Executive Time | Media Matters for America

Executive Time

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  • Trump’s Puerto Rico conspiracy theory appears to have been set off by a CNN segment

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    On CNN Thursday morning, as Hurricane Florence barrelled toward the Carolina coast, discussion turned to the White House’s response to Hurricane Maria last year -- and President Donald Trump’s praise for that effort the day before. The Category 4 storm caused catastrophic damage to Puerto Rico, crippling its power grid and resulting in an estimated 2,975 deaths, according to a recent study, but Trump had touted the federal response as “an unappreciated great job.”

    “We’ve seen two years of the president rewriting history,” anchor Alisyn Camerota noted on CNN. Citing Bob Woodward’s new book and other reports, she posited that many of Trump’s aides “don't think that the president is rooted in reality and that he's often amoral when it comes to decisions like this, like not mentioning the 3,000 victims in Puerto Rico.”

    CNN senior political analyst John Avlon agreed, contrasting the president’s sunny tweet about the administration’s success in responding to Hurricane Maria with the reality that there were “nearly 3,000 humans dead.” “And that lack of focus on that fact and the fact there hasn't been an inquest -- an official inquest -- there hasn't been a full lesson learned, is itself a scandal,” he added.

    Roughly seven minutes later, the segment appeared to draw an unhinged response from the president, who denied that 3,000 had died in Puerto Rico as a result of the hurricane, baselessly blaming the evidence to the contrary on a conspiracy by Democrats to deny him credit for an effective response.

    Trump’s furious tweets had the hallmarks of executive time, the regular phenomenon in which the idle president watches hours of cable news coverage of his presidency and responds on Twitter in near real time. Indeed, in a series of tweets earlier that morning, Trump had made clear that he was planted in front of the television. When the president’s morning tweets seem to come out of left field, the reason is almost always that he’s reacting to what he sees there.

    The president’s top aides have struggled to curtail the president’s exposure to cable news, concerned that it affects his mood and that the resulting tweets take the White House off message. As might be expected in a case where Trump is responding in real time to critical media coverage, there’s little apparent strategy or forethought on display with today’s Puerto Rico tweets. Instead, we see the convergence of two of the president’s unsettling but persistent character traits: He is incapable of ignoring perceived slights, and he is a conspiracy theorist. The CNN segment notwithstanding, the deaths of thousands in Puerto Rico has drawn shamelessly little media attention and minimal scrutiny from the Republicans who control Congress. By lashing out on Twitter, the president has now put that tragedy on the national news agenda. His comments are unhinged, baseless nonsense because that’s who he is, the birther president, the guy who goes on 9/11 truther Alex Jones’ show and praises his “amazing” reputation.

    “[H]e's got to guard against his natural impulse, which is to puff himself up while other people are in pain,” Avlon said this morning. The problem is that the president is little more than a sum of those impulses, and expecting rational, measured behavior is hoping for the impossible. Minutes later, he proved it.

  • What you need to know about the “media leak strategy,” the latest attack on the Mueller probe

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump pushed the latest effort by congressional Republicans to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation in a series of Tuesday morning tweets. His comments propelled into the mainstream conversation a speculative theory about a former FBI official’s vague texts that had been heavily promoted by the right-wing press.

    Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) sent a letter yesterday to the Justice Department alleging that FBI and DOJ officials were engaged in a “coordinated effort” to leak information about the federal investigation into Russian election interference in order to damage the Trump administration in its early days.

    Meadows says he drew this conclusion based on texts from former FBI official Peter Strzok to former Justice Department official Lisa Page, both of whom were pushed out at the culmination of an effort to discredit them by congressional Republicans, right-wing media, and the president himself.

    But there’s little reason to believe Meadows’ interpretation of the texts and every reason to doubt him: He’s the chair of the far-right, Trumpist Freedom Caucus and a key player in the congressional opposition to the Mueller probe, which has frequently involved taking Strzok’s and Page’s texts out of context to suggest the president is the victim of a nefarious plot.

    Meadows sent a letter to DOJ baselessly alleging malfeasance

    “We’ve received NEW text messages from the DOJ, once again suggesting our suspicions are true--senior officials at FBI/DOJ selectively leaked info to the media about ongoing investigations related to the Trump admin,” Meadows tweeted yesterday evening, along with an image of a letter he said he had “just sent” to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

    The Meadows letter bases this conclusion on texts from Strzok to Page in April 2017:

    Meadows puts these texts in the context of an April 11, 2017, Washington Post story which revealed that the FBI in October 2016 had obtained a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor communications of former Trump adviser Carter Page, suggesting that the Strzok and Lisa Page texts show an effort to “place derogatory information in the media to justify a continued probe.”

    Right-wing media outlets swallow Meadows’ spin

    By the time Meadows tweeted the letter, right-wing media outlets had already begun publishing credulous articles on its contents.

    Meadows’ charges set off a flurry of coverage in the conservative press, with articles amplifying his interpretation of the texts quickly popping up at FoxNews.com, Washington Examiner, The Washington Times, The Daily Caller, Townhall, and New York Post.

    Both Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity, Fox hosts with close ties to the president who have turned their shows into nightly assaults on the Mueller probe, did multiple segments on the story last night. Hannity’s audience heard the texts described as evidence of “an illicit and illegal scheme to frame Donald Trump” and an effort to “destroy the president.” On Dobbs’ show, the story was more proof Trump needs to declassify the Carter Page FISA warrants.

    The Fox coverage brought the story to the attention of the most powerful Fox fan on the planet. Beginning shortly after 7 a.m. EST, Trump sent three tweets highlighting a segment from last night’s edition Dobbs’ program about the texts (in between the first and second tweets, the president’s Twitter feed commemorated the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks).

    Trump’s tweeted quotes from one of the Dobbs segments pushed the story into the national press.

    There’s no reason to buy Meadows’ interpretation of the texts

    The president and his congressional allies, cheered on by their friends in the right-wing press, have produced a series of conspiracy theories to smear the law enforcement officials scrutinizing Trump and his associates. Page and Strzok, who played key roles in the early stages of the investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election, have been key targets of that effort. Congressional Republicans have trickled out texts that the pair sent to each other for months, presenting their comments in the worst possible light in order to undermine their credibility and, thus, the credibility of the Mueller probe.

