We Can’t Ignore, But Can’t Be Distracted By, Trump’s Tweets

Donald Trump's tweets demand attention, but we have to keep our eyes on what will happen offline
Kellyanne Conway/Twitter

Kellyanne Conway/Twitter

In keeping with the practices he exhibited throughout the campaign, President-elect Donald Trump is conducting his transition with an extreme lack of transparency, with information mostly being revealed to the public through internal leaks and on his personal Twitter account.

His tweets, which are often posted in early morning feuds or in response to what he calls “unfair” or “biased” news reports, serve as our only glimpse into the mindset of the person about to lead our country.

At present, President-elect Donald Trump has not done a formal press conference since July 27, 125 days ago, when then-candidate Trump knocked Hillary Clinton for the length of time since her last press conference.

After that presser in Doral, Florida, Trump attacked the Khan family; Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was found to have ties to Ukraine; Trump swapped campaign managers; Trump continued his birther lie and duped the media into providing a free infomercial on his D.C. hotel opening where he falsely blamed Hillary Clinton for starting the birther movement; all three presidential debates occurred; the Access Hollywood hot-mic tape was released; seventeen women accused Trump of sexual assault or inappropriate behavior; and Trump became the President-elect of the United States.

In the three weeks since Trump was elected, he has railed against the media and anti-Trump protesters and has both doubled down and flip-flopped on his campaign trail promises. Much of this has developed on Twitter.

We need to pay attention to Trump’s Twitter habits, but we need to do so wisely.

Some of his tweets are wildly unhinged and are important to cover. Peddling a conspiracy theory that “millions of people” voted “illegally” and calling for “loss of citizenship” for exercising a First Amendment right are both wildly absurd actions. Media should report on this generously and accurately, including appropriate context to disprove his lies and emphasize rights protected by the Constitution. His words should not be sugarcoated.

It also appears that Trump is using Twitter to dictate complex foreign policy. This should be taken seriously and covered.

Alternatively, some of his other tweets are manic, but likely inconsequential, and therefore shouldn’t be granted heaps of headlines that distract from substantial news.

It’s all about proportionality. Nonsensical tweets asserting the cast of Hamilton must apologize for speaking about the anxiety many Americans are feeling shouldn’t get five times as much coverage as the President-elect’s $25 million settlement to end fraud cases pending against his university.

Using the platform of the President-elect to promote conspiracy theories should be covered, but it shouldn’t completely wipe stories on Trump’s conflicts of interest off the board.

Recommending citizenship be revoked for anyone who exercises freedom of speech should be covered, but it shouldn’t drown out reports on the impact of Trump’s likely repeal of Obamacare.

It is highly unlikely that Trump is strategically distracting the press with his tweets, but it has become evident the press distract themselves with his tweets.

What is shared, the ratio at which it is shared, and the accuracy of which it is written or broadcast matter greatly. Mainstream media need to reflect on their objectives, responsibilities, and the role they played in this election. We’re in uncharted territory and journalism needs to be better.

News // Donald Trump / Media / Politics / Social Media