You have to know Trump’s not going away when his presidency ends. With his outsized ego and craving for attention, he will continue his Twitter barrage. And why not? President Trump has already sent out 55,901 tweets, according to the tracking site Factbase, he has almost 90 million Twitter followers and the media are attracted to his tweets like iron fragments drawn to a magnet.
As CQ Roll Call’s Jim Saksa said in a “Political Theater”podcast, “If people were hoping for there to be a reprieve from the craziness of the last four years, I think they might be sorely mistaken.”
But the media have a choice. They don’t have to give in to the temptation to continue salivating over every Trump tweet after he leaves office. He may stay on as the titular head of the Republican Party for a while, but he shouldn’t be able to command attention the way a president does. The media will not be obligated to report on his every utterance as though it’s of paramount interest to the nation.
(Addendum: Jan. 23, 2021 – With the end of Trump’s presidency, the issue is not just the media not paying attention to most Trump tweets. It’s discouraging President Biden and other government officials from blasting out tweets at all. As Kenneth S. Baer wrote in Washington Monthly, “Now that the @realDonaldTrump experience is over, it’s time to recognize that the President of the United States — or any government official — should not have his or her finger on the Tweet button. It’s not good for them, and it’s not good for democracy. If there is a lesson for the incoming Biden team, it’s that when it comes to 280-character missives, just say no.)
Bill Grueskin, a faculty member at the Columbia Journalism School, argues that the media needs to kick its addiction to reporting on the train wreck Trump represents. “Trump, who craves the spotlight the way a kitten craves the sunny corner of a rug, will demand to be seen and heard,” Grueskin wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review. “It will take every ounce of self-control that journalists can muster to resist his insistence on getting attention and air time.”
Yes, Trump will continue his caterwauling and will still have a large audience of acolytes after leaving office. That there are still a lot of Trump True Believers is evident from the fact that, as of Nov. 11, the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. which “you could expect… to stand all but empty on Inauguration Day, like some political version of The Shining,” was still booked solid on the days surrounding the Jan. 20 inauguration ceremony, according to the Daily Beast.
Jennifer Horn, a co-founder of the anti-trump effort, The Lincoln Project, said right after the Nov. 4 election she was worried about Trump’s malign influence when he’s out of office. “I, frankly, think that Donald Trump has the potential to be more destructive out of the White House than he was in the White House,” she said in a conversation with Anne McElvoy on “The Economist Asks.”
Trump has already formed a political action committee, Save America, as a “leadership PAC” and is soliciting contributions. There’s also speculation that he may try to start a digital media channel to rival Fox News. The Wall Street Journal reported on Nov. 15 that allies of President Trump have recently zeroed in on acquiring the fledgling pro-Trump cable channel Newsmax TV, part of a larger effort that could also include creating a subscription streaming service
“Whatever our Biden coverage comes to look like, the notion that we can all just move on from Trump now is fanciful,” Jon Allsop wrote in “The Media Today,” sent out by the Columbia Journalism Review on Nov. 9, 2020. “Trump is sure to continue to command an outsized portion of our attention. He could take a monastic vow of silence and still would own the future of the Republican Party—and he’s not going to take a monastic view of silence.”
Lawrence Douglas, a professor of law at Amherst College, has predicted that Trump will “continue to be a source of chaos and division in the nation,” as well as “a heroic figure” to tens of millions of Americans, Jane Mayer noted in a New Yorker essay.
In the face of all this, it will take sound editorial judgement and hard-headed discipline, but it is critical that media reporters and editors not allow themselves to be dragged into reporting on and amplifying what are likely to be Trump’s never-ending cascade of tweets, or, for that matter, every Facebook post, text, press release or off-the-cuff comment.
Facilitating efforts by Trump to continue to sow confusion and discord would be a disservice to all Americans, and others on the global stage as well.