It occurs to me that Donald Trump's twitter account is the contemporary equivalent of FDR's radio fireside chats. A means for a president to directly connect with the American people while circumventing the media. In the 1930's according to Wikipedia:I now wonder whether he is playing an even deeper communications game. From Jon Gabriel.
Roosevelt understood that his administration's success depended upon a favorable dialogue with the electorate — possible only through methods of mass communication — and that the true power of the presidency was the ability to take the initiative. The use of radio for direct appeals was perhaps the most important of FDR's innovations in political communication. Roosevelt's opponents had control of most newspapers in the 1930s and press reports were under their control and involved their editorial commentary. Historian Betty Houchin Winfield says, "He and his advisers worried that newspapers' biases would affect the news columns and rightly so." Historian Douglas B. Craig says that he "offered voters a chance to receive information unadulterated by newspaper proprietors' bias" through the new medium of radio.FDR faced a biased conservative press while DJT faces a biased liberal press - nothing new under the sun. All that has changed is the direction of the bias and the mechanism for circumventing the entrenched interests.
Just as with FDR, Trump is circumventing the entrenched media and setting his own agenda with the American people and driving his own news cycle. In some ways, it is masterful. Twitter is free, it is nearly universally accessible, and it is asynchronous (i.e. the public does not have to rearrange their schedule to watch the news or buy a paper; they can access his twitter account whenever it is convenient for them).
The major media have warned that Donald Trump would wage a war on the First Amendment. His quick draw to call out bad reporting, boot disruptive journalists, and mock fake news were obvious signs that the freedom of the press would hang by a squib during the Trump administration.Maybe it was out of ignorance of the tradition. Maybe it was an accident. Is he just trolling them? Or maybe it was part of a deep continuing reshaping of the battlefield of communication.
And, lo, it came to pass Monday that all their fears were realized. Did the new President sent red-hatted mobs to smash printing presses and hijack the cable news to run non-stop ads for Trump Steaks? Even worse. In his first official White House press briefing, Sean Spicer called on reporters from the wrong side of the tracks.
Apparently, in an unwritten rule precious only to careerist Beltway journos, the Press Secretary calls on an Associated Press reporter first then follows with questions to other large media companies. For the first time, Spicer chose less storied agencies for the first handful of questions. Did he blacklist journalists from CNN, the New York Times, etc? No, he got to them a few minutes later. In fact, Spicer stayed as long as the reporters wanted, answering questions for well over an hour.
What so appalled the press was that Spicer upset the media’s caste system. After calling on the New York Post, he went to CBN (Christian cable network), Univision (Spanish-language channel), Fox Business Network, and American Urban Radio Networks (African-American focused service). He also announced the creation of “Skype seats” that will allow reporters who live 50 miles or more from Washington DC to ask questions.
With his twitter account, Trump reaches directly to the American people without the intermediation of the mainstream media.
It would appear that his press secretary might be hoisting the mainstream media on their own petard. AP, NYT, WaPo, MSNBC - all are overwhelmingly white (presenters and audience), rich, urban, college educated, left leaning knowledge workers, DNC supporters.
What is Saul Alinsky's Fourth Rule in his Rules for Radicals?
4. “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules. You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity.”AP/NYT/WaPo/MSNBC/CBS/ABC/NBC say they value diversity and Trump's press secretary gives them diversity - Conservative news outlets, Christian news outlets, Hispanic news outlets, African-American news outlets. How can they object? Spicer gave them what they say they want and stripped them of their privileges at the same time.
Accident, instinct, deliberate strategy? We'll only know in time but the evidence is accumulating that it might be option C, a Deliberate Strategy. And will it be effective? Again, we don't know yet but all the signs so far are that it is. The mainstream media hate Trump and show no signs of giving him equal treatment to his predecessor or even professional treatment. If that is a given, then his actions seem very effective at circumventing and defanging them.