A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Not every presidential tweet is a big news story. Many are diversions, others are just press releases. Newsrooms rightly exercise caution about amplifying his posts.
But some days the tweets are so voluminous and so venomous that they are, by themselves, a big story. Sunday was one of those days. Viewers and readers are ill-informed when they’re left in the dark about their commander in chief’s angry, conspiratorial and fact-free rantings.
The tweets matter. Ignoring them doesn’t make them go away. Fact-checking them at least helps counter the misinformation. (Hat tip to Philip Rucker for this headline.)
A partial list of his targets
Over the weekend POTUS used Twitter to criticize Robert Mueller, GM, a local UAW leader, Fox News, CNN, Google, “SNL,” Hillary Rodham Clinton, Christopher Steele, the Paris climate deal and others. He also retweeted numerous fans, including a notorious conspiracy theory peddler. He wrapped up by claiming that the Dems tried to “steal” the election, and then he said “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” In the words of WaPo’s Anne Gearan, “it was a weekend of nonstop grievances from the leader of the free world…”
Ana Cabrera said it better than I could on Sunday. She opened the 5 p.m. hour of “CNN Newsroom” with this: “Instead of joining the world condemning this hatred and offering support to the Muslim community in New Zealand and across the globe, President Trump is tweeting that ‘Saturday Night Live’ hurts his feelings.”
The tweets “speak for themselves”
The Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng asked the White House “if Donald Trump’s manic retweets and tweets over the past 12 hours ‘speak for themselves,’” and Sarah Sanders told him, “Yes.”
What’s he so worried about?
That’s what I’m seeing people ask in the wake of Trump’s tweetstorms. Obama-era DOJ spokesman turned MSNBC analyst Matthew Miller wrote: “There has to be something coming, right? Trump is incredibly unhinged today even for him, and with no apparent prompting.”
What Trump’s conservative critics are saying
– George Conway posted this on Sunday morning and made it his “pinned tweet,” which means he wants everyone to see it: “His condition is getting worse.”
– Bill Kristol tweeted: “Fellow Republicans, read today’s tweets and retweets. Don’t avert your eyes. Averting your eyes is refusing to come to grips with Trump’s mental condition and psychological state. It’s avoiding reality.”
Dan Rather’s POV
“Look, we have to deal with reality,” Dan Rather said on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources.” This president “has the strongest, the most powerful platform for propaganda that humans have ever had. No president has ever had this kind of reach – the combination of television, radio, the internet, social media, tweets.”
Rather said he thinks “the public has a sense that they’re facing a manure spreader in a windstorm,” especially re: the tweets. “It just keeps coming and coming and coming at you. It’s ridiculous but it’s unrelenting. And he understands the value of that.” The rest of us, he said, should “take a deep breath, say to yourself, ‘stay steady.’”
Jeanine Pirro suspended
Fox News publicly condemned Jeanine Pirro last week. But in private the network went further. Pirro was suspended, a source familiar with the matter told me.
Now, Fox did not announce the suspension publicly. And the network declined to confirm or deny my reporting. Fox simply said “we’re not commenting on internal scheduling matters.”
But the decision to pre-empt her show for a repeat of the “Scandalous” documentary series was enough to get people speculating that she’d been sanctioned by the network. After I described the suspension on Sunday morning, the NYT’s Michael Grynbaum matched the reporting. At the moment there is no word on whether Pirro’s show will return next week. But to be clear, she has not been fired… And she has a very vocal supporter…
Trump tells Fox to bring Pirro back
On Sunday POTUS defended two of Fox’s right-wing opinion hosts — Pirro and Tucker Carlson — and criticized three of the network’s news anchors. Most notably of all, he used Twitter to send a long message to Fox execs, urging them to “stay true to the people that got you there.” It was like Trump was saying to his favorite television network, “keep having my back and I’ll have yours.” Especially right now, with his world consumed by scandals and investigations, Trump needs all the TV boosters he can get.
And let’s be honest, the sheer volume of tweets was a testament to Fox’s influence within the White House. He tweeted that two of Fox’s weekend news anchors, Arthel Neville and Leland Vittert, and one of the network’s main weekday news anchors, Shepard Smith, belonged on CNN, not Fox. In Trump-speak, of course, that’s a big insult! Here’s my full story…
My POV: Fox doesn’t want to pick a fight with the prez
Fox declined to comment on Trump’s missives. Think about it: If Fox issued a statement supporting its news anchors, it would risk incurring the wrath of the president AND his biggest fans, many of whom are also Fox’s biggest fans.
But it is worth noting that one of Fox’s correspondents responded to the president’s barb by supporting Neville and Vittert. “They’re both incredible journalists, constantly engaged and inquisitive,” Jeff Paul wrote. “I’m proud to call them colleagues…as I am proud to work with @ShepNewsTeam each week.”
David Zurawik’s bottom line
FOR THE RECORD
– David Nakamura tweeted: “Trump spent more time over the weekend condemning a rerun of ’SNL’ than he did the professed white-supremacist motives of the accused Christchurch mass murderer…” (Twitter)
– Mick Mulvaney to “Fox News Sunday” moderator Chris Wallace: “The president is not a white supremacist. I’m not sure how many times we have to say that…” (CNN)
– Jonathan Swan’s latest: “Inside Rudy’s vanishing act” (Axios)