Donald Trump used a press conference about millions of dollars in donations he says he raised for veterans’ groups to hijack the cable news discussion and largely avoid coverage of an anticipated document release today as part of a lawsuit alleging misrepresentation by his now-defunct Trump University business. CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News devoted more than five hours to previewing, airing, and discussing Trump’s press conference between 6 am and 4 pm, compared to less than one hour of discussion of the Trump University lawsuit.
After intense and admirable pressure from the press, Trump last week finally took steps toward personally donating $1 million to a veterans’ charity, four months after he falsely claimed he had done so. Trump had organized a January 28 nationally televised fundraiser as a substitute for appearing at a debate moderated by Fox News, which Trump was feuding with at the time. That night, he claimed to have raised $6 million, including his own gift. He subsequently avoided repeated questions about where the donations had gone.
Trump’s campaign originally scheduled a press conference for May 30 to discuss the donations. But on May 29, he moved the appearance to today.
It’s not hard to see why. On May 27, a federal judge ordered the release this week of internal documents from Trump University, a Trump-owned real estate seminar business that is facing several pending fraud and misrepresentation lawsuits brought by former students and by the state of New York. CNN reported that the documents would begin coming out today.
Donald Trump does not want the media talking about whether he defrauded thousands of people who trusted his company to give them good business advice. By moving his veterans event to today, Trump was able to use what The New York Times has termed his “unrivaled ability to hijack a news cycle,” ensuring that the media would spend the day focusing on his comments rather than coming back from the holiday weekend with a focus on the contents of the pending Trump University lawsuits.
All three cable news networks broadcast the entirety of Trump’s 40-minute press conference live, and devoted substantial time afterwards discussing his comments, which included both a detailed list of donations he had channeled to veterans and attacks on the press. As Politico noted, Trump “game[d] the media, again.”
While the cable news coverage of the Trump event was by no means universally flattering, with many journalists criticizing the candidate’s attacks on the press, it did move the subject of that coverage to Trump’s preferred topic. As CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield noted after one such segment, “The question needs to be asked: what about this news conference and what happened, and is it overshadowing another case?”
It did. While both CNN and MSNBC devoted segments to discussing Trump University -- and CNN’s Jim Acosta used a question during the press conference itself to ask Trump about the lawsuits -- all three networks devoted significantly more time to discussing Trump’s veterans event. (Acosta’s question and Trump’s response during the press conference, and a single 11-second tease on Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, represented the entirety of that network’s coverage of Trump University.)
And that’s exactly what Trump wanted to see happen.
Research by Rob Savillo and Cydney Hargis, graph by Sarah Wasko.
Methodology. Media Matters reviewed our internal video archive for discussion of Trump's press conference about raising money to donate to veterans’ organizations and discussion of the allegations against Trump University. We reviewed all mentions of “Trump” for these two topics between 6:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC, and we then timed the relevant discussion. Trump's press conference was included in the data, with all discussion related to veterans during the event coded as time devoted to the Trump Veterans Presser and all discussion of Trump University during the event coded as time devoted to Trump University.