Oppenheim: Tweeter-In-Chief

Dec 6, 2016

To consider how Donald Trump is singlehandedly changing the media landscape, let’s take a step back to the 1990s when the Internet was becoming a powerful medium – a time when the delivery of news content changed radically, not only in form, but in time.

Instead of getting our information at certain points in the day with a paper or newscast, we could get it whenever we wanted. Then we made hops to mobile and social media, and suddenly, people could create their own audiences.

While that idea sounded quaint then, it doesn’t now. President-Elect Trump has more than 16 million followers on Twitter or roughly four million more than President Obama has on his POTUS Twitter account.

During the campaign, when Trump tweeted about Muslims cheering in New Jersey after 9-11, he was contradicted by some traditional media who reported there was no evidence for such a claim.

As we got closer to the election, some expected Trump to back off from his tweet storms. In fact, he claimed, if elected, he’d cool it. But now it’s pretty clear that’s not going to happen. As President-elect, he’s alleged that millions of fraudulent ballots cost him the popular vote – just the sort of thing that puts national media folks in a quandary.

In general terms, they’re reporting what Trump tweets, with a bold headline that there’s nothing to back him up. And it’s debatable whether Trump’s tweets should get any media attention at all. But I have to agree with those who say the media’s obligated to report what the leader of the free world says, especially if it’s outlandish.

Trouble is, with such a robust Twitter following, Trump can create his own truth. If he claims he really won the popular vote, many people will buy it – like those voters interviewed on CNN just recently, who were convinced there was massive election fraud – when it was Trump’s own claim that was fraudulent.

Too many folks these days either can’t or won’t discriminate between reliable and unreliable sources, so they believe what they want to believe.

Maybe Donald Trump tweets because he’s impulsive and just can’t stop himself – but I expect he knows he’s reaching audiences directly.

So maybe the Twitterer-in-chief is creating a distorted narrative intentionally, knowing that big media will follow – merely by reporting on what he says in 140 characters – or less.