President Trump and the National Rifle Association used the same consultants to spearhead TV ad blitzes at the height of the 2016 presidential election, likely in violation of federal law. For the complex and consequential task of placing ads in key markets across the nation in the 2016 election, the NRA turned to Red Eagle Media, a media strategy firm whose work for the NRA involved purchasing a slate of 52 ad slots on WVEC, the ABC affiliate in Norfolk, Virginia, in October 2016. The ads targeted adults aged 35 to 64 and aired on local news programs and syndicated shows like Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. In paperwork filed with the Federal Communications Commission, Red Eagle described them as “anti-Hillary” and “pro-Trump”. The Trump campaign purchased ads through a firm called American Media and Advocacy Group (AMAG), which were aimed at precisely the same demographic as the NRA spots, and often ran through the same shows, bombarding Norfolk viewers with complimentary messages.
The two purchases may have looked coincidental; Red Eagle and AMAG appear at first glance to be separate firms. Although each is closely connected to a major conservative media-consulting firm called National Media Research, Planning and Placement. In fact, the three outfits are so intertwined that both the NRA’s and the Trump campaign’s ad buys were authorized by the same person: National Media’s chief financial officer, Jon Ferrell. Reporting by The Trace, which has teamed up with Mother Jones to investigate the NRA’s political activity, shows that the NRA and the Trump campaign employed the same operation—at times, the exact same people—to craft and execute their advertising strategies for the 2016 presidential election. The Trump campaign and NRA ad purchases were mirror images of each other. Side by side, the spots aired across the country on as many as 120 stations, according to data provided by Raycom.
Corporate media have covered the NRA’s ongoing support for Trump’s election, with CNBC reporting that the NRA spent $30 million to support Trump’s campaign in 2016, and the Washington Post and others reporting on more recent feuds between Trump and the NRA over Trump’s interest in universal background checks and the NRA’s financial woes. Yet there is no corporate media coverage of the illegal NRA-Trump coordination in the 2016 election. Stay tuned to independent media for the 2020 election.
Mike Spies, “Documents Point to Illegal Campaign Coordination between Trump and the NRA.” Mother Jones, January 22, 2019, https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2018/12/nra-trump-2016-campaign-coordination-political-advertising.
Student Researcher: Abigail Nichols (San Francisco State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)