    At times these attacks have strayed into the comically overwrought; an inside joke between the two about a “secret society” was warped into evidence of massive anti-Trump corruption.

    Meadows seems to be engaged in a similar exercise.

    His first point is a text Strzok sent Page in which he said that he wanted to “discuss media leak strategy with DOJ.” The congressman, with no evidence to support him, leaps to the conclusion that Strzok meant that he wanted to discuss how to leak details of an ongoing investigation into Trump associates to the media. The right-wing press follows along, treating Meadows’ theory as the only plausible interpretation of Strzok’s comment.

    But that’s absurd. We’re supposed to believe that Strzok is canny enough to be masterminding a conspiracy against the president, but dumb enough to conduct that conspiracy over his work phone? If Strzok and Page were literally texting each other about how to conduct leaks to the media, shouldn’t Meadows have been able to find more specific cases in which they actually did that?

    The explanation Strzok’s lawyer put out this morning seems more plausible -- they were discussing a department-wide strategy to PREVENT leaks to the press. (Indeed, a former Senate staffer has been indicted in connection with revealing Carter Page’s identity to a reporter.)

    Meadows’ second point is so speculative that he needs to lead with his own spin on the texts.

    According to the letter, Strzok sent texts “congratulat[ing] Lisa Page on a job well done while referring to two derogatory articles about Carter Page.” But in what should be an obvious tell, Meadows doesn’t provide the full texts at issue, instead chopping them up in a confusing fashion and mixing them together with his explanation of what they mean. If Meadows’ interpretation is clearly correct, he should be able to provide the actual language Strzok used.

    Is “well done, Page” a reference to Lisa Page or a sarcastic jab at Carter Page? It seems pretty clear that Meadows’ entire argument rests on it being the former, but the available context suggests it could be the latter.

    Meadows, his right-wing media allies, and the president don’t really care which interpretation is correct. They just want to dirty up the FBI in order to protect the Trump administration. This tactic may be blowing up in their face, but they’ll just move on to the next nonsensical hoax.

  • What Trump's Fox News cabinet is urging him to do right now 

    Trump's on-air advisers: Release DOJ docs, attack social media “bias,” shut down the government

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump “is increasingly relying” on a shadow cabinet of cable news hosts and commentators, particularly at Fox, to advise him, The Washington Post reported last month. Trump’s worldview is shaped by the hours of Fox coverage he watches each day, with the president often responding to segments that catch his eye in near-real-time on Twitter. And he speaks regularly with Fox hosts like Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs, seeking private counsel on the topics they discuss on their shows every night. These public and private channels of communication allow Trump’s on-screen allies to play a substantial role in making federal policy.

    Here are some of the things the president’s Fox advisers would like him to do.

    Release the FISA and Bruce Ohr documents

    Remember #ReleasetheMemo? Earlier this year, Trump’s congressional and media allies frantically hyped House intelligence committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) secretly drafted document as a silver bullet that would prove special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation was illegitimate. The FBI, they claimed, had illegally obtained warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to surveil former Trump campaign aide Carter Page by concealing the political origins of a dossier included in the evidence provided to the court. When the memo finally came to light after weeks of over-the-top buildup, the result was a calamitous flop for Nunes and his champions: The memo provided little new evidence and acknowledged that the FBI had disclosed the dossier’s origins.

    Get ready for more of the same.

    This time, Trump’s most loyal congressional and media allies are calling for Trump to declassify and release unredacted pages from the Page warrant. They're also calling for the release of documents related to Justice Department official Bruce Ohr’s purported role as a “middle man” between the DOJ, British former intelligence officer Christopher Steele (who compiled the document), and Fusion GPS, the research firm that employed both Steele and Ohr’s wife, Nellie.

    Ohr and the FISA documents were among last week’s biggest stories on the Fox programs most invested in undermining the Mueller probe. Sean Hannity and Lou Dobbs gave each story major play every day after Monday’s holiday, with their audiences hearing hysterical claims that the document releases would prove “one of the biggest scandals in America political history, the biggest abuse of power” and “exculpate the president and incriminate the people at the Department of Justice and the FBI.”

    Some of the commentary was directed at the president, who regularly tunes into these programs:

    This campaign apparently succeeded, with the president reportedly planning to declassify the documents as soon as this week.

    As with the Nunes memo, Trump’s supporters are trying to create a spectacle in order to divert media attention away from the damning results of the Mueller investigation, give his base something to shout about, confuse the public, and lay the groundwork for Trump to hamstring the probe.

    Go after biased social media platforms

    On Wednesday, the Senate intelligence committee questioned Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey about the role social media played in enabling Russian interference in the 2016 election. The hearing “was the culmination of a two-year investigation into Russian election interference by the committee and Congress’ best opportunity to publicly hold Facebook and Twitter accountable for their role in allowing Russian operatives to game their platforms to target Americans with propaganda,” as my colleague Melissa Ryan put it.

    But Trump’s media allies aren’t terribly interested in preventing Russia from helping Republicans win elections, with their focus instead on blasting the tech companies for their purported bias against conservatives.

    Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, sisters who produce Trumpist videoblogs under the stage names Diamond and Silk, are at the center of this effort. The pair have made more than two dozen appearances on Fox this year, regularly offering hyperbolic criticism of social media platforms (they have declared themselves the victims of the “new Jim Crow” and accused tech firms of “political lynching”). Their Fox platform garnered them an invitation to a congressional hearing earlier this year, an opportunity they used to push debunked claims that Facebook is censoring conservatives.

    For decades, conservatives have criticized the purported “liberal bias” of the news media, using that argument to defang negative coverage and urge journalists to provide more positive coverage of its leading lights. More recently, they’ve deployed that same strategy against social media platforms, pushing fabricated social media censorship claims in order to push for preferential treatment for themselves on those platforms.

    Trump watches his supporters making nonsensical claims of censorship on Fox and then catapults the discussion by commenting on the segments he sees.

    That cycle turns nonsensical claims of bias into federal policy. Two weeks ago, the president criticized Google after watching Diamond and Silk attack the company’s “tyranny” on Dobbs’ show. Hours later, his top economic advisor told reporters that the administration was considering new regulations on the company.

    Shut down the government for political benefit

    Trump told reporters Friday that he is willing to shut down the government because it’s a “great political issue.” That’s not new -- the president has been threatening a government shutdown for more than a month, saying it would give him leverage with Democrats to extract concessions on immigration policy. Republican congressional leaders are against this strategy. But some of the people Trump listens to the most are for it.

