Monday, June 4, 2018

Trump Tweets. America's Media Jumps.

 "I remain astonished by the ability of this former reality TV star to be our assignment editor."   

                                                                Columbia Journalism Review

At 6:09 a.m. today my phone beeped a notification from The Washington Post: President Trump just claimed he had an absolute right to pardon anyone at any time.

Columbia Journalism Review. Click.
At 5:35 a.m. Donald Trump had tweeted: "As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?"

Trump frames the debate with his tweets.

This blog has observed that the most powerful element of political messaging is the subject matter and starting point from which a controversy is examined, not the facts and arguments that are marshaled by the parties to the argument. It is the frame that counts.

Early in the campaign Trump called Jeb Bush "low energy." This started a frame of discussion, from which there is no easy win for Jeb Bush. Just how low is his energy? Really low? Is he low compared to Trump, low in general, is his posture humble and earnest? Is it really low energy? 

Same with "Crooked Hillary." Just how crooked is she exactly? Arguments she made about the harmlessness of her speeches to Goldman Sachs, or the sources of her campaign funding, or the ridiculousness of claiming she murdered Vince Foster all just made things worse. The argument legitimized the premise of the frame, yet ignoring it would imply consent to it.  No win. The frame was the problem.

A current example is the Samantha Bee comment calling Ivanka Trump a "feckless c----".  One way to frame the argument is whether or not the C-word is any different from any other word, including "vulva," or Trump's own slang of "pussy."  Another frame would be whether Samantha Bee had used the word any more or differently than Trump himself had on multiple documented occasions. A third frame would be whether the word means something different when said by a feminist woman than by a misogynist man. 

None of those were the original breaking news discussion points.

This morning
Instead, Trump established a much more advantageous frame with his tweet calling out the alleged double standard of Bee being excused and Roseanne Barr being fired. That was a powerful, effective frame for Trump. It took attention away from him and moved it to the the comfortable ground beloved by his voters and the Trump-friendly press: outrage over liberal hypocrisy. 

He framed the debate: are liberals totally hypocritical? Then the arguments went back and forth. Yes, they are outrageously hypocritical, according to Fox News. Yes, they are a little hypocritical, but there is a difference between racism and other disparagements, according to some observers, so Barr is actually worse. No, they are not hypocritical, because Barr really is racist while Samantha Bee relentlessly promotes women empowerment, so liberals aren't hypocritical.  

It was all about hypocrisy, and as long as the subject is hypocrisy, the left loses. 

Donald Trump's tweets are far more important than the simple statement of Trump opinion. Trump's tweets shape the secondary media discussion of the topic. He sets the subject and frame.

He just tweeted about the pardon power and the very subject is a winner for Trump. It makes the pardon power a matter of controversy, with presumably two or more sides to the case. This means if and when Trump uses the pardon power to discourage potential witnesses from testifying against him, the action would not be "unprecedented and outrageous." It would be within the range of controversy where reasonable people disagree.  

Just now.
As I draft this blog post this morning there have been seven tweets in the past 2 hours, the most recent being this one saying that the Special Counsel position itself is unconstitutional, written as "UNCONSTITUTIONAL". 

We have had special counsels for decades. Surely such offices are constitutional. Doesn't it hurt Trump to assert something so clearly wrong? No. Quite the opposite. The very subject helps Trump, because he is putting into the constitutional legitimacy of the probe of Russian involvement with his campaign. Since it is a matter of controversy, his supporters are free to ignore any facts uncovered about Trump by the Mueller investigation. People can choose what to think.

If things go from bad to worse for Trump, that will be a line of defense. Republican lawmakers will not abandon Trump if his voters don't. Trump is giving his base voters a justification for denying what they may not want to see.


  1. While you credit DT with framing the debate, I blame the media for over-hyping every tweet and utterance. Our headlines should be about actions -- whether by him, the agencies under him, Congress, or (please) the rest of the world. He commands the headlines because the nonsense spewing from him keeps being front page news. Yet Americans are arguably less informed than ever about the actions of their government (or the rest of the world). It's a media problem. What he says is meaningless, especially since it's more than half dishonest or trivial. Bury that stuff on page 27.

  2. Good Comment. Thanks. Ignoring Trump is hard to do. Somehow he is the center of gravity, the bright sun that blots out every other light.

    He is the Sun King. It was 150 years before the original Sun King's progeny got their head's removed. America could be in for a long bad stretch of road.

  3. Right .. it's his distractions of what he does or not does.If we know his play book would be possible to see what he is up to. Distractions,divisions, is his plan to disrupt...Keep together ignore his mouth and DO what is right for our country and the world...We got this ...Dont give up..!!


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