Setting the Agenda

POTUS love Twitter, and ever since he moved into the office print and broadcast media report out his tweets as if they were quoting him directly. By publishing his tweets in the news section instead of the opinion section where most of them belong, the media elevate his missives from random ramblings to concrete policy. But tweeting about a personnel change at the State Department doesn’t mean an actual change can or should take place. It’s only an announcement of intention which may or may not be followed up by an established procedure. By printing or reading his tweets on air the media let him communicate on an issue as if he were addressing a press conference unchallenged by questioning journalists.

From the beginning of this administration I’ve had this problem with the media’s Twitter policy regarding the president, and then I heard this quote from John Dick, the founder and CEO of CivicScience which recast my thinking (emphasis mine):

One of the biggest fallacies in the world today is that Donald Trump uses Twitter to talk to the American people. The American people are not on Twitter. 24% of Americans at most are on Twitter. 11% of his voters give or take. He is using Twitter to talk to the media who carry his message to their little tribes of people who read it and so he doesn’t care–and it’s actually quite brilliant I have to tip my hat to the way he handles it. I mean he tweets at 3 o’clock in the morning because he knows he’s setting the media landscape. He’s telling the media what they’re going to talk about that day, and he doesn’t care what CNN says about him because his followers aren’t watching CNN anyway. People don’t trust information anymore they trust the distributors of that information, and so Donald Trump cedes his fairy dust into Twitter and those publications run it to their individual tribes of readers.

It seems so obvious now. Reaching out to Twitter followers and having them amplify his message isn’t the game. Setting the media agenda is, and that’s why the tweets come when they do, served up at the moment the morning show producers and news editors are readying their broadcasts and articles. Is it any surprise now when you fire up your browser or open your newspaper that there’s a fresh round of presidential tweets ready for consumption?

The quote from Dick comes from an interview from the Bob Lefsetz Podcast, a terrific forum for stories about the music industry I highly recommend.


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