Few are willing to defend the President’s tweeting. This Duke University student thinks Mr. Trump’s tweeting has its place.
It’s no secret that American presidents have historically had an adversarial relationship with the press. Critical media coverage is nothing new to the American political scene; in fact, George Washington, the first President, dealt with incendiary partisan newspapers on a daily basis. They bothered him to the point that upon leaving Virginia for his inauguration, he unsubscribed from over thirty of them. Although he was widely regarded as one of the great American presidents, Abraham Lincoln had a “stormy” relationship with the press after being viciously vilified by cartoonists.
It came as no surprise that upon taking office Donald J. Trump found himself contending with a hostile press. One of the biggest hurdles as a candidate or as President is contending with unfair, exaggerated, or downright false claims by the media. It has happened to candidates on both sides of the aisle. Former Democratic Senator from Colorado, Gary Hart, the frontrunner for the 1988 Democratic nomination watched as his candidacy was set aflame by invasive and arguably misleading media accounts. Senator Hart was caught on a yacht called “Monkey Business” with a young woman. Although there was little hard evidence that an extra-marital affair was taking place, the media’s coverage of the event sunk his candidacy. Shortly after a Miami newspaper broke the story of “Hart, the womanizer,” he was asked to give a comment, and he responded: “Not going to win that way, because you don’t get to the top by tearing someone else down.” Naturally headlines the next day read “Straight from the Hart” and underneath in bold “GARY: I’M NO WOMANIZER.”
Throughout his candidacy Donald Trump has faced more than his fair share of hostile media. The mainstream media were unrelenting from their immediate dismissal of his candidacy, harsh criticism of his “America first” platform, and their constant coverage of anything that slightly resembled the next big Trump scandal. Unlike other campaigns in the past from Mitt Romney to Hillary Clinton, Trump never shielded away from the press. He embraced it, always seeming to come out unscathed. This, in large part, was because of Trump’s mastery of social media to combat the mainstream news media and focus attention on issues that better favored his agenda.
The use of social media platforms such as Twitter is fairly new to politics. In an age where, according to a Pew study, 62% of Americans get some of their news from social media, Donald Trump delivers. President Trump reaches tens of millions of people across social media with 27.6 million Twitter followers alone, not including the tens of millions on Facebook and Instagram. For comparison, The O’Reilly Factor, one of the most successful cable news show on television is averaging under 4 million viewers a night.
What Donald Trump has done through using Twitter is create a “red phone” to speak directly to the American people. The media attacks him for his Twitter use and labels it “unpresidential.” But the media’s true gripe is that they have lost their monopoly on the flow of information to the American public. Through social media President Trump can speak to the public in real time and weigh in on issues without his message being subjected to the spin mainstream news. Unlike any candidate or President before him he is able to call attention to what reports he considers to be “fake news.”
For example, there have been many media reports suggesting President Trump has ties to Russia. However, this is an example of selective reporting by the mainstream media. President Trump has, therefore, used Twitter to note that the media has failed to discuss widely the fact that Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation benefited directly from Uranium sales to Russia.
Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, approved the sale of Uranium One, a company that controlled a fifth of America’s Uranium, to Russia. The Clinton Foundation received tens of millions of dollars in donations (a single donation from a foreign interest was 31.3 million), and Bill Clinton received a $500,000 speaking fee from a bank tied to the Kremlin and the Uranium deal leading up to the approval of the sale. Without Donald Trump’s tweet, “Why isn’t the House Intelligence Committee looking into the Bill & Hillary deal that allowed big Uranium to go to Russia, Russian speech” the American people probably would have never seen any coverage of the Uranium deal during the election.
It’s this kind of biased media that has become synonymous with Donald Trump. Recently, we have seen it with the reports of intelligence leaks, which have plagued the early days of President Trump’s Presidency. The mainstream media is obsessed with the content of the leaks and the names unmasked from the intelligence reports. That’s where President Trump’s tweets come in, and he has perfected the ability to change the optics of a story in his favor. He has suggested in his tweets that the real story is not the content of the leaks but that fact that classified information is being illegally made public. Tweets like these are a daily occurrence on a number of issues as President Trump uses Twitter to correct the record, react in real time, and communicate directly unfiltered to the American People.
Michael Johnson Jr. studies political science at Duke University.