15 November 2016

The Political Value of Media Coverage

In retrospect, it seems like the most obvious thing in the world to master reality TV before running for president rather than wasting time on policy papers.

This from near the close of  Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson's rich and insightful Why Nations Fail.

Peru's Fujimori, President 1990 to 2000
Authoritarian regimes are often aware of the importance of a free media, and do their best to fight it. An extreme illustration of this comes from Alberto Fujimori’s rule in Peru. Though originally democratically elected, Fujimori soon set up a dictatorial regime in Peru, mounting a coup while still in office in 1992. Thereafter, though elections continued, Fujimori built a corrupt regime and ruled through repression and bribery. In this he relied heavily on his right-hand man, Valdimiro Montesinos, who headed the powerful national intelligence service of Peru. Montesinos was an organized man, so he kept good records of how much the administration paid different individuals to buy their loyalty, even videotaping many actual acts of bribery. There was a logic to this. Beyond just recordkeeping, this evidence made sure that the accomplices were now on record and would be considered as guilty as Fujimori and Montesinos. After the fall of the regime, these records fell into the hands of journalists and authorities. The amounts are revealing about the value of the media to a dictatorship.
A Supreme Court judge was worth between $5,000 and $10,000 a month, and politicians in the same or different parties were paid similar amounts. But when it came to newspapers and TV stations, the sums were in the millions. Fujimori and Montesinos paid $9 million on one occasion and more than $10 million on another to control TV stations. They paid more than $1 million to a mainstream newspaper, and to other newspapers they paid any amount between $3,000 and $8,000 per headline. 
Fujimori and Montesinos thought that controlling the media was much more important than controlling politicians and judges. One of Montesinos’s henchmen, General Bello, summed this up in one of the videos by stating, “If we do not control the television we do not do anything.”

Through April, mediaQuant estimated that Trump had received $2.8 billion in free media coverage, a multiple of his opponents within the Republican and Democratic parties.  Trump understood better than anyone the media's desperate need for content that would drive ratings. He delivered for the media and it delivered for him.

Of course this leaves him vulnerable. If a stripper enters the race in 2020, he could lose re-election.

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