Executive Time: White House aides reportedly tried to stop Trump’s Mueller indictment tirade with Fox hits

Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Welcome to Executive Time, a recurring feature in which Media Matters senior fellow Matt Gertz explores the intersection between President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed and the hours of cable news he reportedly consumes daily, with a special focus on his favorite morning program, Fox & Friends. You can follow Matt’s work on Twitter @mattgertz and see previous installments in this series here.

Days Trump appeared to live-tweet cable news since our last Executive Time update (2/2): 10 (seven editions of Fox & Friends, one edition each of Fox & Friends First, Fox & Friends Weekend, and Tucker Carlson Tonight).

Tweets since our last Executive Time update apparently resulting from live-tweeting cable news: 30 (21 from Fox & Friends, six from Fox & Friends Weekend, two from Fox & Friends First, one from Tucker Carlson Tonight).

White House aides, aghast at President Donald Trump’s angry public reaction to special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities, tried to get him back on track by booking spokesmen on his favorite Fox News programs, Time magazine’s Philip Elliott reported this week.

After trying and failing to talk the president out of incorrectly declaring that Mueller had vindicated the president’s associates of collusion, White House aides sought to “mitigate that situation.”

“Knowing the President’s fondness for Fox, the White House booked spokesmen to try to direct Trump toward a little less fanciful readings of the indictments,” Time reported.

Trump’s allies have frequently tried to influence the president through his television screen, reportedly using the strategy on issues ranging from whether Trump should agree to an interview with Mueller to how the president should respond to January’s government shutdown.

It’s certainly an understandable strategy. The president reportedly spends hours each day watching cable news, and, as I’ve documented, tweeting about what he sees in real time. He often praises or quotes Fox guests who make points that he likes.

Given that Fox host Sean Hannity and the hosts of Fox & Friends often appear to be the president’s top advisers, it’s not surprising that people on his payroll would try to compete for his attention through the same medium.

While Trump doesn’t praise White House staffers in the same way he does other Fox guests, I have documented him channeling their talking points immediately after they have appeared on Fox broadcasts he was watching. He’s done that in response to recent segments featuring:

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders:

White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short:
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway:

The aides have to be careful, however, not to make it too obvious to the president that they are going on television in an effort to influence him. After an August 2016 report indicated that his campaign aides were trying to do this, Trump reportedly lashed out at then-campaign chair Paul Manafort, shouting, “You think you've gotta go on TV to talk to me? You treat me like a baby! Am I like a baby to you? I sit there like a little baby and watch TV and you talk to me?” Trump fired Manafort soon after.

And of course, the strategy is limited because Trump has other sources of information that impact his actions beyond the cable news appearances of his aides, including other Fox guests and a host of unsavory personal friends.

While Time’s Elliott suggested that one Trump tweet on Saturday morning came in response to a Fox appearance by a White House aide, he also reported that Trump spent the rest of the day mingling with guests at his Mar-A-Lago club in Florida, calling his friends and outside advisers, and, inevitably, lashing out on Twitter at everyone from the FBI to his national security adviser to Oprah Winfrey.

There are obvious flaws in a White House internal communications strategy that involves keeping the president from disaster by trying to sway him through his television set. But as long as Trump continues to spend hours each day with his TiVo, it may be the best way for the White House staffers to get their arguments in front of him through his preferred medium. Today’s news that former Trump campaign aide Richard Gates will plead guilty and cooperate with Mueller gives them their next opportunity.

The president is live-tweeting

Here are the Trump tweets since our last update which I am reasonably confident are the result of the president directly responding to cable news programs he had been watching.

February 2. Two Fox & Friends First live tweets.

February 5. Four Fox & Friends live tweets.

February 6. Two Fox & Friends live tweets.

February 7. Two Fox & Friends live tweets.

February 10. Six Fox & Friends Weekend live tweets.

February 12. One Fox & Friends live tweet.

February 18. Two Fox & Friends live tweets.

February 20. Six Fox & Friends live tweets.

February 22. One Tucker Carlson Tonight live tweet.

February 23. Four Fox & Friends live tweets.