Why the Media Should Ignore Trump Live-Tweeting the Democratic Primary Debates | Opinion

The mainstream news media has few harsher critics than President Trump, who frequently derides them as "fake news" and "the enemy of the people." More recently, Trump has fixated on calling the news media "corrupt." In the past two weeks, for instance, the president has employed the term "corrupt" nearly two dozen times on Twitter alone. Indeed, he has used this moniker to describe the media more times in the past two weeks than in the entire first two years of his presidency.

The news media is, of course, neither "fake" nor "corrupt," and Trump has never offered a scintilla of evidence to support these dangerous and undemocratic attacks on the fourth estate. The president aggressively seeks to discredit the news media for one reason and one reason only: like all authoritarians, he wants to consolidate power. If Trump can convince his base, which he obviously can, that the news media cannot be trusted, then he can more easily spread his lies unchecked. His lies, by the way, which occur at a rate of about 12 per day, are rapidly approaching the 11,000 mark since the start of his presidency.

While a free and independent press (aka the mainstream news media) is hardly the enemy of the American people, sadly they are frequently their own worst enemy when it comes to covering Trump. By some estimates, Trump earned as much $5 billion in unpaid advertising during the 2016 US presidential election, aiding in his victory. Perhaps even more alarmingly, a recent study found that the Twitter accounts of major news media outlets unwittingly amplify Trump's false claims on average 19 times a day.

Given these facts, I was concerned when I learned that Trump was considering live-tweeting the 2020 Democratic primary debates. The idea, which was initially resisted by Trump's advisors, was fueled over at Fox "News" by political opinion commentator—and possibly the most dangerous person in America—Sean Hannity. Hannity, who has a troubling influence on Trump, pushed the idea during a phone interview with the president on Wednesday evening, saying, "I think it'll be a good idea. It'll be very interesting actually." In response to Hannity's prodding, Trump remarked, "I wasn't thinking about it, but maybe I will now. Instead of fake news, I'll make them correct news. And that's OK."

Yes, it likely would be "interesting"—the macabre often is. But would it be newsworthy, and should the news media afford coverage if the president, in keeping with his tendency to always do the least presidential thing possible, actually does? Emphatically, no! If Trump chooses to further degrade the office of the presidency by heckling, lying and name-calling on Twitter during the Democratic debates, credible news outlets must resist the temptation to report it. (Yes, Fox "News" likely will not abide by this suggestion, but credible news organizations should not take their cues from a radical right-wing political opinion network.)

The Democratic debates constitute one of the few opportunities for those seeking to challenge the president to have their voices and views heard widely by the public. It's them Americans need to hear—not their caricatures in Trump's twisted hall of mirrors. Amplify Trump's heckling of the debates, and you allow Trump to frame the coverage, mark the pitch and set the rules. Because of the power of his office, the president already exercises undue rhetorical influence on the news cycle and, by extension, the American public. The president has consistently demonstrated an uncanny ability to manipulate the news media, distracting it from the most important news items of the day.

It is already difficult enough for alternative ideas to get a fair public hearing. In the interest of democratic deliberation and debate, it would be a grave mistake for the news media to dilute or undermine that opportunity. They simply must resist playing into Sean Hannity's hands by covering the president's live tweeting of the 2020 Democratic debates.

Brian L. Ott, a professor of communication studies and director of the TTU Press at Texas Tech University, is co-author, with Greg Dickinson, of "The Twitter Presidency: Donald J. Trump and the Politics of White Rage."

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​