Well, the Republican presidential front-runner pretty much confirmed that perception is reality when it comes to his all-press-is-good-press philosophy. Time magazine reporter David Von Drehle rode with Trump on the billionaire's private jet during a Super Tuesday flight from Virginia to Georgia and on Thursday published this fascinating account of how Trump watches the news from his TV lounge in the sky.
When he flips to Fox News, Trump notices a caption that sums up everything: “News outlets around the world are covering Trump.” Turning to me on the sofa, he gestures at the screen and remarks with satisfaction, “The key word is covering.”
So much exposure comes at a price. As he watches, Trump maintains a quiet but constant critique of “dishonest” and “inaccurate” statements. He would like to “open up the laws” on libel to protect people like himself, he says — but adds with a shrug, “I don’t know exactly what it means to do that, or exactly how it works.” Nor does he care, because what matters more than accuracy is the sheer fact of being covered. Own the airwaves, own the campaign, run the world. To be certain that I’ve grasped this point, he expands on the theme:
“You see what this is, right? It’s ratings. I go on one of these shows and the ratings double. They triple. And that gives you power. It’s not the polls. It’s the ratings.”
Amazing. Trump is like that kid in your third-grade class who always acted out, got the most attention (albeit mostly negative), yet somehow endeared the teacher and many schoolmates to him. Everybody loves the class clown, right?
Trump's reflection on last week's libel remarks is particularly revealing. It shows that he's calculating — but only in a certain way. He carefully calibrates the effect of his words. The meaning? Not so much.
What would it mean to "open up" libel laws to make it easier to sue media companies, as Trump pledged to do last Friday in Texas? He didn't know and didn't care. What mattered was the reaction he knew he would get. His supporters would love the sound of it, and the press would throw a fit.
Above all, the press would cover it. Once again, everyone would be talking about Donald J. Trump — and that was the whole point.