Donald Trump took over the news cycle on Feb. 26, as he had so many times before. In the morning, the media chatter was about Marco Rubio’sseemingly strong debate in Houston the previous evening in which he’d confronted Trump. By midday, however, there were rumors and reports that Trump would be endorsed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Once Christie, who’d been flown to Trump’s event in Texas surreptitiously, delivered his endorsement late that afternoon, Rubio was swept off the front pages and relegated to sideshow status.
I remember getting into some arguments with my colleagues that afternoon. Was Christie’s endorsement really so momentous that it required wall-to-wall coverage? You can make a case that it was: Christie was the first sitting governor and the most mainstream Republican to have endorsed Trump to that point. The case against: The endorsement was somewhat predictable based on Christie’s previous behavior toward Trump, and few of the hundreds of endorsements made during the campaign earn breaking-news chyrons.
The irony is that for such a “game-changing” event, Christie’s endorsement of Trump had a relatively short shelf life as the top news story. By noon the next day, it was just one of a mishmash of headlines about the Republican campaign; there were others about the ongoing battle between Trump and the Republican “establishment,” and even one about how a pair of women who backed Trump on social media had accused Rubio of having a “gay lifestyle.” It was mission accomplished for Trump, however, who hadchanged the news cycle on his whim and prevented Rubio from sustaining any momentum of his own.
For all the recent debate about what responsibility the media bears for Trump’s rise to the top of the Republican Party’s nomination race, there hasn’t been a lot of evidence presented on how the media has actually covered the campaign. So I scoured through more than nine months of headlines since Trump’s presidential bid began.
The Christie endorsement, it turns out, is emblematic of a larger pattern: Trump has been able to disrupt the news pretty much any time he wants, whether by being newsworthy, offensive, salacious or entertaining. The media has almost always played along.