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Joshua Gillin
By Joshua Gillin March 20, 2016

John Kasich calls out Donald Trump's '$1.8 billion worth of free media'

Part of the reason billionaire Donald Trump is enjoying such a lead in the GOP presidential primary is because he hasn’t had to pay much to get his message on the airwaves, Ohio Gov. John Kasich said.

Kasich told Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press that with a less-crowded field, voters are starting to hear his message and platform. But he said Trump had the market cornered on media coverage without spending a dime.

"Guess what? In the grassroots, people are getting it," Kasich said in a pre-taped interview for the March 20, 2016, show. "Now, they didn't get it because, frankly you put me on the tube a lot, but Trump got, you know, $1.8 billion worth of free media. I got, like, none. Okay?"

We know it feels like it’s all Trump, all the time on TV (and in print and on the radio and the Internet) these days. But could it possibly be that Trump has gotten billions in equivalent media coverage and Kasich has gotten almost none? Let’s go to the tape!

Media mentions

Kasich’s campaign confirmed to PolitiFact that he was referring to analysis by mediaQuant, a Portland, Ore.,- based media firm that in part tracks political coverage. The metrics were highlighted in a March 15 story by the New York Times that pointed out mediaQuant said Trump topped all presidential candidates with $1.898 billion worth of "earned media" coverage over the last 12 months.

Earned media is coverage that candidates don’t have to pay for, such as newspaper and magazine stories, social media posts, and TV broadcasts. That’s different than paid media, which are mostly those campaign ads that blanket markets in an attempt to sway voters, and cost campaigns or super PACS or special interest groups.

MediaQuant tracks these mentions and then assigns a dollar value to them depending on the outlet and the quality of the coverage. That includes weighing whether coverage was positive, negative or neutral. Trump scored about 79 percent positive coverage, which is a big difference than, say, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s 40 percent positive coverage.

When it comes to Trump, even bad press seems to be good press.

"Negative coverage can keep a candidate from expanding his or her coalition, but it rarely affects the core backers -- especially when the support is intense, as it is for Trump," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

The company didn’t respond to PolitiFact by our deadline, but mediaQuant chief analytics officer Paul Senatori told the New York Times that Trump "has no weakness in any of the media segments." We checked mediaQuant’s figures for ourselves and found the billionaire does lead other candidates on every measured type of coverage, including more than $436 million worth of coverage in February alone.

Kasich has not suffered from literally no coverage, but it’s close to nothing by comparison. In the same measurements, mediaQuant said Kasich has received about $37.7 million in coverage over the last year. As the GOP field has winnowed, he’s moved up from 14th on mediaQuant’s coverage rankings in January to eighth in February. (On the Democratic side, mediaQuant said Hillary Clinton has gotten $746 million in earned media, while challenger Bernie Sanders got $321 million.)

These figures contrast heavily to the paid coverage both Trump and Kasich have bought. The two candidates have spent $10 million and $14 million, respectively, over roughly the same time frame, the Times noted.

We will point out that there doesn’t seem to be any other group that breaks down media coverage in the way mediaQuant does. George Washington University senior fellow Kalev Leetaru follows TV mentions on his 2016 Campaign Television Tracker, but doesn’t measure other media or assign a dollar value. (Leetaru also follows online mentions in a separate 2016 Online News Candidate Tracker, but we'll focus on the TV component.)

The Campaign Television Tracker showed Trump received 46.6 percent of all TV mentions of Republican candidates in 2015-16. That far outpaced Kasich, who garnered 3.9 percent.

The discrepancy between coverage of Trump and his rivals is out of the ordinary, experts in political campaigns and advertisements told us. While Trump first garnered attention because he was a novelty, like Ross Perot in his 1992 independent run, media outlets continued to cover Trump as his campaign gained traction. That has allowed him to self-promote and share his own message in ways normally reserved for campaign ads, they said.

"I have never seen a candidate get as much earned media/free media as Trump. It isn't even close," political analyst Stuart Rothenberg said in an email. "I have been stunned at the amount of time Trump receives. They do telephone interviews. They cover entire speeches. He seems to be everywhere. It is very unusual."

Our ruling

Kasich said, "Trump got, you know, $1.8 billion worth of free media. I got, like, none."

The Ohio governor was referring to an analysis by mediaQuant, which measured so-called earned media coverage of presidential candidates and assigned a dollar value to them. Trump has gotten almost $1.9 billion in the past 12 months, while Kasich has only $37.7 million, according to mediaQuant.

That's a ratio of 50 to 1.

No other media firms seem to perform this analytical function, but experts told us it does look like Trump is far and away getting more coverage than his GOP rivals.

Kasich is exaggerating that he doesn’t get any coverage, but his approximation stands, especially when compared with Trump.

We rate this statement Mostly True.

Editor's Note, March 22, 2016: We updated this item to reflect Dr. Leetaru also has a tracker for online news separate from television.

Our Sources

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, comments on Meet the Press, March 20, 2016

Politico, "Donald Trump's free media bonanza," Jan. 5, 2016

mediaQuant, 2016 Presidential Contenders report, March 2016

Advertising Age, "Donald Trump Is in Eighth Place ... in Presidential Ad Campaign Spending," March 4, 2016

New York Times, "Measuring Donald Trump’s Mammoth Advantage in Free Media," March 15, 2016

GDELT Project, 2016 Campaign Television Tracker data, accessed March 20, 2016

mediaQuant, Election 2016 data, accessed March 20, 2016

Interview with Chris Schrimpf, Kasich spokesman, March 20, 2016

Interview with Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, March 20, 2016

Interview with Kalev Leetaru, George Washington University senior fellow, March 20, 2016

Interview with Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg Public Policy Center, March 20, 2016

Interview with Stuart Rothenberg, Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report publisher and political analyst, March 20, 2016

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John Kasich calls out Donald Trump's '$1.8 billion worth of free media'

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