Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.
On NBC’s Today, President-elect Donald Trump admitted he uses Twitter to bypass reporters, claiming it allows him to get his messages out “much more honestly.” Trump’s Twitter account is riddled with false claims, vague statements, and fake news stories, but media outlets have nevertheless treated it as a source of credible information, allowing his tweets to drive the news cycle.
During an interview on NBC’s morning show, Today, host Matt Lauer asked Trump about his continued use of Twitter after the election, despite his promise to “be much more restrained as the president.” Trump conceded that he uses Twitter as a mechanism for bypassing the press, claiming it’s a “modern-day form of communication” that allows him to communicate his messages to the public “much faster” and “much more honestly than dealing with dishonest reporters, because so many reporters are dishonest.”
Trump has successfully used his Twitter account to inject favorable stories into the media, such as announcinga deal he made with Carrier Corp. to keep 700 jobs from moving to Mexico. But the Carrier deal included giving $7 million in tax breaks to the private company and doesn’t prevent 1,300 other Carrier jobs from offshoring, which Trump did not discuss in his Twitter announcement. By tweeting the deal, Trump avoided follow-up questions from reporters and was not forced to address the details of the deal or how it was made — but he did successfully drive the news cycle. CNN ran an on-screen graphic that read “Trump delivers on vow to save Carrier jobs” for part of the day.
Similarly, Trump proposed canceling a deal with Boeing to build a new Air Force One plane for future presidents, claiming that “costs are out of control.” Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler broke downthe tweet, noting that “Trump is not a stickler for accuracy, but there are number of inaccuracies in his tweet.” Trump has also tweeted fake news stories, including that he “won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” That claim was based on an evidence-free claim from a Twitter user that was picked up by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
Trump has sought to turn his Twitter feed into one of only a few sources of information for the media on him and his transition. His war on the press began during his campaign and has continued into his transition to the presidency. He has not held a press conference since July (he announced a news conference scheduled for December 15, but has not said whether he will take questions from reporters); has continued to harangue the media at campaign-style rallies during his “victory tour”; and has on more than one occasion ditched his protective pool, which is supposed to follow him in order to, among other functions, be on the scene to report in case of major events. At the same time, he and his team have repeatedly refused to answer questions about his and his family’s questionable international business dealings and interactions with foreign leaders, forcing the American press to rely on foreign media for details surrounding Trump’s meetings and calls with foreign leaders.
He recently responded to criticism of his antagonistic attitude toward the media on Twitter, claiming that “if the press would cover me accurately [and] honorably, I would have far less reason to ‘tweet.’” But some media experts have suggested Trump’s attacks on the media are not actually driven by a desire to spread honest information, but rather are a concerted effort to discredit the media in order to “inoculate” himself from reporting that could be damaging. On CNN’s Reliable Sources, former Time Inc. Editor-in-Chief John Huey argued that Trump used “demagogic techniques” that “smack of authoritarianism” during the campaign because “the media poses a real threat to him”:
JOHN HUEY: Well, I’ve seen a continuation of what he’s been doing since the very beginning. And the last time I spoke to you, I was stressing the concept of a demagogue and the classic techniques of a demagogue. And one of those is, you have to have a scapegoat, you have to create the idea that someone out there is the enemy. And he started out with Mexicans, he moved on to Muslims, and sometime in the middle of the summer, he really started to focus on the media. And you were one of the first people to pick up on that, and also the election rigging. The media was part of the election rigging. So, these are demagogic techniques, and you can look at them very seriously because they do smack of authoritarianism.
One other point, quickly, the reason he has settled on the media over the Mexicans and the Muslims is, the media poses a real threat to him. The media are the people who investigate his charitable giving. They’re the ones who look at what we can learn about his tax returns. They’re the people who cover the fraud trial of Trump University. So it’s very much in his interest to discredit the messenger for those messages.
Trump’s admission that he uses Twitter to bypass reporters and the media should indicate to the press that they cannot simply report on his tweets without providing proper context or fact-checking. The current compulsion to do so often results in the wholesale repetition of his claims, even when they are inaccurate.
IMAGE: U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Delaware, Ohio, U.S. October 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst