The Media Today

As Trump gears for reelection, @WhiteHouse account attacks the press

March 20, 2019

Last Thursday, the official White House Twitter account shared a short, slick video attacking The Washington Post. The video played on a supposed contradiction between two recent headlines in the paper—one, written by the editorial board, called out Donald Trump’s “make-believe” immigration crisis; the other, written by Nick Miroff, a news reporter at the paper, highlighted record levels of family migration. The video made no sense whatsoever: news and opinion content are kept separate, and besides, the headlines were perfectly compatible. Instead, the exercise had the look and feel of propaganda: “Thanks for fact checking yourself,” its final slide told the Post. An official government platform had picked up a disingenuous right-wing talking point, smoothed it out using video software, and distributed it to the public.

Day in, day out, the @WhiteHouse Twitter account shills for Trump, coordinating messages that cast his presidency in a positive light. This, in itself, is not unusual—the account, after all, is controlled by Trump’s White House. But @WhiteHouse, which has over 18 million followers, doesn’t just share policy accomplishments and favorable statistics: it aims snarky put-downs at Trump’s critics and the news media, and retweets some of the president’s most concerning anti-press attacks. While journalists obsess over the @realDonaldTrump account’s every missive, @WhiteHouse goes mostly under the radar.

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Almost from the outset, the Trump presidency has blurred the lines between official government functions, the president’s bombastic persona, and his impending reelection effort. Earlier this month, Politico’s Gabby Orr reported that Trump’s advisers see his incumbency as his greatest advantage as the 2020 campaign heats up: “Trump’s Republican allies and campaign officials believe an early reelection strategy built around his role as chief executive in dignified settings like the Oval Office and the Rose Garden will carry more weight with voters than his signature freewheeling arena speeches,” she wrote.

While jockeying on the Democratic side has consumed more media attention, Trump’s reelection campaign has been gearing up. (It recently added Bill Shine as a senior adviser after he moved him on from Trump’s White House operation though it’s not yet clear how far Shine’s influence will extend; the Times suggested, when the move was announced, that it was a “way to save face.”) Gone, it seems, is the slipshod, improvised effort of 2016, replaced by a slick operation flush with cash and voter data. According to data aggregated by Bully Pulpit Interactive, Trump has already spent nearly twice as much on Facebook and Google ads as every Democratic candidate combined. Yesterday, Brad Parscale, the campaign manager, granted CNN’s Dana Bash a rare look inside. “We have the incumbency,” he said. “We know where we’re going.”

Attacks on the press are a campaign staple for Trump. That heated rhetoric has found concrete form in the actions of his administration: the revocation of Jim Acosta’s hard pass; Justice Department leak investigations; the State Department’s decision, this week, to limit a press call to “faith-based media only”; the list goes on. Knowing this—and knowing that Trump plans to use the formalities of his office to help him win reelection—the media should, if anything, be extra-vigilant about anti-media sentiment coming through official channels. Yet @WhiteHouse’s anti-Post video, for example, seemed to bypass wide public attention. As usual, @realDonaldTrump makes all the noise.

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Below, more on Trump, the White House, and the campaign:

  • Trump and Bolsonaro: Yesterday, Trump welcomed Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s demagogic far-right president to the White House. During a press conference, Bolsonaro referenced “fake news”; Trump said he was “proud” to hear his counterpart use the term. The setting? The Rose Garden.
  • Mixed messages: Not all Trump advisers, it would seem, are on board with the incumbency strategy. “Inside Trump’s 2020 campaign, two factions are emerging,” The Atlantic’s Peter Nicholas writes. “One wants Trump to act ‘presidential’ and deploy the formal trappings of the White House to his advantage. The other camp wants Trump to reprise the unscripted approach he used to secure his 2016 election victory. That’s the political persona Trump intuitively embraces—and it’s the one voters are most likely to see going into the next election.”
  • The Midwest: As his 2020 effort intensifies, Trump is focusing on the Midwestern states that helped him to the White House in 2016. Today, he’ll travel to Ohio for the first time since last year’s midterms. Campaign aides told Reuters, meanwhile, that Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan are priorities given a softening in Trump support in those states. Trump will hold a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, later this month.

Other notable stories:

  • Yesterday, Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign announced the appointment of David Sirota, a journalist, as a senior adviser and speechwriter, following an undisclosed “trial period” as an informal adviser. The Atlantic’s Edward-Isaac Dovere took Sirota to task for continuing to present himself as a journalist during that time while “trashing most of Sanders’s Democratic opponents” on Twitter and in columns for Guardian US. (The paper’s editor said Sirota last wrote for the site before he started advising Sanders.) According to Dovere, Sirota deleted more than 20,000 tweets yesterday.
  • In the early hours of this morning, Fox finally closed the sale of entertainment assets to Disney. The spinoff sees the formation of a new company, Fox Corp., which now owns Fox News and other remaining assets. On Tuesday, Paul Ryan, the former speaker of the House who stepped down from Congress at the beginning of the year, was named a board member of the new company. CNN’s Brian Stelter has more details.
  • We keep hearing the Mueller report is imminent, and it keeps not being. For Vanity Fair, Joe Pompeo spoke with journalists on the Mueller beat as they play the waiting game. “It definitely feels like we’re sort of hitting the breaking point, but then each week passes, and it’s just, like, what the hell!” one reporter told Pompeo. Another said: “On the one hand, we want it to come, so it can finally be over with. On the other hand, it’s gonna set off this mad scramble to figure out what’s in it, which we’re all dreading.”
  • For Australia’s ABC, Rashna Farrukh, a Muslim woman who worked in a junior role at Sky News Australia, explains that last week’s mosque massacre in New Zealand drove her to quit the channel, which she characterizes as a platform for incendiary right-wing rhetoric. Sky is owned by Rupert Murdoch. In the aftermath of the attack, Sky New Zealand said it removed Sky News Australia from its platform while the latter was still showing clips from the mosque shooter’s video. New Zealand’s chief censor subsequently made it illegal to view, possess, or share that video.
  • A judge in Cook County, Illinois, barred ProPublica Illinois from identifying children or foster parents in a case that outlet has been investigating—a rare example of “prior restraint.” An attorney representing ProPublica Illinois said the order represents a “constitutional injury” to the organization, and that prior restraint is “one of the highest bars in national law.”
  • For CJR, Jake Pitre explores the boom and bust of queer media. “The boom of queer media didn’t last long. In recent months, several outlets have either suffered severe losses or layoffs; others have been shuttered completely,” he writes. “These decisions seemed to say to queer people that we had our chance, and we blew it—we weren’t profitable enough.”
  • In France, journalists at Le Monde are working to block Daniel Kretinsky—a Czech energy magnate who recently bought a stake in the paper and several other French titles—from taking control of the business, the Financial Times’s Harriet Agnew reports. An associate insists Kretinsky is a Francophile who has Le Monde’s journalistic interests at heart; inside and outside observers fear he sees the paper as a money-spinner.
  • And Bernard Krisher, who worked as Toyko bureau chief for Newsweek and Fortune, then launched the English-language Cambodia Daily to help establish a free press in that country, died earlier this month. He was 87. The Cambodia Daily has a detailed obituary.

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Jon Allsop is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, Foreign Policy, and The Nation, among other outlets. He writes CJR’s newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.