The Media Have Been Played by Trump's Tweets

COMMENTARY via RealClearPolitics by Bill Murray

About 18 months ago, back when the world was young, I examined candidate Donald Trump’s success in using social media – in particular Twitter – to circumvent the mainstream media and speak directly to the electorate. There was nothing new in this general approach – candidates and officeholders have taken pains to control their messaging for at least the past century, but Trump seemed to have struck political gold.

Now, roughly five months into his administration, we see how the things have played out. Not only is Trump president, but his Twitter base has grown from 5 million to 31 million. Instead of acknowledging the advent of a potent new mode of presidential communication, the very people Trump is trying to bypass — the traditional media — have derided and mocked his use of this technology. To be sure, the president’s indiscriminate and sometimes intemperate tweets have made an irresistible target. In the past few days, he has used Twitter to pick an odd fight with London’s mayor while seemingly undermining the Justice Department’s legal rationale of his travel ban.

Yet the Fourth Estate’s knee-jerk opposition to Trump does a disservice to the electorate.

Consider, for example, Trump’s inscrutable “negative press covfefe” tweet early in the morning of May 31, a term that currently has 52 million search results on Google. It’s easy to see why: Print and broadcast news outlets pounced on the abbreviated tweet and hyperventilated for days.

This is precisely the problem: Most of Trump’s tweets, especially this sort, should not be reported as breaking news. As Michael Barone, the longtime co-editor of The Almanac of American Politics and senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, points out, “Early on, he [Trump] realized that by sending out a tweet early in the morning, that was very provocative, very in violation of political correctness, he could dominate an entire news cycle.” What’s more, Trump knew he could feed the media’s “addiction” to anything remotely resembling “breaking news,” all to his benefit.

This failure of U.S. broadcast media to use proper news judgment in covering Trump is among the gravest professional sins the industry has committed in recent memory because it fails to recognize the manipulation involved. George Lakoff, a professor emeritus of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, asserts that Trump’s tactics are “all strategic” in nature, “not crazy,” as many observers believe.

Lakoff has written several books on political speech and is an expert on the concept of idea framing, which has become an influential technique in the art of political persuasion. He asserts that Trump’s tweets embody one of four strategic communication tactics: preemptive framing, diversion, deflection and trial-ballooning.

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CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 21:  Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump points to the crowd as he delivers a speech during the evening session on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Clevelan

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