    Keep an eye on this story. Trump threatened to veto a spending bill in March, perhaps because he saw criticism of the legislation earlier that morning on Fox & Friends. It’s hard to imagine that he’ll complete his term without trying out the Limbaugh-Levin-Hannity strategy -- especially if Democrats take back the House.

  • With Fox feedback loop tightening, Trump lashes out on immigration

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    A screengrab from this morning's edition of Fox & Friends shows a tweet President Donald Trump sent yesterday in response to that morning's Fox & Friends broadcast.

    Fox News’ hosts triggered a hard-line turn on immigration from President Donald Trump over Easter weekend, making the case in private meetings at his Mar-A-Lago resort and egging him on with inflammatory coverage on the network’s airwaves.

    Not only does Fox’s stable of conservatives provide fawning coverage of the presidency, but Trump also looks to them for advice and to fill his administration. He is also enmeshed in a feedback loop with the network’s programming, frequently watching Fox broadcasts and tweeting along. This loop, too, can trigger major shifts in White House communications strategy and policy, causing chaos as the administration, Congress, and the press try to figure out what the live tweet du jour really means.

    On Friday night, Trump dined at Mar-A-Lago with Fox host Sean Hannity. Hannity regularly advises the president, reportedly convincing Trump to kill an incipient deal with Democrats last year to ensure legal status for the undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.

    Over the weekend, Hannity, whose show is pure pro-Trump propaganda, reportedly urged the president to take a firmer line on immigration, citing the need to preserve the GOP’s chances in this year’s midterm elections. Trump’s decision to sign an omnibus spending bill that did not include funding for the long-sought wall on the U.S.-Mexican border has drawn a fevered response from some of the president’s most loyal supporters.

    Hannity’s remarks appear to have been the first salvo in a successful weekend-long effort by the president’s supporters at Fox to get him to step up his criticism of immigration.

    The next morning, Trump appeared to respond to Hannity’s advice while taking his cues from Fox’s morning programming.

    After Fox & Friends ran multiple segments criticizing California Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to pardon five immigrants who were facing deportation, Trump slammed the “Moonbeam” governor. Trump’s tweet, sent while traveling in his motorcade from Mar-A-Lago to the Trump International Golf Club, copied language from one of the show’s graphics and tagged the network’s handle.

    Later that day, Trump reportedly met with Fox’s Jeanine Pirro, another staunch loyalist who has also advised him during his presidency. Pirro echoed Hannity’s message on the need to take a harsher stance on immigration, according to CNN. The president also dined that evening with Hannity and Bill Shine, the former Hannity producer who rose to become co-president of the network before being forced out in disgrace because of his role in the network’s culture of sexual harassment.

    On the morning of Easter Sunday, the president again live-tweeted Fox & Friends’ immigration reporting. The program devoted several segments to a BuzzFeed News report about a caravan of several hundred Central American migrants who have been traveling from Mexico’s southern border toward the U.S. southern border, with the reported intention of settling in either country.

    In one such segment, Brandon Judd, the head of the union that represents border patrol agents, criticized “catch and release” immigration policies in which immigration officials allow apprehended undocumented immigrants to remain at large if they are not considered dangerous in order to free up space in detention centers. Judd also called for the use of the “nuclear option” in the Senate to allow Republicans to pass immigration legislation without Democratic support.

    Roughly 40 minutes later, the president began sending a series of tweets that echoed Judd’s rhetoric.

    Questioned about his tweets by pool reporters as he walked into the Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea for Easter services, Trump again slammed Mexico, said that Democrats “blew it” over DACA, and baselessly claimed that “a lot of people are coming in because they want to take advantage of DACA.”

    Trump himself took the action that puts DACA recipients in jeopardy, he has been inconsistent on whether he actually wants to protect them, and there is no evidence that recent migrants are trying to “take advantage” of DACA, which applies only to people who came to the U.S. as children and have been in the country since 2007.

    Trump’s comments about Mexico, which upended the administration’s recent effort to improve its relationship with the country, drew a quick response from that government.

    The president had obviously taken the advice from Fox’s hosts to heart, and the network could not be happier.

    This morning, Fox & Friends was trumpeting the president’s statements, with the first captions of the program reading, “TRUMP: NO MORE DACA DEAL!” and “CARAVAN OF IMMIGRANTS HEADED TO U.S.”

    And within the hour, the nation’s most prominent Fox & Friends viewer kicked off a morning of live-tweeting by chiming in once more:

    Trump was tweeting about a Fox & Friends segment about Trump tweeting about a Fox & Friends segment. The feedback loop is tighter than ever.

  • Executive Time: Are we about to have a Fox News shutdown?

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    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.

    UPDATE: After several hours of panicked uncertainty, Trump signed the omnibus bill.


    The omnibus spending bill was supposed to be a done deal. The legislation, which provides $1.3 trillion in spending, passed both the Senate and the House of Representatives by wide, bipartisan margins. Three different senior administration officials had assured reporters over the past two days that President Donald Trump supported the bill and would sign it. Fears of the third federal shutdown this year, which would begin at midnight tonight without new funding legislation, abated.   

    And then this morning, just before 9 a.m. ET, the president tweeted that he was having second thoughts:

    It’s hard to say what spurred his tweet. But earlier this morning on Fox & Friends, co-host Pete Hegseth savaged the legislation in similar terms:

    Trump watches Fox & Friends regularly and has sought out Hegseth -- reportedly a top contender to join his cabinet -- for advice. This might be a case of the Trump-Fox feedback loop in action, with the network’s personalities effectively changing White House policy by influencing the president through the television. The president "obviously turned on Fox News this morning, saw people criticizing the deal, and got mad," a White House official told Politico

    Hegseth isn’t the only Fox Trump supporter to savage the omnibus. Last night, Tucker Carlson claimed that it “reads like something the Democratic leadership put together” and slammed its immigration provisions, particularly the lack of border wall funding. Laura Ingraham likewise savaged it as a “boondoggle” and a “rotten piece of fish” that violated Trump’s wall promise, adding that it was “an embarrassment to the president” and “not what the American people voted for.” (Sean Hannity, a sometime Trump adviser, has claimed that he has “some insight” that makes the bill acceptable.) Both before and after Trump's tweet, other Fox personalities have also encouraged Trump to veto the bill.

