December 2, 2016
Donald Trump’s Twitter is stressing everyone out, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the L.A. Times
by Simon Reichley
Earlier this week at the New York Times, Michael M. Grynbaum and Sydney Ember reported on a particularly modern form of anxiety afflicting the news media in the Age of Trump. The issue at question is how to deal with Donald Trump’s Twitter account.
As Grynbaum and Ember put it:
Since Election Day, President-elect Donald J. Trump has proposed a U-turn in American diplomatic relations with Cuba, boasted about negotiations with a major manufacturer, trumpeted false claims about millions of illegal votes and hinted that he might upend current free speech laws by banning flag burning.
All in 140 characters or less.
According to the report, there are a couple of journalistic problems that TrumpTweets™ present. First, there is the maddening inconsistency/inaccuracy of the positions he takes and pronouncements he makes on the platform. Second, there is the overwhelming volume and unpredictable timing of his barely coherent bouts of mistruth.
On the first count, most of the controversy appears to be coming from outside the industry. Journalists interviewed by Grynbaum and Ember seem pretty united in their belief that public pronouncements by the president-elect are inherently newsworthy, and that their significance should not be diminished merely on account of an unconventional platform. But readers and critics claim (via Twitter, of course) that news coverage of TrumpTweets™ distract from more important issues, and artificially inflate the audience for his most inflammatory and misleading comments.
On the second count, there seems to be more industry acknowledgment of the problem. As newsroom staffs continue to shrink, so does the institutional bandwidth available for processing Trump’s limitless stream of vile babbling. Ultimately, it becomes a question of priorities, and there is a real choice to be made: do you investigate the horrifying agenda being silently assembled by Trump’s cabinet, or to you point, slack-jawed and crying, as the President-elect of the United States suggests that Americans exercising their First Amendment right to free speech should be jailed for a year or denaturalized.
Quite the dilemma!
My personal opinion is that Twitter should be destroyed, and that we should invent a Men-In-Black-style brain-zapper that will erase every trace of it from our memory. I realize this is a minority opinion, and in any event, hopelessly utopian. However, it does make me reflexively sympathetic with Katrina vanden Heuvel (publisher and editor at The Nation) and Fred Kaplan (columnist at Slate) when they exhort us to just ignore Trump on Twitter.
That said, the dude was elected president. He is a whiny turd. His incessant mewling is distracting and also a huge bummer. But the dude is president-elect. And, as Masha Gessen usefully reminded us, the number one rule for surviving the autocracy to come is “Believe the autocrat.” If he is shouting at the top of his lungs that he wants to jail people for exercising their constitutional rights, or to bludgeon the press with legal threats, or “terminate the deal” with a neighbor, we should pay attention, and so should the press.
Simon Reichley is assistant to the publishers and office manager at Melville House.