort of relevance and momentum necessary to support a Trump network would require significant effort by the business mogul.
"Regenerating all of the angst and passions that are peaking now is not a trivial thing, and he would not be able to do it to the extent that he can when he's a major party nominee in the center spotlight every single day," Baum says. "It would give him an incentive not to go quietly into the night if he lost."