    If it sounds absurd that the president might shut down the government based on a Fox segment, recall that in January, Trump appeared to withdraw his support for major surveillance legislation on Twitter after watching a Fox contributor turn to the camera and say, “Mr. President, this is not the way to go.”

    While the president walked back his tweet and signed the surveillance bill, some reporting indicates that the president is serious about the omnibus, with a White House source telling Politico there is an "extremely high" chance of a shutdown.

    As the president becomes more comfortable in his role, he has also become more combative, pushing out staff who try to rein him in and demanding that his preferences -- like the tariffs his top economics staffers opposed -- become policy. As of yet, there’s no sign that Trump intends to turn back. Which means we could be headed for federal government shutdown triggered by the president’s favorite cable news channel.

  • Trump was live-tweeting Fox News when he went after Steph Curry

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The Golden State Warriors will visit Washington, D.C., this week for the first time since they won the 2017 NBA championship last June. But they won't be making the traditional visit to the White House after President Donald Trump revoked the team's invitation in September. At the time, Trump was responding to a Fox News report about star player Stephen Curry’s criticism of him, according to a Media Matters review of Trump’s Twitter feed and the network’s programming.

    After the Warriors’ victory, there was speculation that the team, whose coach and players frequently use their platforms to discuss social justice issues, might skip the traditional meeting with the president. On September 22, during the team’s annual media day before the start of the 2017-18 NBA season, Curry told reporters that he didn't think the team should visit the White House in light of the president’s coddling of white supremacists during the protests in Charlottesville, VA, the previous month.

    The NBA star said that refusing to meet with the president would send a message that the Warriors reject “the things that he’s said and the things that he hasn’t said in the right times -- that we won’t stand for it.” Curry added, “And by acting and not going, hopefully that will inspire some change when it comes to what we tolerate in this country and what is accepted and what we turn a blind eye to.”

    According to the team’s general manager, at that point no decision had been made about whether the Warriors would visit the White House. But the next day, Trump made the decision for them.

    “Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team,” the president tweeted at 8:45 a.m. EST on September 23. “Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!”

    Trump’s tweet came roughly 20 minutes after Fox’s Saturday morning program, Fox & Friends Weekend, aired a headline segment about Curry’s reluctance to visit the White House.

    “The Golden State Warriors are preparing to defend their NBA title, but it still remains unclear if they’ll celebrate their championship at the White House,” co-host Griff Jenkins reported. “Star Steph Curry is now making it clear he doesn’t want to go.”

    The network then aired a video clip of Curry saying, “We have an opportunity to send a statement that hopefully encourages unity, encourages us to just appreciate what it means to be American and stand for something.” The segment featured the caption “Curry Wants To Skip White House Visit.”

    The president’s tweet about Curry followed a series of tweets he posted about the defeat of health care legislation in the Senate that track with the network’s programming that morning. The president frequently watches Fox’s programming, especially Fox & Friends and its weekend edition, and tweets reactions to what he sees.

    The White House subsequently blamed Curry, with legislative affairs director Marc Short saying that “he’s the one that injected politics into the invitation,” while the Warriors said in a statement they were “disappointed that we did not have an opportunity during this process to share our views or have open dialogue on issues impacting our communities that we felt would be important to raise.”

    Trump’s tweet drew a furious response from Curry’s fellow NBA players.

    LeBron James, who has won the NBA Most Valuable Player award four times, called the president a “bum” in a tweet that was retweeted more than 650,000 times.

    The Washington Wizards’ Bradley Beal said the president was “a clown” who should be focused on issues like “Puerto Rico doesn't have water and power.”

    Trump’s criticism of Curry drew special attention because it came the day after the president first lashed out at NFL players who kneel during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality. Trump demanded that the NFL team owners fire protesting players, creating a firestorm, with more players protesting in response.

    Observers noted that Trump’s attacks on Curry fit a pattern of the president picking fights with black athletes and constantly engaging in divisive commentary.

    “Never in modern times has an occupant of the Oval Office seemed to reject so thoroughly the nostrum that a president’s duty is to bring the country together,” The New York Times' Peter Baker wrote that weekend. “Relentlessly pugnacious, energized by a fight, unwilling to let any slight go unanswered, Mr. Trump has made himself America’s apostle of anger, its deacon of divisiveness.”

    But while the president’s feud with the NFL lasted for months, he has not mentioned Curry on Twitter since his initial comment. 

    This, too, may partly be because of Fox’s programming.

    Fox News fueled Trump’s NFL fight, with the president frequently re-engaging in the battle on Twitter immediately after seeing one of the network’s regular segments about NFL protests over the following weeks and months.

    By contrast, Fox’s coverage of the Curry dispute basically dried up after the first 24 hours, according to Media Matters searches of the Nexis and iQ media databases. This lack of ongoing programming about the feud prevented the feedback loop effect with the president that we saw during his NFL conflict.

    For his part, Curry has no regrets about the president revoking the team’s invitation. "If you're not going to celebrate the collective and the majority of Americans that are living in this country and that watch us play, and the fact that sports rallies all these different types of people, these different types of background together to celebrate the game ... I didn't want to go,” he told CNN’s Van Jones on Saturday.

    With their White House invitation withdrawn, the Warriors plan to instead “go on a private tour of an undisclosed locale” where “local kids would join them,” ESPN reported Thursday.

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

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    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.

  • Executive Time Super Bowl Edition: How the Trump-Fox feedback loop kept his NFL feud alive

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    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 (1/18): Six (two editions of Fox & Friends, three editions of Fox & Friends Weekend, one edition of Fox & Friends First).

    Tweets since our last Executive Time update apparently resulting from live-tweeting cable news: 16 (nine from Fox & Friends, six from Fox & Friends Weekend, one from Fox & Friends First).


    At the State of the Union Tuesday night, President Donald Trump took a thinly-veiled shot at largely African-American NFL players who have protested racial inequality and police brutality by kneeling during the pre-game national anthem over the course of the football season. This Sunday night, tens of millions of Americans who tune in to watch Super Bowl LII will find out if any of the New England Patriots or the Philadelphia Eagles respond by protesting before the game begins.

