Wiretapping Claims Threaten to Drown Out “Big News”
Using Tweets, President Trump accused Former President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower during Trump’s presidential campaign.
Beginning at 3:35 a.m. Saturday morning March 4, Trump tweeted:
On Monday, March 6, House Republicans announced their new healthcare plan which would replace the Affordable Care Act and President Trump signed a “revised immigration ban,” which only affects travelers from six majority-Muslim countries, instead of seven. Iraq was taken off the list.
On March 6, Lester Holt opened the broadcast with:
The echoes of President Trump’s explosive and inexplicable Twitter accusations against former President Obama over the weekend threatened to drown out today’s big news… the White House operating in low profile mode today as the President’s spokespeople seem to be trying to catch up with their boss and the source of its head scratching allegation… but with no offer of evidence Democrats suspect it’s all an attempt to deflect attention from a growing lot of contacts between Trump associates and the Russians.
Despite saying that it could drown out other news, NBC still led with the wiretapping story. So did ABC and CBS.
Richard Harris, former NPR executive and ABC News senior producer said this was the right decision: “No question it was appropriate to lead with wiretap allegation — not simply because it was an unprecedented allegation (POTUS accusing his predecessor of a felony without a shred of evidence) — but it forced Trump to hide from the press and his spokesmen to vamp while they searched for any evidence to match Trump’s tweet, he wrote in an email. “The Saturday morning tweetstorm wasn’t comparable to Trump’s silly tweets about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ratings on the Apprentice. This had official Washington — both parties — scratching its collective head…”
David Folkenflik, NPR Media Correspondent felt that both the wiretapping story and immigration border developments got “roughly equal play.”
“I think that the wiretap story is genuinely a real story,” said Folkenflik. “If you have a president of the United States accusing the former President of the United States for personally putting a wiretap on him … seemingly without any supporting evidence, it’s reckless and tells me something about the person who is in the power to lead the country … It’s very hard to dismiss completely the newsworthiness…it was the first time that the weekly nightly newscasts got to weigh in on it and that made it a fresher story in some ways then immigration … I think [the choice to lead with the wiretapping story] is defensible, I’m not saying it’s right, I think it’s defensible … and that both stories are getting covered.”
When asked whether the wiretapping story drowned out more important or “big news,” Harris wrote “I wouldn’t use the phrase ‘drown out,’ but I would say the President hurt the White House’s opportunity to focus on the long promised GOP answer to Obamacare.”
“It is ironic that Holt signaled that the bigger news was the immigration story and then himself ushered in a report about Trump’s… almost unhinged claims about Obama and wiretapping seemingly without evidence,” said Folkenflik. “As though Holt himself were unable to resist the tidal forces that pulled him in that direction as opposed to being that guy that can help say ‘hey no, this is the story we’re gonna pick, not that one.’… It’s like a tell… in this case the tell is that Holt kind of knows that what he’s doing is overshadowing the story that he thinks is more important because there’s this other story that’s just too salacious to pass up, but he does it anyway.”
Both Harris and Folkenflik had thoughts about covering Trump’s tweets in general.
“The news media shouldn’t lump all of Trump’s tweets together and decide how to cover them,” wrote Harris. “The fact that a POTUS is sending out tweets on an entire range of policy issues and personalities is inherently newsworthy because the President is directly, without filter, communicating with the American people. But the job of the news media is to put the tweets in context and place each one or a group of tweets on a related topic higher up or lower in a newscast — or ignored altogether — depending on the subject.”
“I think it’s important for news coverage not to be hijacked by the president’s willingness to indulge his impulses instantaneously on social media,” said Folkenflik. “I just think that’s important but I don’t think that we can just ignore it either… rhetoric is part of presidential leadership, so to utterly ignore that is to miss part of the equation and certainly his supporters won’t miss it.”
“Presidential tweets are new,” wrote Harris. “The only policy is to treat each one as a separate Presidential statement. Not all Trump’s statements should be treated alike. Neither should all of Trump’s tweets.”