So I tweeted this during one of Trump's latest online spewings. A lot of people shared it. Many responded, "Fuck you, asshole, I can pay attention to more than one thing at a time."Focus on Trump's business. Follow the money. Ignore the tweets. Focus on Trump's business. Follow the money. Ignore the tweets. Focus on Tru— David M. Perry (@Lollardfish) November 27, 2016
This debate has played out across not just social media contexts, but in the formal media, as journalists around the country and the world try to figure out how to cover a candidate who shares inflammatory lies in nearly every context, is completely unashamed by hypocrisy, revels in dominance displays (including his ability to generate controversy), has yet to hold a real press conference, and otherwise is unlike any president of the United States in modern history. I think this was the "millions of fraudulent votes" tweet, but honestly I can't even remember.
It's not that the tweets don't matter, because of course they do. This is, though, a message to journalists not to focus merely on what Trump says, but what he does. It's true that most humans can pay attention to many things at a time, but when Paul Ryan, Kellyanne Conway, or Reince Preibus takes questions (since Trump never will), what's the first question?
- How do you react to Trump tweeting that there were millions of fake votes?
- How do you react to Trump tweeting that there were millions of fake votes despite evidence?
- The Constitution forbids Donald Trump from receiving foreign payments. How will he resolve that?
- Jeff Sessions has a long history of explicit racism. Should he be AG?
- David Clarke had a baby die in his jail recently. Is he qualified to run DHS?
- Betsy DeVos has never been an educator? What, other than being rich, are her qualifications for DoE?
And so forth. Questions on the ACA, on vaccines, on the 1300 jobs Carrier is sending to Mexico.
What's the lede? What's the headline on A1 of the New York Times? You only get one lede, one headline, one first question, one chyron across the screen. So while individuals can, and MUST, follow multiple storylines at once, there's only one lede.
Right now, Trump has the ability to control that first question through tweeting. I don't think that's optimal.
Because someday Trump will be bombing people and he'll tweet something inflammatory about, I dunno, Moana or something. How can we help the press ask the right question?