Trump tweets are all we have to go on in a crisis that’s a huge problem

A rally on Fifth Avenue near Trump Tower in New York in June.
Image: JUSTIN LANE/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

They’re just tweets. They aren’t meant to be taken seriously. It’s just a show.

That’s the general reasoning for why President Donald Trump’s most common public statements shouldn’t be seized upon by the media, politicians, or just about anybody aside from his loyal bot army.

It’s perfectly fine reasoning. Trump’s Twitter feed has remained a stream-of-conscious barrage of nonsense for years. That only increased during his presidential campaign. The tweets made news (most people agreed), but should be viewed with a sense of detachment. These weren’t his actual sentiments, just something to rile up the troops.

Not anymore. In the aftermath of the most recent terrorist attack in London, Trump used his Twitter feed to spread unverified information, make an ill-advised point about gun control, and get in a fight with the mayor of London.

Noise? Maybe, but it’s the only sound coming out of the Trump administration. The White House released no official statement on the attack. Trump has not addressed the nation on video or audio. He has not done any interviews. The only thing the White House has released is a transcript of his phone call with United Kingdom Prime Minister Teresa May.

You know its bad when Kellyanne Conway is getting owned by the Today Show.

This leaves us with @RealDonaldTrump, which is perhaps the realest Donald Trump. There is no filter, which is maybe the nicest thing one can say about the situation. In a world where public relations spin is now ubiquitous in communications, Trump is arguably the most transparent public figure in the world.

Unfortunately, it’s doing little other than sabotaging his own plans.

The Trump administration is gearing up to defend its executive order that sought to prevent people from certain countries from entering the United States. A major part of the case centers around whether the order could be considered a “ban,” a detail that has contributed to courts striking down the order.

The case is headed to the Supreme Court. His surrogates have argued repeatedly that the order is not a ban. It is, they say, a change to procedure well within the laws of the land and executive power.

In the last three days, Trump tweeted four times about his “ban.”

Tweets matter. They matter more when there’s nothing else to drown them out. If there was still some sense that Trump’s Tweets shouldn’t be taken seriously, that moment has passed. There is simply no other alternative.

It’s not easy to take tweets seriously, even if they’re from the President of the United States. We’ve been trained over quite some time not to take him or his Twitter account at face value. “Take Trump seriously, not literally,” went the refrain.

That’s why the @RealPressSecBot, a Twitter account started on Sunday, struck such a chord. It takes all tweets from Trump and puts them in the far more recognized and weighty format of a Presidential statement.

It should come as no surprise then that Trump over the weekend eliminated what little legitimacy he had left with respect to his public statements.

With a near-total vacuum of response from the entire U.S. government, the media had nothing else to go on but the tweets. Trump initially retweeted a Drudge Report tweet with unconfirmed information that the attack had been perpetrated by terrorists and media organizations were forced to take an unprecedented step notifying readers that the president had said something but that it could not be confirmed.

NBC News took it a step further. They declined to repeat the information, since it had not yet been proven.

Media companies have slowly been growing more comfortable with calling out Trump for misleading or inaccurate information. Front pages and and cable news chyrons used to parrot what previous presidents said even if the statements were of debatable veracity.

Under Trump, they’ve realized this won’t fly. Even the Associated Press, the journalism equivalent of a monastery, has run out of patience.

“President Donald Trump cant be counted on to give accurate information to Americans when violent acts are unfolding abroad,” wrote Calvin Woodward and Jim Drinkard in a “Fact Check” post following Trump’s tweets.

That’s an aggressive statement for any publication, but it’s particularly notable coming from the AP. At this point, the AP is saying it won’t be relying on the White House for information during crises. And with the way information is coming out of Trump’s administration, they’re basically saying that the entire executive branch can’t be trusted when there’s breaking news.

That’s a scary proposition for the day Trump is inevitably faced with a domestic crisis. News breaks and Trump will almost inevitably tweet. And that will be all we have to go on.

And it’s all just part of the show.

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