December 28, 2016

Should the News Media Cover Trump's Twitter Account?

English: Carol Browner (middle) speaking at a ...
Carol Browner (middle) speaking at a press conference with U.S. President-elect Barack Obama (right) and Vice President-elect Joe Biden (left). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The press conference has a long tradition in U.S. politics. Some of the benefits of a president (or president-elect) holding a press conference are that doing so gives reporters a chance to ask questions, point out that some of the question are not being answered clearly, and allows the rest of us to see this unfold in real time. We have all seen press conferences that have gone fairly well and that ended up making the president look good. These press conferences can inspire confidence in our leader. On the other hand, we have all seen press conferences that went poorly and had the opposite effect. Some of these made the leader look ineffective, evasive, or even incompetent.

While a press conference may be a risky endeavor for a leader, we generally expect that presidents will do them regularly as an important part of their job. To the degree that we can count on the reporters present to ask relevant questions and hold the president accountable for providing less than helpful responses, press conferences are good for an informed democracy. They are one of the ways we learn about policy and evaluate our leadership.

President-elect Trump appears to prefer communicating with the American people via Twitter rather than holding press conferences. Who can blame him? With Twitter, he can easily ignore any question he does not want to answer. He is in complete control of the process. While he may (and often does) come across poorly on Twitter, this is very different from doing so in front of the TV cameras in a room full of reporters.

I cannot help wondering whether our mainstream news media are making a mistake by covering Trump's tweets the way they have. By doing so, they have allowed him to bypass the traditional process of communicating with the public through interviews and press conferences. I wonder what would happen if they opted to ignore Trump's Twitter account and stop reporting on it. Perhaps this would be the final nail in their coffin, condemning them to irrelevancy at an accelerated pace. Alternatively, I suspect that by depriving Trump of the attention he seems to desperately crave, they just might motivate him to hold some press conferences.

What do you think? Should we be happy that our news media is reporting on nearly everything President-elect Trump tweets, or does doing so enable him to bypass what could be a more informative means of communicating with us?