New York Times Wrings Hands Over Whether to Report Trump Tweets as News

November 30th, 2016 12:59 PM

President-Elect Donald Trump just tweeted something really astounding about his domestic policy. However, should it be reported as news? What to do? What to do? Oh, what a quandary!

Anybody with a lick of common sense would agree that, of course, it should be reported as news. After all, what difference does it make whether the medium is television, radio, telegraph, smoke signals, carrier pigeons, or, yes, Twitter? News is news. However for the New York Times the fact that Trump uses Twitter to relay important information is a matter for much amusing hand wringing as you can see in the very title of their Tuesday angst-ridden article, If Trump Tweets It, Is It News? A Quandary for the News Media.

Since Election Day, President-elect Donald J. Trump has proposed a U-turn in American diplomatic relations with Cuba, boasted about negotiations with a major manufacturer, trumpeted false claims about millions of illegal votes and hinted that he might upend current free speech laws by banning flag burning.

All in 140 characters or less.

As news organizations grapple with covering a commander in chief unlike any other, Mr. Trump’s Twitter account — a bully pulpit, propaganda weapon and attention magnet all rolled into one — has quickly emerged as a fresh journalistic challenge and a source of lively debate.

How to cover a president’s pronouncements when they are both provocative and maddeningly vague? Does an early-morning tweet amount to a planned shift in American policy? Should news outlets, as some readers argue, ignore clearly untrue tweets, rather than amplify falsehoods further?

Notice the not so subtle bias on the part of reporters Michael M. Grinbaum and Sydney Ember as they agonize over the issue of reporting Trump's tweets while sneaking, in plain sight, a slam against him for what they call "clearly untrue tweets" and "falsehoods."

In interviews on Tuesday, political editors and reporters said that, for now, they planned to apply the same news judgment they would apply to any statement by a powerful leader, even as some acknowledged that social media allows Mr. Trump to reduce complicated subjects to snappy, and sometimes misleading, slogans and sound bites.

So they plan to apply common sense on reporting Trump's tweets. Oh, and again yet another dig against Trump by describing some of his tweets as "misleading."

On social media, there have been calls for news outlets to boycott covering Mr. Trump’s tweets entirely. Critics say that any coverage elevates unsubstantiated assertions and murky policy suggestions.

Media would be wise to stop hyper-coverage of Trump’s tweets — they distract, distort and debase,” Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, said in a Twitter post on Tuesday.

The historian Fred Kaplan declared, “It’s time to ignore his tweets,” echoing others who wondered whether Mr. Trump’s provocative statements were a deliberate effort to distract journalists.

And now for some amusing concern from the Times over the balance of something called the "media ecosystem." Apparently this ranks almost as high a concern as a rip in the space/time continuum:

Part of the concern is that Mr. Trump’s Twitter posts can have a ripple effect in the media ecosystem. Producers of morning shows and newspaper assignment editors wake up to head-turning statements from the future leader of the free world; those remarks sometimes dominate coverage for hours. Even if journalists insert caveats or clearly label a statement as false, the remarks still reach a large audience.

WARNING: The Surgeon General has determined that this Trump tweet may be hazardous to the Times staff mental health.

And now for a new branch of journalism...Trump tweet assessment: 

Handling Mr. Trump’s Twitter account has been a hot topic in big newsrooms. Matthew Purdy, a deputy managing editor at The New York Times, said on Tuesday that the Mr. Trump’s remarks had to be assessed one by one.

Clearly his tweets are a window into policy decisions or his state of mind,” Mr. Purdy said in an interview. “Just because he tweets it doesn’t make it news. But just because he tweets it doesn’t make it frivolous either.”

If a Trump tweets in the forest and Pinch Sulzberger isn't around to read it, does it still make a Twitter notification sound?

Apparently Trump's tweets have even caused news organizations to twist themselves into complex calculations regarding coverage:

At some publications, the calculus about coverage is more about the resources on hand. At The Los Angeles Times, covering every Twitter post would prevent reporters from focusing on other political issues, like the future of the Affordable Care Act. “We’ve got a smaller staff than some other folks do, so I’m sure there have been ones that we’ve passed on,” said David Lauter, the paper’s Washington bureau chief.

Deferential calculus? It could be an integral part of Trump tweet assessment calculations.