    Trump lashed out at protesting football players at a September 22 rally for Alabama Republican Senate candidate Luther Strange, urging fans to “leave the stadium” if players knelt during the anthem and calling on NFL owners to fire players who did so. Those remarks created a firestorm that consumed the press for several days, as the president furiously defended his racial demagoguery and more NFL players protested during the anthem in response.

    Over the ensuing months, Trump has continued a running war against the NFL which he largely conducts through early-morning tweets attacking the players for protesting and the league for not forcing them to stand. Based on my research, the timing and method of the president’s criticisms are not a coincidence.

    The engine of Trump’s ongoing attacks on the NFL is Fox & Friends, his favorite morning show. The president frequently begins his day by live-tweeting that program (often on a tape delay), highlighting its praise for his administration and its slashing criticism of his foes. Reviewing the president’s tweets on the protests, I’ve determined that at least 13 of them on nine separate days appear to be the result of Trump responding to Fox’s coverage.

    All three networks devoted a great deal of programming to the protests after Trump’s September 22 comments. But Fox gave significantly more coverage to anthem protests than the other cable news networks, continued to provide regular updates long after the first few days, and generally struck a harshly critical tone in keeping with its virulent response to other protest movements by African-Americans, such as Black Lives Matter.

    This created a feedback loop between Fox and Trump: By continuing to provide updates on the state of the protest, the network reminded Trump of his feud with the league and triggered his quick response. Trump’s Fox live-tweets about the NFL often drove additional coverage from other outlets, as puzzled journalists struggled to determine why the president was reigniting a dormant fight.

    For this piece, I reviewed Trump’s tweets about the national anthem since his initial comments in Alabama. It quickly became apparent that his tweets over the first few days after his rally speech would be impossible to match to any discrete cause -- they were too many, and the news coverage across all outlets too regular to draw such conclusions.

    But beginning with the president’s tweets on September 25 and continuing to as recently as November 28, I found more than a dozen Trump tweets that I believe can be ascribed to him live-tweeting Fox. These tweets were all sent between the hours of 5 a.m. and 9 a.m., came within an hour of a Fox segment on the issue, were often part of a string of tweets that all match Fox programming, and frequently included language or details that seem ripped directly from the network’s coverage.

    September 25

    Beginning at 6:05 a.m. ET, Fox & Friends aired a segment about how the day before, in Steve Doocy’s words, “More than 200 players took a knee in the largest protest since Colin Kaepernick started the practice a year ago.” The hosts criticized the players for protesting, as Brian Kilmeade put it, “during the national anthem, not just for the military -- for the country.” Later in the segment, Kilmeade said, “What’s interesting is, NASCAR has a different approach. Richard Petty and Richard Childress essentially said if any of my people do not go out and stand for the national anthem, they won’t be on my team anymore.” Kilmeade also reported that NFL fans at games in New England and Buffalo had booed the players. Captions during the segment included “President: It’s About Respect, Not Race,” and “NFL Fans Cry Foul.”

    Roughly 14 minutes after the segment ended, Trump sent the first of three tweets about the protests, which track closely with Fox’s coverage:

    September 26

    The hosts opened the show by discussing how the Dallas Cowboys and the team’s evil, soulless owner, Jerry Jones, had locked arms and taken a knee together before the national anthem played at the game the previous night, but stood during its performance. They played a clip from the game of an announcer saying that “boos can be heard from this sell-out crowd” as the players knelt. Kilmeade quibbled with a report that said that there was a “smattering of boos” during the protest, commenting, “that is loud.” Doocy agreed that there was “a lot of booing from the Dallas Cowboy and the Cardinals fans when they took the knee,” but “a gigantic cheer when the national anthem was played and the flag came.”

    The hosts went on to praise the Cowboys for standing up during the anthem, with Kilmeade saying they did “a better job of getting their message out” because it “takes patriotism out of it.” Later in the segment, they reported that the NFL’s ratings had fallen, attributing that to fan anger over the protests. But according to Doocy, “The pregame [ratings] this past weekend were really high because so many people, after the president’s comments, wanted to see whether anybody was going to stand or sit or take a knee.”

    The segment ended at 6:10 a.m. Eighteen minutes later, the president started tweeting about the Cowboys game, with his comments again tracking closely with Fox’s coverage:

    October 9

    On October 8, Vice President Mike Pence walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game in an obvious political stunt when several players took a knee during the national anthem. The next morning, former Pence press secretary Marc Lotter appeared on Fox & Friends to praise the vice president. Lotter criticized the players, saying they “disrespect the flag, disrespect the national anthem and those who defend it.” He pushed back against the notion that Pence’s appearance was a stunt, calling the trip to the game “long-planned.”

    The segment ended at 6:40 a.m. Twenty-five minutes later, the president tweeted:

    October 10

    Discussing former NFL coach Mike Ditka’s criticism of players who protest during the anthem, co-host Ainsley Earhardt urged the players, “If you have a problem with the country, protest, do whatever you want -- do it peacefully. You can take a knee, just don’t do it during the national anthem, too many people have died for this country."

    Moments later, Trump tweeted:

    That was one of five consecutive Trump tweets that I previously matched to Fox & Friends segments from that morning, one of which featured Trump praising an author’s book on Twitter roughly 45 minutes after the author appeared on the network and praised the president.

    October 11

    Fox & Friends ran multiple segments during the 6 a.m. hour highlighting a letter NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent teams in which he said that “we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem.”

    Fox was the only cable news outlet to cover the story during that hour before Trump appeared to respond to the program on Twitter:

    Fox also ran several segments that hour discussing the president’s tax cut plan, which was consistent with two other tweets the president sent that morning.

    October 18

    At 6:25 a.m., Fox & Friends ran a segment criticizing the NFL for deciding not to force the players to stand during the national anthem or punish players who kneel. The co-hosts and contributor Tomi Lahren condemned the NFL’s decision, with Lahren calling Goodell “spineless” and saying that football fans will revolt because “we love our country.”

    About half an hour later, Trump tweeted:

    This was one of four tweets that morning that match Fox & Friends programming.

    November 20

    Early in the broadcast, the Fox & Friends hosts criticized Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch for sitting during the U.S. national anthem and standing for the Mexican anthem during a game that weekend in Mexico City. Kilmeade called the story an “international embarrassment” and said the players union needs to “crack down because it’s hurting the league. Nine percent, the attendance is down. Ratings are down.”

