There’s no question Donald Trump has used controversial statements to build a powerful social media following. His Twitter account in particular has attracted much consternation and hang-wringing, particularly among media outlets like CNN and the New York Times. Reporters love Twitter because it allows them to write news stories without ever leaving the office. Water cooler controversy over the latest tweet fuels link clicks and website visits, attracting coveted web traffic that drives advertising sales.
It started during the presidential primary, when CNN in particular salivated over now-President Trump’s social media faux pas. I imagined a CNN reporter exclusively monitoring @realDonaldTrump, waiting to pounce on any misspelling or provocative statement. Within minutes of a controversial tweet, an article popped up at CNN.com. “Ah HAH! THIS is the tweet that will finally undo Trump’s candidacy!” the reporter shouts, rubbing his hands. I wondered how much this guy got paid.
Fast forward to February 2017. Trump won the election and is now in the White House. The outrage continues. Admittedly, I follow both @realDonaldTrump and @CNN, and I’m amused when I see a tweet from Trump immediately followed by a tweet from CNN telling me what he just said. For people who are so outraged by his public pronouncements, they sure love spreading them far and wide.
Whenever the media criticizes Trump’s Twitter account, it reaches an even bigger audience, so they end up helping to spread the very message they abhor. As of Saturday, February 18, Donald Trump has 25.2 million Twitter followers. CNN has 31.9 million and the New York Times has 33.8 million. News outlets like MSNBC and NBC News aren’t even in the same league, with 1.58 and 4.42 million followers, respectively.
I’m convinced constant coverage of Trump’s social media propelled him to victory in the Republican primary and again in the general election. If their goal was to help Trump’s campaign by keeping his name and face in the news 24/7, they couldn’t have done a better job.
But their obsession doesn’t stop there. Look at how seriously the New York Times takes Trump’s Twitter posts. In this article about alleged turmoil at the National Security Council, they lead with this bizarre statement:
Three weeks into the Trump administration, council staff members get up in the morning, read President Trump’s Twitter posts and struggle to make policy to fit them.
What? I guarantee no one at the National Security Council interprets Donald Trump’s tweets as policy directives. Such an absurd claim reveals how much Trump’s Twitter account has gotten inside their heads. No one takes it more seriously than they do.
Reporters have twisted themselves into pretzels trying to explain its impact and popularity. In a bit of literary license, Mark Fahey at CNBC recently wrote:
Many Americans may be losing patience with President Donald Trump’s Twitter account, but that hasn’t kept his tweets from getting millions of favorites and retweets since his inauguration.
How can people be both losing patience and flocking to Trump’s Twitter account? The entire article refutes Fahey’s opening premise, showing how since becoming president, Trump’s Twitter following is stronger than ever.
What media outlets like CNN and the NYT really hate is the prospect of becoming irrelevant. We don’t need CNN to tell us what Donald Trump is tweeting. We can just go there and see for ourselves. CNN wants to filter and interpret Trump’s comments through their editorial lens. People want to make up their own minds.
Never before in history has the American people had such a direct line to the presidency. It may not be pretty, but as FDR’s “fireside chats” became standard, I believe this style of “speaking” directly to the public will as well.