Dean Obeidallah: Media should stop giving Trump wall-to-wall coverage of every tweet
Even Trump's surrogates at times have had trouble explaining what Trump meant by his tweets, Obeidallah says
Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM’s radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @TheDeansreport. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.
But not Trump. This thin-skinned, Twitter-obsessed, vindictive President-elect instead can’t stop taking to Twitter to whine about “SNL.” If Trump, however, thinks his whining about “SNL” or comedians mocking him will stop us from doing so, he’s not only wrong, but he’s also inspiring us to step it up even more. Remember Dana Carvey as George H.W. Bush or Will Ferrell as George W.? Mocking the President is as American as apple pie. It’s that simple.
As things stand, Trump tweets and the media chases. It’s like an updated version of Pavlov’s dog, but instead of a dog salivating, it’s the media salivating every time they hear Trump has unleashed another tweet.
When he does, the media – especially cable news outlets – goes into overdrive, with experts trying to decipher what Trump meant by his latest 140-character musing. Next come the political pundits who speculate over the political potential fallout from the tweet. And before we can ever figure out if Trump is actually signaling a strategic policy change or if he was just bored and felt like tweeting, then he is on to the next series of tweets prompting an identical media reaction all over again.
During all this, the American people are increasingly being lulled into a sense that it’s somehow OK for our president to simply tweet policy positions and not be required to give us detailed policy proposals or explanations.
We can’t spend the next four years as a nation doing that. Instead the major media outlets should collectively agree to ignore Trump’s tweets. In fact, CNN’s Don Lemon said as much Tuesday, suggesting that news executives agree to not cover Trump’s tweets.
Lemon is 100% correct.
Trump no doubt prefers tweeting to holding a press conference because there’s no one to challenge him to his face on factual inaccuracies or ask him follow-up questions. But if the media ignored his tweets, it could compel Trump to actually hold a press conference – which he hasn’t done since July – to explain the details of his proposals. Or possibly spur Trump to give a policy speech, complete with supporting data so we can properly evaluate it. Both options are far better than what we are currently getting.
Even Trump’s surrogates at times have had trouble explaining what Trump meant by his tweets. For example, just last week Trump tweeted, “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”
Keep in mind that per the Congressional Budget Office we are already spending an estimated $348 billion over the next decade to maintain, upgrade and operate our existing nuclear arsenal.
Will Trump push to cut Medicare or other social programs to fund this increased spending? And is Trump really reversing the decades-long effort of the United States to reduce our nuclear arsenal? We are entitled to know answers to such questions.
But when Trump surrogate Sean Spicer – who was recently named White House spokesperson – was asked on CNN to make sense of this Trump tweet, we got zero details. Instead Spicer served up clichés about what Trump meant, like he “will not take anything off the table.” Did Spicer not have any more specifics?
And here’s the worst part – Spicer stated that Trump plans to use Twitter as president, suggesting that Trump’s tweeting will be “a really exciting part” of his new job as White House press secretary.
But while it may be exciting for Spicer, it will be bad for America.
We need a president who takes policy issues very seriously. This is not Season 1 of “The Apprentice,” but year one of Trump as President of the United States. We need a president who is more concerned with being commander in chief and less focused on being the political version of Kanye West.
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Interestingly, even Trump appears aware of the potential problems posed by using Twitter. In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” last month, after winning the election, Trump stated that once he’s president, he will be “very restrained” with using Twitter, adding, “if I use it at all.”
So here’s where the media can actually help not just Trump and America, but even itself: Ignore Trump’s tweets on substantive issues. Doing so might push him to hold press conferences to explain his policy pronouncements, while helping the media regain Americans’ trust (something that is at historic lows, in part because of the saturation coverage of Trump’s campaign).
Americans – whether or not they voted for Trump – need the media to be a trustworthy watchdog. Not treating every Trump tweet like breaking news would be a good start in restoring the country’s faith that it had the ability to be one.