This morning was a perfect example of modern-day mass communication from the highest office in the land. President Donald Trump sent out a total of six tweets. In the process he has pretty much set the agenda for the next 24 hours for a now-ravenous 24/7 multi-billion dollar new industry. With fewer than 840 typed characters the President today accomplished what Reagan needed a prime-time television address to do. With 23 million followers and an untold number of retweets, shares and comments; President Trump accomplished all this in mere moments this morning. And he did it without having to rely on reporters to interpret, edit and disseminate his message.
As mass media has become a more pervasive part of our lives, elected leaders have struggled with the best way to communicate to the masses through this filter. Some have cajoled and groomed the media…many have simply lied…others have flat-out tried to corrupt them. All have needed to have some strategy to influence what went on the front page or over the air. But the growing variety of media is offering them options.
In College, one of my professors wrote a book entitled “The Prime Time Presidency of Ronald Reagan.” His thesis was that Reagan was using live televised messages to the American people to “sidestep” the traditional press. He articulated that Reagan was masterfully using his training from movies, television and radio to speak directly to people, without having to rely on journalists to accurately disseminate the information. Clearly, it worked. Even his harshest critics stipulate that Reagan was the “Great Communicator.”
I’ve been reminded of my Professor’s book each time I hear a member of the current mainstream media lament President-Elect Donald Trump’s fondness for Twitter. Yes, some of his Tweets have been outlandish. But how is it fundamentally different from what Reagan did in the eighties? It is a means of direct communication with the people; without having to rely on any filters (intentional or unintentional) applied by journalists. Like Reagan used television to conduct an end-around, Trump is using Twitter.
For the liberal readers among you, how is it fundamentally different from FDR’s “Fireside Chats” over radio? Again, his direct communication with the American people bypassed the need for an eager media to interpret and rebroadcast the information he sent to people first-hand.
Trump has found his “Fireside Chat” platform on Twitter…and it is the perfect medium for today’s Attention Deficit Society. In just a matter of minutes he was able to double-down on his immigration orders, take a swipe at the Senate Minority Leader, slam the Democratic Party for their jobs record AND tease his announcement on a Supreme Court nominee. In the not-too-recent past, this would have required a press conference, accompanied by a couple of press releases. THEN he would have had to rely on journalists to accurately relay the information.
Trump’s tweets are simple. In the six shown here the most challenging word is “detained.” It’s written at what I would guess is a sixth-grade level of comprehension. I don’t say that to be demeaning…quite the opposite. One of the keys to mass communicating is to make your message as easy as possible to consume. It may appear that the messenger is talking down to their audience, but not really. They are simply meeting the audience where the audience resides. The person ringing up your purchase at Sheetz does not live in a world where the word “synergy” is used in every fourth sentence. And they are likely to tune you out if you use it. But when you can work “dudes” into your message, that person understands. No, it won’t win you any Pulitzer Prizes. It won’t win approval from wordsmiths. The Editorial Staff at the New Yorker is likely to lampoon you. But the message has been delivered…and received.
Much like liberal intellectuals were stunned at how the population at-large rallied around Reagan, today’s elites are puzzled at the way Trump is connecting with middle America. Just like in the eighties, they scoff at the plain language employed by the President and the simpletons who would respond to such tripe. As someone with a better-than-average vocabulary I personally favor communicators who are a bit more “highbrow.” Think George Will. But as a pragmatist, I very much see the value in speaking plainly and avoiding the jargon that politicians intentionally use to muddy and mystify. Give me a course Trump tweet over a carefully-crafted Clinton statement ANY day of the week.
The Mainstream media’s top objection to Trump is not that his tweet contain commoner’s language or impolitic remarks. They hate it because it goes to the consumer directly, without passing through the filter they’ve become accustomed to providing. Media mavens have historically been suspicious of newsmakers who avoid traditional channels of communication. It is the same reason autocratic rulers are suspicious of free speech. That someone they personally hate is doing it makes this all the more infuriating to those who occupy the Fourth Estate.