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Trump TV: Internet broadcaster beams the ex-president’s message directly to his MAGA faithful

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OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) — On the second floor of a single-family home in a sprawling suburban development, a three-member production crew sat behind banks of computer monitors and guided the conservative Right Side Broadcasting Network’s coverage of a recent Donald Trump rally.

RSBN’s show director, whispering into a microphoned headset, instructed the camera operators and on-air correspondent how to shoot the scenes as Trump basked in the crowd’s adoration.

Otherwise, the room was quiet. The screens, all muted, were playing live footage of Trump pointing, waving and gesticulating. There was no need for sound — the director and producers have covered so many Trump rallies they seem to instinctively know what he’s going to say.

“If you’ve heard Trump’s speeches as often as we have, he does not need to be blaring,” said Joe Seales, RSBN’s founder and CEO.

In less than a decade, RSBN has gone from an upstart internet broadcaster to a major player in Trump’s MAGA universe, amassing more than 2 million subscribers on its YouTube channel and on Rumble, an alternative video-sharing platform.

As Trump’s loyal herald, carrying his message like a marathoner, live and unfiltered, RSBN has allowed the former Republican president to bypass traditional media and inject his vision for America directly into the veins of his diehard supporters.

The positive coverage has made RSBN a Trump favorite and a destination for his MAGA movement, a reference to the ex-president’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. Out of all the conservative news outlets Trump had to choose from, he picked RSBN to host a special in March from his Mar-a-Lago estate on the day before Super Tuesday, when presidential primary voters in 16 states cast their ballots.

And it all started when a freelance website designer with zero media experience had a brainstorm: There was a big audience for Trump TV.

Seales was a stay-at-home father in 2015 and was growing annoyed with the coverage of Trump’s first run for the White House. The big news networks, he said, refused Trump’s pleas to show the size of the crowds he was pulling in. He became convinced there was a sizable audience hungry for a steady diet of Trump’s rallies, town halls and other events.

Seales and his wife, a former Navy physician’s assistant who co-owns RSBN, started small, with a single camera at a Trump rally in Phoenix. Over the years, they turned a shoestring operation into one with 10 full-time employees and a house full of sophisticated computer and video gear.

Like other broadcasters, most of RSBN’s revenue comes from selling ads. The commercials that run on Seales’ channel skew to attract consumers of a conservative political inclination.

During a recent rally, a viewer was peppered with ads from the Birch Gold Group urging them to buy precious metals to protect their retirement accounts. “The dollar is going down!” the company warns.

Then came offers for a free “Kids Guide to President Trump,” endorsed by former Arkansas Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Prominent election denier and MyPillow founder Mike Lindell smiles broadly in another ad, promising “Up to 80% Off Everything.”

RSBN has racked up more than 305 million views on YouTube since it launched. Still, banking on Trump is a risky bet. If he isn’t stumping for office, advertising revenue drops. RSBN, Seales said, has only been profitable during presidential election years.

“If Trump’s not on the air, we’re not making money,” he said.

Seales declined to discuss RSBN’s finances in detail. But he said a single livestream of a Trump rally can generate as much as $15,000 for RSBN.

“We’re definitely not making tens of millions, I’ll say that,” Seales said. “We’re making enough to get by and to get to each event.”

RSBN’s broadcasts have the vibe of a state-run propaganda program. But Seales denied the channel acts as a surrogate for Trump or his presidential campaign.

“We aren’t affiliated with them,” Seales said. “We just cover Donald Trump. Our goal has never been to be an extension or a cheerleader for the Trump campaign. I just saw a void that I thought needed to be filled in coverage for him as a candidate. And we try to cover him as fairly and accurately as possible.”

RSBN is also not going to challenge the former president. The channel’s mantra is to let Trump be Trump. If he mangles the facts or ignores them altogether, which he does often, Seales said there are other news sites and sources where viewers can fact-check him.

“I don’t really feel it’s our place to call anyone out,” he said. “I like to let people make that decision on their own and to research the facts.”

That’s not likely, according to Ethan Porter, an associate professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University.

He cited a study of the 2016 presidential election that found less than 3% of people who read or heard false or misleading material also saw a corresponding fact check.

“There’s no reason to think that number has changed meaningfully since,” Porter said. “People exposed to misinformation rarely choose, on their own, to read fact checks.”

Jennifer Mercieca, a professor of communications at Texas A&M University and a historian of American political rhetoric, said Trump’s MAGA base flocks to RSBN because they trust him more than mainstream news organizations.