    No other network covered Lynch’s protest that hour. Less than twenty minutes after the segment ended, Trump tweeted:

    Later that hour, Trump tweeted about a different Fox & Friends segment, tagging the program and Fox Business host Stuart Varney in the tweet.

    November 22

    During the 5 a.m. hour of Fox & Friends First, co-host Rob Schmitt reported a “possible game-changer to the NFL anthem policy: the league owners have a new proposal to keep the players in the locker room.” Co-host Jillian Mele responded, “Is that really the solution? Social media says not so much” and termed the idea “a Band-Aid.” Fox’s Carley Shimkus then said the proposal “could cause more controversy for the NFL,” reiterating that owners are considering “keeping teams in the locker room during the national anthem next season” and airing a series of tweets from critical fans.

    Roughly half an hour later, Trump tweeted:

    November 28

    During the 7 a.m. hour, Earhardt reported that “the NFL continues to struggle as protest against the anthem rages on. 23 players choosing to protest the performance during Sunday’s game.” Kilmeade linked the protests to weak attendance and ratings at games. The program then hosted “The Daily Rants Guy” Graham Allen and comedian and blogger Chad Prather to criticize the players and the league.

    About 20 minutes after the segment, Trump tweeted:

    This was one of two apparent Trump live-tweets that morning.

    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.

    January 18. Six Fox & Friends live-tweets.

    January 20. Four Fox & Friends Weekend live-tweets.
    January 23. Three Fox & Friends live-tweets.
    January 27. One Fox & Friends Weekend live-tweet.

    January 28. One Fox & Friends Weekend live-tweet.

    February 1. One Fox & Friends First live-tweet.

    Shelby Jamerson contributed research.
  • Executive Time: How Trump's Fox habit upends bipartisan negotiations

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    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 (1/11): Four (three editions of Fox & Friends, one edition of Fox & Friends Weekend).

    Tweets since our last Executive Time update apparently resulting from live-tweeting cable news: 14 (11 from Fox & Friends, three from the Sunday edition of Fox & Friends Weekend).


    Republicans are slouching toward a government shutdown, unable to muster enough support within their House and Senate majorities to keep the government open and unwilling to compromise with Democrats who won’t surrender their votes if the spending bill doesn’t renew the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that the president terminated last year.

    This would be a tough position requiring delicate action for a competent leader, and we don’t have one. President Donald Trump was reportedly on board with a bipartisan immigration deal last week that would have kept the government open, only to reverse course later the same day in a meeting with legislators in which he made racist comments. Ever since, he has been using his Twitter feed to pre-emptively blame Democrats for any shutdown and lie about what will happen if the government isn’t funded.

    By this morning, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a Republican senator who had spent months demeaning himself to cultivate the president in hopes of getting him to support bipartisan immigration reform, had had enough: “We don’t have a reliable partner at the White House to negotiate with,” he told The Washington Post.

    Trump’s racism, ignorance, and unwillingness to compromise -- all fundamental parts of his makeup -- are at the heart of the dispute. But the president’s constant wallowing in the arguments and rhetoric of Fox News are certainly not helping the effort.

    The hosts and guests of Fox & Friends -- the president’s favorite program, which he frequently begins his mornings by live-tweeting -- have been slamming any potential budget deal that includes relief for DACA recipients. On Tuesday, co-host Steve Doocy said that the bipartisan immigration deal was a bad deal for Trump because it gives Democrats “everything they want.”

    Other figures on the show have claimed there’s no need for urgency around DACA, suggesting that a recent judicial ruling means recipients will be protected into the summer.

    Trump stalwarts like Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Jeanine Pirro have also used their shows to undermine any immigration deal that doesn’t involve Trump getting everything he wants.

    The commentary serves to reinforce the president’s general unwillingness to compromise, and he is obviously getting the message, at times appearing to live-tweet Fox segments this week that criticize the immigration deal.

    This wouldn’t be the first time Fox’s on-air talent has thrown legislative efforts into chaos during the Trump presidency. Trump reportedly called House Speaker Paul Ryan and threatened to veto a previous omnibus spending bill after seeing a Fox & Friends segment “questioning the spending bill and calling it wasteful.” A deal between Trump and congressional Democratic leaders to protect the Dreamers reportedly fell apart last year after Hannity weighed in. And just last week, House passage of surveillance legislation was jeopardized after the president live-tweeted a Fox & Friends segment criticizing the bill.

    While Trump’s avid viewership has made the Fox-GOP feedback loop much tighter, the network has long played a role in styming bipartisan legislative efforts by attacking them from the right. In 2010, Graham warned senators he was working with on bipartisan climate change legislation that they needed to get as close to a deal as they could “before Fox News got wind of the fact that this was a serious process," saying that he would not be able to stand the countervailing pressure the conservative network could create among the viewers in his state.

    Seven years later, the president of the United States is one of the network’s most fervent viewers, seeming to put bipartisan deals utterly out of reach.   

    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.

    January 12. Six Fox & Friends tweets.

    January 14. Three Fox & Friends Weekend live-tweets.

    January 16. Four Fox & Friends live-tweets.

    January 17. One Fox & Friends live-tweet.
  • Executive Time: Hail to the live-tweeter in chief

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    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 this week Trump appeared to live-tweet cable news: Five (three from Fox & Friends, one from Fox & Friends Saturday, one Fox’s America’s Newsroom.)

    Tweets this week apparently resulting from live-tweeting cable news: 11 (six from Fox & Friends, two from Fox & Friends Saturday, three from Fox’s America’s Newsroom.)


    It’s almost a year into Donald Trump’s presidency, and to celebrate, Axios reporter Jonathan Swan gave us a gift that perfectly sums up this administration: the news that White House staff refer to the lengthy blocks on the president’s private schedule when he is quite literally left to his own devices as “Executive Time.”

    Those blocks “almost always means TV and Twitter time alone in the residence,” per Swan’s sources, and the president has been demanding them more frequently as he heads into his second year in office.

    The president’s twin obsessions of Twitter and television are deeply entwined. In fact, I’ve concluded that the best explanation for the president’s Twitter feed is often that Trump is “live-tweeting Fox, particularly the network’s Trump-loving morning show, Fox & Friends,” as I wrote last week in Politico Magazine. I’ve been chronicling that pattern on Twitter for months, starting my mornings by carefully tracking the president’s truculent tweets back to the Fox programming he is echoing. This presidential live-tweeting has occurred even more frequently in recent days.

