How to Cover the Tweeter-in-Chief

January 2nd, 2017

trump-twitter-media-cartoonThere is clear consensus that America’s 45th President will have no desire or inclination to pursue a good relationship with the press/media. In a single article in Politico recently, three uniquely well-qualified people opined as follows:

“Joe Lockhart, White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton, said President-elect Donald Trump creates his own facts, something former President Richard Nixon would do.

Nicolle Wallace, communications director for former President George W. Bush, said Trump doesn’t need the press, but wants it “like an addict craves their drugs.”

Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary for Bush, said the feeling is mutual between Trump and the press, calling it a “double-barreled hostility” where the media can’t stand Trump and Trump returns the favor.”

So what’s a reporter/editor committed to ethical journalism to do over the next few years?

First and foremost, remember the distinction between how his supporters and the rest of us view what he says, i.e. that Trumpkins take him seriously but not literally, while we tend to do the opposite.

Second, recognize that he will conduct his Presidency in much the same way as he ran his Campaign: no regard for the rules, no respect for tradition, no adherence to protocol. The word “unprecedented” is about to lose its meaning, because everything he does can be described that way.

Third, accept the fact that most of his communication with the public will be via Twitter. He’s not going to hold pressers. He won’t (or can’t) answer questions in any detail or depth. He doesn’t believe in daily briefings. Hell, he might even skip the Correspondents Dinner. Scott Spicer and whoever supplants Jason Miller could have the easiest ride ever for a comm staff: they might not even need to know how to write.

With those tenets as a foundation, here are some suggestions.

Disregard at least half of his tweets. The more you cover his tweets, the more he will be encouraged to do it, so be selective. The majority of his tweets are petty and personal, either attacking someone for criticizing him, panning something he saw on TV, or congratulating himself for being commended by someone. Those tweets are not newsworthy and don’t warrant coverage of any kind.

Set a practice of re-confirming the other half. As loony as some of his statements may be, he does occasionally say something that is actually relevant to the operation of government. Those tweets should be covered and reported — but only after you’ve checked with his minions to confirm that (a) he has not reversed himself yet; (b) he was not just riffing; and (c) checked with his minions again. Every f***ing time. After a few months of being asked repeatedly whether Himself meant what he said, or had reconsidered it, and having to explain to him why whatever he said isn’t being reported instantaneously, the minions will adapt to being more helpful.

Issue a weekly summary for the tweets that are relevant to the operation of government. Most of his tweets will not be worth a whole article, and only about one in ten will warrant more than a line or two. So a list should suffice — especially after the machinery of Congress gears up and begins to drown him in legislative process.

Cover and interview others instead. There are plenty of well-spoken, knowledgeable people around Washington you can talk to on any given day. A lot of them are highly informed and actively engaged in a wide range of issues, and would be happy to be interviewed and share their thoughts with you so that you can report them. The rest of us will appreciate it if you do that.

Leave a Reply

Anti-Spam Protection by WP-SpamFree