“RSBN is a pro-Trump propaganda channel, not an objective news source,” she said. “Avoiding the accountability of the press is great for presidential candidates and presidents, but it’s terrible for democracy.”

Seales invited The Associated Press to Opelika to watch coverage of Trump’s March 2 rally in Greensboro, North Carolina, and to trail an RSBN correspondent who conducted interviews with Trump’s faithful supporters outside the arena.

Relaxed and amiable, Seales was hands-off during the rally. He chatted with a reporter as the production crew worked. A devout Christian who plays golf regularly with his pastor, the 43-year-old prefers to stay in the background and leave the on-air reporting and commentary to others.

Seales’ reticence is rooted in his childhood. His father, Jim Seales, played guitar for Shenandoah, a Grammy Award-winning country act with a string of No. 1 hits in the 1980 and ’90s. He was gone for long stretches, touring with the band.

“I could care less if anybody knows who I am,” Seales said. “I know what fame can do. It took a toll on my family, my father.”

That’s not the case with Seales’ on-air talent. His star correspondent, Brian Glenn, walked along the line of attendees in Greensboro that snaked through security barriers and stretched hundreds of yards around the arena.

While reporters from traditional news organizations generally avoid editorializing, Glenn promoted Trump and nodded approvingly as rally-goers spoke highly of the former president.

“Take a look at this line. It is insane!” Glenn said as the camera panned the throngs of people waiting to get in.

“We just got to get President Trump back in office,” he said a bit later.

He asked several people why the country needs Trump back in the White House without pushing back as their answers were livestreamed.

“He is a man with morals,” said one woman.

A man with “Ultra MAGA” stickers on his jacket told Glenn that Trump would “root the corruption out of the government.”

Glenn did not put the comment in context by noting that numerous former Trump administration officials, campaign aides and allies have been charged with crimes. Or that Trump faces dozens of federal and state charges related to hush money payments, the hoarding of classified government documents and a scheme to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Plenty of rally veterans consider Glenn a celebrity of MAGA world. Outside the Greensboro Coliseum, a woman rushed up to hug him. “I watch you on Facebook all the time,” she said.

Inside Trump events, RSBN has a prime position on the platform used by television networks. Below the platform at the Greensboro rally, a smattering of attendees stood at barriers watching and listening to Glenn’s pre-rally chatter as they waited to hear from Trump.

“It is the MAGA network,” Glenn told the AP. “If you follow Donald Trump and the America First movement, this is the network for you.”

Glenn is on intimate terms with a key member of the MAGA movement. He’s dating Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican who is close to Trump. The relationship became a concern for Seales after Glenn kissed Greene on the cheek live on air at the end of an interview. A newly instituted rule prohibits Glenn from interviewing Greene on air, Seales said.

“I don’t like it,” Seales said of reporters or media personalities dating members of Congress. “But I’m not going to tell him what he can and can’t do in his personal life.”

Neither Greene’s congressional office nor Glenn responded to requests for comment about their relationship. On a website where Glenn promotes a bottled water called “Freedom20,” he wrote next to a photo of himself, Greene and Trump that “Marjorie and I share a personal connection that goes beyond politics.”

The Opelika house hasn’t always been RSBN’s headquarters. Seales moved there for safety and privacy. He asked the AP not to disclose its precise location or to record video of the home.

The channel used to operate out of rented office space in an industrial park with its logo out front. The address was publicly listed, and jobseekers would drop in unannounced. Seales recalled a man once showed up in his pajamas and said he’d dreamed he worked there.

Far more troubling, Seales said, were threatening messages RSBN employees received. He described them as “pretty vicious and serious.” He said he couldn’t provide details because the messages were turned over to the FBI, which has launched an investigation, Seales said.

“We just try to play real safe with security,” he said. “In this political climate, it can be pretty nerve-racking.”

An FBI spokesman said the agency does not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.

Seales has embraced the new location. In recent months, he has turned a bedroom into a studio to record podcasts. A news anchor’s desk, teleprompter and professional lighting have been installed in another bedroom.

But Seales said he isn’t sure how much longer he’ll run RSBN. He’s considering selling the company. Politics, he said, has become too vitriolic and has “taken enough of our life and our time.”

RSBN also faces an uncertain future. If Trump’s comeback bid for the White House fails, the channel’s main attraction will no longer be running for office. Should he win, RSBN’s status as the hub for wall-to-wall Trump coverage will be diminished as a global press corps tracks his every move.

“We have based our entire business model,” he said, “around one man doing one thing.”

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Barrow reported from Greensboro, North Carolina.

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