Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump successfully deflected the media’s attention away from damaging new investigative reports into illegal practices by his foundation and business with a late night tweetstorm continuing his denigration of former Miss Universe Alicia Machado.
The September 29 and 30 editions of broadcast morning shows and nightly news programs -- NBC’s Today and Nightly News, ABC’s Good Morning America and World News Tonight, and CBS’ CBS This Morning and Evening News -- spent merely 2 minutes and 28 seconds on a Newsweek report explaining that “a company controlled by Donald Trump … secretly conducted business in Communist Cuba during Fidel Castro’s presidency despite strict American trade bans that made such undertakings illegal.” The same shows almost entirely ignored a Washington Post investigation that found that the Trump foundation illegally escaped an annual audit because it “never obtained the certification that New York requires before charities can solicit money from the public,” devoting only 27 seconds of coverage to it. In contrast, coverage of a series of tweets Trump sent early in the morning on September 30 criticizing former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, calling her “disgusting” and claiming that she has a “terrible” past, which includes a “sex tape,” amounted to 10 minutes and 39 seconds.
In his much-criticized September 30 tweetstorm, Trump rehashed his false and sexist attacks on Machado, including the debunked right-wing media smear that she was involved in a “sex tape.” In his recent national media appearances -- almost all of which have taken place inside “the conservative media cocoon” of Fox News -- Trump has repeatedly tried to justify his attacks on Machado, claiming that “she gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem.” Trump has had help from his conservative media allies, including Bill O’Reilly -- who asked if it was a “cheap shot” for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to bring up his criticism of Machado’s body at the debate -- and Rush Limbaugh, who claimed that “this Alicia Machado thing was a set up … planned by the Clinton campaign.”
The investigative reports that were cast aside by broadcast news offer new insights into how Trump ran his foundation as essentially a slush fund and tax evasion scheme, and ignored federal laws in his business operations. In his September 29 Newsweek report, reporter Kurt Eichenwald explained that a company on behalf of Donald Trump “spent a minimum of $68,000 for its 1998 foray into Cuba at a time when the corporate expenditure of even a penny in the Caribbean country was prohibited without U.S. government approval.” The report published correspondence between Trump and consulting firm Seven Arrows Investment and Development Corp. in which the firm “instructed senior officers with Trump’s company—then called Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts—how to make it appear legal by linking it after the fact to a charitable effort.” Additionally, the former Trump executive admitted that they had taken a trip to Cuba “to give Trump’s company a foothold should Washington loosen or lift the trade restrictions.” As Eichenwald explained, “the fact that Seven Arrows spent the money and then received reimbursement from Trump Hotels does not mitigate any potential corporate liability for violating the Cuban embargo.”
In a September 29 investigation in The Washington Post, David Fahrenthold once again discovered that Trump’s charity had skirted the law, this time violating a New York state law which requires “any charity that solicits more than $25,000 a year from the public must obtain a special kind of registration beforehand.” In an appearance on CNN, Fahrenthold explained that if Trump “had done this the right way … he would have to get an audit” and accountants would ask if he was “spending the foundation’s money in ways that benefited himself.” Farenthold has previously reported that this was exactly what Trump did, revelations that have led the New York attorney general to open a new investigation into the foundation. Trump campaign surrogates floundered when asked about the report on cable news, and lashed out at Fahrenthold claiming that “he’s pretty much a Clinton surrogate at this point.” Only CBS covered Fahrenthold’s report, while NBC and ABC failed to mention it. (Conversely, CBS ignored the Cuba report that its competitors covered.)
This is not the first time media has allowed Trump to drive the coverage, nor is it the first time media have ignored damaging investigations into Trump's scandals. Previously, Trump successfully hijacked the news cycle by appearing on The Dr. Oz Show to reveal bits and pieces of a report on his health. Trump also successfully dominated news coverage after he tweeted a picture of himself eating a taco bowl on Cinco de Mayo. While dedicating disproportionate coverage to the candidate’s antics, the media has undercovered:
A USA Today report that found that “Trump doesn’t pay his bills.”
Revelations about his illegal political donation to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Reports highlighting Trump lies and inappropriate comments about the Sept. 11 attacks.
Allegations that Trump’s modeling agency “profited from using foreign models who came to the United States on tourist visas that did not permit them to work here.”
The report that the Trump Foundation “may have violated laws against ‘self-dealing.’”
Trump’s former campaign chairman’s ties to pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians.
Methodology: Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of Trump from the September 29 and 30 editions of ABC’s Good Morning America and World News Tonight, NBC’s Today and Nightly News, and CBS’ CBS This Morning and Evening News and counted the length of segments relating to Trump’s tweetstom, the Newsweek report into Trump’s business entanglements in Cuba, and the Washington Post report on the Trump Foundation’s lack of proper registration.