    The president’s private schedule for January 2, Swan reports, shows that Trump’s first meeting was at 11 a.m., that he had two and a half hours of “Executive Time” throughout the day, and that his “official day” ended at 4:15 p.m. Here’s what else the president did that day, as cogently described by Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale:

    Trump appears to often use the early-morning “Executive Time” to watch Fox & Friends, where co-hosts Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, and Brian Kilmeade provide the president with soothing bromides about his successes, helpful explanations for his failures, vicious attacks on his political and media foes, and seething culture war jeremiads that stir up his base. The hosts and guests know that the president may be watching, and openly use the program to try to influence his decisions.

    We saw presidential live-tweeting scramble the policy-making process just this morning. Fox & Friends was covering a House vote scheduled for today to renew a portion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act -- a move supported by the White House. During the segment, Fox senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano commented, “I don’t understand why Donald Trump is in favor of this. His woes began with unlawful foreign surveillance and unconstitutional domestic surveillance of him before he was the president of the United States.” He then turned to the camera and said, “Mr. President, this is not the way to go.” Doocy added, "Our lead story today was about how apparently that dirty dossier filled with stuff that was just made up apparently was used in part to get a FISA warrant to spy on President Trump."

    Roughly 45 minutes later, the president, who had been live-tweeting the program all morning, tweeted that FISA was “the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?” With a few words on the president’s favorite show, a Fox analyst created chaos, with a House Republican source telling NBC that the tweet “is an issue” and the president being forced to send another tweet trying to walk back his first one. Meanwhile, Swan reported, "Top Hill sources are trying to figure out who 'got to' Trump to influence him to write the first tweet."

    The problems of this Fox-Trump feedback loop are legion. The president's views are molded by right-wing misinformation, as he relies on a pack of bigoted morons to explain the world rather than the vast expertise of the federal government. His live-tweets upend the news cycle, thrusting the network’s obsessions into the mainstream and turning conservative pseudoscandals into national news. As journalists shuffle their priorities to respond to the president’s tweets from in front of his television, important news stories are crowded out. And of course, it’s deeply unnerving that the leader of the most powerful nation on earth is spending hours each day watching television.

    None of this is likely to change in the near future --  since Politico published my piece early Friday morning, Trump has sent 11 tweets on five different days that I was able to link to Fox’s programming.

    And so, I’ll be covering this intersection of the president’s tweets and the cable news he watches, with a special focus on his favorite program Fox & Friends, for a regular feature we’re calling “Executive Time.”

    The president is live-tweeting

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

    January 5. One Fox & Friends live-tweet.

    January 6. Two Fox & Friends Saturday live-tweets.

    January 8. One Fox & Friends live-tweet.

    January 10. Three America's Newsroom live-tweets.

    January 11. Four Fox & Friends live-tweets.

    Fire and fury

    While the president takes his cues from Fox & Friends, he regularly lashes out at outlets producing journalism critical of his presidency.

    Propaganda watch

    Other highlights from Fox & Friends, the president’s favorite morning cable news program.

    President’s Daily Brief

    The people Trump turns to for news are not the best and the brightest.

  • Trump’s Fox live-tweets are a problem for the press

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    As Media Matters readers know, for the last few months I’ve typically started my day by comparing any tweets President Donald Trump has sent that morning with the corresponding programming on his favorite cable news program, Fox & Friends, searching for cases where he appears to be live-tweeting the broadcast.

    I wrote about that effort for a piece in Politico Magazine:

    It’s no secret, of course, that the president likes to tweet about what he sees on TV. Thanks to diligent reporting from the White House beat, we know Trump often watches several hours of cable news each day via the “Super TiVo” he had installed at the White House. And journalists at CNN, the Washington Post, New York magazine, among others, have compiled lists of Trump tweets they believe were inspired by Fox.

    But here’s what is shocking: After comparing the president’s tweets to Fox coverage every day since October, I can tell you that the Fox-Trump feedback loop is happening far more often than you think. There is no strategy to Trump’s Twitter feed; he is not trying to distract the media. He is being distracted. He darts with quark-like speed from topic to topic in his tweets because that’s how cable news works.

    I want to tease out one of the points I made in that piece. While I believe the president is not engaged in a deliberate strategy to distract the media, his Fox live-tweets do have the effect of shuffling the news cycle.

    Presidential statements are intrinsically newsworthy, so recent White Houses have carefully controlled communications from the president. They are doled out methodically in order to try to keep reporters focused on the issues and policies the administration is trying to promote. That’s because presidential comments can have big effects. When President Barack Obama commented during a 2009 press conference that police officers “acted stupidly” in arresting an African-American professor on his own doorstep, for example, those offhand remarks consumed the news cycle for weeks, at a time when the White House would likely have preferred to focus on health care and banking reform legislation.

    That deliberate calibration is not how the Trump White House operates. When Trump kicks off the morning by tweeting about what he’s seeing on Fox & Friends, over the course of a few hours he can make newsworthy statements on a wide variety of topics. And in response, journalists tear up their plans for the day and instead produce cable news segments responding to his comments, news articles debunking his falsehoods, and so on.

    This effect has led some to believe that the president is doing this deliberately, responding to damaging news by diverting the media’s attention. I don’t think that’s right. The simplest explanation is that this is a president who does the things that he likes to do -- like golfing, visiting his properties, speaking at rallies, publicly signing documents, being in the presence of sycophants -- while avoiding the things he doesn’t like to do -- like reading briefing materials, doing TV interviews with real journalists, and speaking with experts about issues. The president enjoys watching pro-Trump television shows and tweeting about what he sees, and he has no sense of self-restraint, so he does it.

    This cycle has significant downsides for the public. Because Trump is regularly publicly commenting on Fox’s obsessions, the rest of the press ends up chasing them as well, even when they are ludicrous pseudoscandals like Uranium One. Meanwhile, crucial policy issues, like how the Republican Congress’ failure to reauthorize health care legislation is putting millions of children at risk, or the ongoing crisis in Puerto Rico, or the Trump’s administration’s dangerous environmental regulatory rollbacks, or the repeal of net neutrality, get crowded out.

