There’s a growing trend among Donald Trump’s advisers: Listen to what he says, not what he tweets.
On the “Today” show Monday, Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway bemoaned “the obsession with covering everything he says on Twitter and little of what he does as president.”
On “New Day” Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka echoed that sentiment, insisting to host Chris Cuomo that “it’s social media, Chris, it’s social media. You know the difference, right?,” adding: “It’s not policy, it’s not an executive order. It’s social media. Please understand the difference.”
Here’s the thing: There is no difference. And, in fact, Trump’s tweets are actually more important than the more formal statements coming out of his White House because they represent something much closer to what he believes on nearly every issue.
What the White House is trying to do here is have things both ways.
On the one hand, they insist Trump will never stop tweeting because it’s his way of communicating directly with his supporters without the media filter. The media would love for Trump to stop tweeting!, Trump’s advisers insist.
On the other, they argue that Trump’s tweets shouldn’t be taken as seriously as official statements from the White House or policy proposals offered by the administration.
So, which is it? Is Twitter Trump’s last defense against the biased and “fake news” media? Or is it the vehicle for the media to cherry-pick comments to make him look less well versed – or calm – than his official statements?
Put that obvious contradiction aside, and you are still left with this fact: The president of the United States is expressing himself directly on the issues of the day via his phone. To not cover that – and cover it exactly as we would an official statement from the White House – is an abrogation of the media’s duties. This is the president talking (or typing)! How could we not cover it?
This president makes no distinction between Twitter, an official statement or even a formal speech. He uses them interchangeably – and clearly feels as though Twitter allows him to speak most freely and directly. Why should we then treat Twitter as different in any way, shape or form when it comes to Trump’s communications?
A Twitter handle started earlier this month – @RealPressSecBot – drives this point home better than I ever could. Here’s what it does: Scrapes Twitter every 5 minutes for new Trump tweets and then “transforms them into correct Presidential statement format.” Which produces this:
Pretty striking, right?
But, also fundamentally accurate. Because when a president speaks – whether electronically or out loud – it’s, by default, a presidential statement.
And, as his ongoing legal battle over the so-called “travel ban” brings into stark relief, Trump’s tweeted words have already been used against him legally speaking. In the 9th Circuit Court opinion upholding the stay on the travel ban, the judges cited Trump’s comments – via Twitter and otherwise – as evidence that the president’s intent was, indeed, to keep citizens from six majority-Muslim countries from entering the country.
If it’s good enough for the courts, it’s good enough for the media.
Throughout the campaign, Trump used his massive social media following as a way to drive news cycles and settle scores. It was, without question, a massive asset for him that the other candidates – particularly in the Republican primaries – didn’t enjoy.
That social media presence – as anyone who has a big following on, say, Twitter, knows – cuts both ways. Trump is feeling the stinging side of late – almost entirely because he uses Twitter to contradict his aides’ attempts to manage his message into a form that is less controversial.
The media’s job isn’t to put forward the most favorable Trump message. (Or the least favorable Trump message, for that matter.) The media’s job is to give the American public, who pay Trump’s salary, the best look into how their president thinks about the key issues of the day. And Twitter is, without question, the best window into Trump’s thought-process there is.
So, we’ll keep covering until Trump stops tweeting. Which we all know ain’t happening.