Trump’s twitter sleight-of-hand

By Tom Regan

[Photo by Rippie: Contra Censura!, Creative Commons]

By now everyone in the free – and not so free – world knows about Donald Trump’s tweets this past weekend that basically accused former President Barack Obama of being a felon. Trump’s accusation that Obama illegally wiretapped his phone and Trump Tower in New York has been dismissed by every knowledgeable authority in existence, but just like his allegation that three million people voted illegally in the November election, Trump says he plans to have the whole thing investigated.

It is yet another tweet from our thin-skinned, angry president with the short attention span that had opponents in an uproar and his supporters scratching their heads wondering just what he was trying to do.

But whatever he was trying to do, it worked.

Whether intentionally or because he can’t control his temper or ego, Donald Trump’s tweets have a habit of throwing the media and the public off the scent of the real story. The current real story concerns Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions. The fact that Sessions lied to Congress about meeting Russians during the campaign is, as one pundit put it, “a big deal.” Sessions is the top cop in the country, and recusing himself from any further investigations involving the Trump campaign and its alleged connections to Russian attempts to sabotage the election is just window dressing. It’s the least thing he could do.

Yet Sessions’ predicament was more or less forgotten by midday on Saturday as the media, stunned once again by an early morning twitter storm from the president, was off on another wild goose chase, deploying its resources to hunt down yet another seemingly disjointed ranting from Mar-el-Lago.

Joe Scarborough first suggested (on MSNBC’s Morning Joe) a pattern to this behavior. Trump inevitably launches these tweet broadsides either late Friday night or early Saturday morning. When you look back at the tweets that have sent the media scurrying to either verify or debunk them, it’s always come after a really bad week and a need for Trump to change the story.

Whether it was his reaction to the size of his inaugural crowd versus that of the much larger Obama inaugural crowd, his accusation about the millions of illegal voters, or in this the charges leveled against his predecessor, Trump’s objective is to use the traditionally quiet news hole on Saturday mornings to blow up the media landscape. As a result, the Sunday morning talk shows to which he is so addicted are forced to discuss the fallout from his weekend twitter rantings rather than the mistakes and errors of his administration that have taken place during the previous week.

There is some debate over why he tweets so intensively at this particular time of the week. Some speculate it’s because his daughter and son-in-law, both Orthodox Jews, are observing Shabbat and are not around to temper his twitter tantrums. Perhaps. But adopting this viewpoint plays into the myth that Trump is incompetent and can’t be left alone for five minutes. It was this line of thinking that led his opponents in the Republican primaries to underestimate him, and then led Hillary Clinton and much of the media to do the same in the general election.

Trump is no dummy. Yes, he’s thin-skinned, has an ego the size of Jupiter, doesn’t like being the butt of comedians’ jokes and probably has very little idea about what it really takes to be the president of the United States. But he plays the media like he is a concert violinist. Years spent in the chaotic and cutthroat New York media market have made him a Jedi media master: “This is not the story you been looking for… There’s nothing to see here move along.”

Yet you can’t blame the media entirely for responding in this way. Journalists are supposed to follow the news of the moment, and when the leader of the free world regularly launches tweets like cruise missiles, it’s hard to ignore them.

And don’t expect it to stop anytime soon. Based on the track record of the first 45 days of this administration, there are going to be a lot of busy Saturday mornings.

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