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Trump's Media Attacks: 'Biting the Hands That Fed Him'?

The media have undoubtedly been valuable to Donald Trump, especially during the Republican primaries.
Image: Trump stands on stage after the third U.S. presidential debate
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump stands on stage after the third U.S. presidential debate at the Thomas & Mack Center on Oct. 19, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Tonight is the final debate ahead of Election Day on November 8.Win McNamee / Getty Images

Politicians of all stripes love to blame the media. But Donald Trump has taken anti-media attacks to a new level, accusing journalists of being in cahoots with Hillary Clinton's campaign in a nefarious conspiracy to rig the presidential election.

Many analysts have said that is a dangerous approach, as it erodes voters' faith in the integrity of the electoral system. But the strategy is also somewhat ironic coming from Trump. After all, without the media, some say, he would never have become the nominee of the Republican Party in the first place.

"He's biting the hands that fed him for all those months," said Temple University journalism professor Larry Atkins, author of "Skewed: A Critical Thinker's Guide to Media Bias."

The media were undoubtedly valuable to Trump during the Republican primaries. The spotlight was constantly on the outspoken businessman, allowing him to break through in a very crowded field.

Speeches from candidates like John Kasich and Lindsey Graham got little attention, while Trump's what-will-he-say-next? speeches were squeezed for web traffic, cable news eyeballs and splashy newspaper headlines.

"He was sucking out the oxygen in the room in terms of getting all the coverage. And he significantly benefited," Atkins said.

"Pretty much every two hours, either on Twitter or in a speech, Donald Trump says something outrageous, and how can the media ignore something like that?" Atkins added.

And, indeed, they couldn't.

A report from the the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University showed that during 2015, major news outlets paid attention to Trump "in a way that was unusual given his low initial polling numbers" — and a majority of that coverage was positive, according to the center.

And The New York Times reported in March that Trump earned close to $2 billion worth of free media attention — dwarfing that of his Republican competitors.

Trump at one point was also given special privileges in being able to phone in his TV interviews instead of appearing in person — which is typically reserved for reporters in breaking news circumstances. Some programs, including NBC's "Meet The Press," eventually said that they would no longer allow Trump to phone in and that if he wanted the media coverage, he would have to appear on camera in person.

But things have changed. Today, Trump routinely points to media reports when they favor him or criticize his opponent.

Speaking about Clinton's email scandal and retired Marine Gen. James Cartwright's guilty plea to making false statements about the disclosure of classified information, he said during Wednesday night's debate: "We have a great general — four-star general — today you read it in all the papers, going to potentially serve five years in jail for lying."

At the same time, Trump said the media "is so dishonest and corrupt" at Wednesday night's debate, adding that the "they poison the minds of the voters."

Earlier this week, in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against him, Trump tweeted, "Polls close, but can you believe I lost large numbers of women voters based on made up events THAT NEVER HAPPENED. Media rigging election!"

Trump has repeatedly denied the allegations, which NBC News has not independently confirmed.

The problem with Trump's notion, experts said, is that there is not just "one" media. "The word 'media' is plural," said Robert Thompson, a media expert at the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. "Are they all having meetings on how to rig this? It doesn't make any rational sense."

So what's the strategy?

For one, said Atkins, bashing the media plays to Trump's base.

A national Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday showed that almost nine out of 10 Republicans believed news organization are biased against Trump. And according to a survey earlier this year by the Pew Research Center, only 18 percent of respondents said they had "a lot" of faith in what the media report.

Meanwhile, 87 percent of conservatives said they believed that the media tend to favor one side.

In addition, Americans' trust in the mass media has dropped over time. In 1997, 53 percent said they had a great deal or a fair amount of trust in the media, according to Gallup. Today, that number is at 32 percent.

"It's also being used as a way for Trump to deflect tough questions," Atkins said.

Then there's the whole notion by some that Trump is merely laying the groundwork to set up a media organization of his own, propelled by a report in Vanity Fair saying Trump's endgame isn't the nation's highest office — but to have a right-wing media outlet of his own.

Related: The Donald Trump TV Network Could Be Just Three Months Away

Trump at one point was reportedly being advised by former Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes, and he has hired former Breitbart Chairman Steven Bannon as a campaign manager.

Kurt Bardella, Breitbart's former spokesman, who quit earlier this year and has been highly critical of Trump, said that by setting up a narrative that the media are corrupt, he's building the foundation for another business venture.

"Everything he says and does — and this has been the case for weeks — has been laying down the case for the rationale for a Trump TV," Bardella said.