    I don’t have a solution; Trump’s tweets are news, and it’s impossible to argue that the press shouldn’t report on Trump calling for the imprisonment of a Hillary Clinton aide just because he’s responding to something he saw on Fox. But Trump’s ability to change the conversation by sitting in front of the television with his phone is going to remain a problem for the media’s efforts to inform the public.

  • The president spent his holiday tweeting at the television

    Trump livetweeted Fox on eight of the 11 days of his Florida trip 

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump left the White House December 22 for an extended holiday vacation at Mar-a-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach, Florida. Along with daily games of golf at Trump International Golf Club and an appearance at Mar-a-Lago’s ethically dubious New Year’s Eve party, the president found time to regularly engage in one of his favorite pastimes: watching Fox News programming and tweeting about it.

    I traced 12 of Trump’s tweets from December 22 through his January 1 return to the capital to Fox segments Trump appeared to be watching at the time. Trump live-tweeted various Fox programs on eight of the 11 days he spent on vacation. He even seems to have tweeted based on a segment he watched on Air Force One en route to Florida.

    With some of these tweets, the president simply continued his ongoing feuds with the media and the FBI. But others could have real ramifications for U.S. foreign policy and domestic politics. In response to Fox’s programming, Trump tweeted about protests in Iran, issued an ultimatum to Democrats over immigration policy, attacked China over its handling of North Korea, and endorsed a Republican congressman for governor of Florida.

    Trump loves Fox & Friends, the network’s morning show, often holding up the program’s shockingly sycophantic anchors as a model that other, more critical journalists should emulate.

    The day before he left for Florida, Trump praised the program’s anchors for being named the “most influential media figures” by Mediaite. The anchors received that designation because of Trump, who watched the program obsessively, frequently tweeting about what he saw.

    And indeed, Trump tweeted based on Fox & Friends and its weekend editions on December 22, December 24, December 26, December 28, December 29, and December 31.

    Here are the Trump tweets and the associated Fox segments:

    December 22

    December 23

    December 24

    December 25

    December 26

    December 27

    December 28

    December 29

    December 30

    December  31

    January 1


    After returning to Washington, D.C., yesterday, the president seems to have spent much of the morning live-tweeting Fox & Friends and Fox’s America’s Newsroom:

  • I never thought Fox & Friends might actually kill me, but here we are

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump is a conspiracy theorist with a hair-trigger personality, he prefers to take advice from what he sees on his TV screen over experts, and he has immense unilateral authority over the most powerful military in history. On any given day, the president of the United States could trigger historic death and destruction based on what he sees on his favorite morning cable news show, Fox & Friends.

    Every morning as I walk out of my apartment, I check my phone to see if President Trump has tweeted. If he has not, I enjoy a leisurely 45-minute stroll through downtown Washington, D.C., walking toward the sunrise to the Media Matters office. If he has, I rush in as quickly as possible, hurtling through the city to get to my computer so I can try to plot the presidential tweets against the day’s edition of Fox News’ morning show. The president’s affinity for the program and its insipid co-hosts, Steve Doocy, Ainsley Earhardt, and Brian Kilmeade, is well-known, their tendency to use the program to speak directly to the most powerful man in the world well-documented. An unnerving percentage of the time, I find that Trump’s early-morning tweets are the result of him responding to things he’s seen on that program, either in real time or on a tape delay.

    The president's increasingly unsettling behavior places the show in a position of frightening influence.

    Yesterday, The New York Times and The Washington Post published stories detailing Trump’s apparent detachment from reality. Per these reports, the president has been floating wild conspiracy theories in private conversations with White House aides and others, asserting that the Access Hollywood video in which he bragged about sexually assaulting women -- for which he apologized last year -- was faked, raising questions about former President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, and claiming that massive voter fraud in the 2016 election prevented him from winning the popular vote. While the president’s tendency to publicly spout such conspiracy theories is well-documented, there was always the possibility that he did so deliberately, to achieve some political end. These reports strongly imply that he really believes the absurd claims.

    This morning, as if in an effort to confirm the validity of the Times and Post stories, Trump -- after apparently tweeting along to a few segments from Fox & Friends -- invoked the baseless conspiracy theory that MSNBC host Joe Scarborough may have murdered one of his staffers in 2001 when he was a congressman.

    So Trump is a conspiracy theorist who seems to really believe anything that, in the words of the Post, helps “paint the rosiest possible picture of his presidency and his character.” He’s also incredibly suggestible, with a tendency to echo the position of the most recent person with whom he has spoken. And he lashes out at anyone he perceives to be disrespecting him.

    It is that combination of ignorance and recklessness that led 10 former nuclear launch control officers to issue a public letter warning voters not to allow him to become the commander in chief. “He should not be entrusted with the nuclear launch codes,” they wrote last October. “He should not have his finger on the button.” But now he does.

    That brings us to yesterday’s news that North Korea had test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile that it claims could deliver nuclear warheads throughout the continental United States. There remain several technical hurdles that North Korea may not have overcome, and substantial reasons to doubt its statement. But even under the best of circumstances, the increasing nuclearization of a pariah state in one of the most militarized spots on the planet would be a reason for increasing alarm. It’s easy to see how the situation could tip into disaster even if we had a smart, functioning president taking advice from experts.

    We don’t. We have a president with no self-restraint and the focus of a gerbil who takes advice from cable news hosts who once tried to roast marshmallows with their bare hands on national television.

    The good news (I guess?) is that based on his tweets, Trump seemed more interested in pivoting off Fox & Friends’ coverage to attack CNN and NBC than he was in the show's segments on North Korea. And to be fair, that North Korea coverage focused on using missile defense technology to shoot down an ICBM, rather than on, say, a pre-emptive strike on North Korea’s missile site, the sort of thing which could lead to a catastrophic regional war and millions of deaths.

    But in August, the last time the Korean peninsula became a topic of regular discussion, the program wavered back and forth between warning of the potential dangers of making the situation worse and praising the president’s bellicose rhetoric that experts were saying could send the situation spiraling out of control. And since then, the circumstances have only grown more fraught.

    Depending on the hosts, guests, and producers of a right-wing gabfest not to send the president cascading into a nuclear crisis is no way to live. And yet, we do. So tomorrow morning, I’ll step out of my apartment, check my phone, and see what kind of day it’s going to be.

    Hopefully.