Monday, December 26, 2016

To mute or not to mute a loud leader

           Of course it's news.

Not that my wife wants any part of it. Ever since the electoral victory of Donald Trump, whatever he has to say, she will hear nothing of it.

The mere fact that I just used his name means she will decline to review this commentary.

In our house, any televised mention of His Loudness brings silence, thanks to a 20th century invention even greater than Trump believes himself to be: the mute.

As exercised by Republicans for the last eight years, muting the president is every American's prerogative.

On the other side of the spectrum, however, are the nation's news gatherers. As news media they feel an obligation to report what a president says. This is a problem in the Time of Trump.

The New York Times recently ruminated on the newsroom dilemma of whether or not every tweet from Trump is news.

"How to cover a president's pronouncements when they are both provocative and maddeningly vague?" ask media writers Michael Grynbaum and Sydney Ember.

"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?"

A really good question -- to which no good answer exists.

One can understand where the Times is coming from. But my wife has a great point as well. Why pay attention to him at all? For one thing, when can we know that the man actually means what he emotes, or knows anything at all about what he's emoting about?

This is a man who, in the phrasing of Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., "has the maturity of a 5-year-old."

That's harsh. More appropriate is that Trump on Twitter is Uncle Mort when he gets in the schnapps.

Take Trump's tweet that the United States "must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability." That's news, duly reported by the nation's press, dutifully then quoting nuclear experts' words of disbelief. Since Reagan, U.S. policy has been to tamp down nuclear ambitions while maintaining a sufficient deterrent.

Six-thousand nuclear-tipped missiles, give or take 70: That's what we have at the ready to destroy living things. President after president has agreed that's a sufficient deterrent to any threat ever conceived by man.

And, no, Trump wasn't tweeting about modernization. He was tweeting about more nukes, a trillion dollars' worth.

So, no, we cannot ignore this. Then again, are we to jerk to attention every time the man flexes wrist cartilage?

A deeper, more serious problem is inherent in Trump thus far as relates to a free press and consumers of information.

Last week he canceled what was to be his first press conference since the election. His handlers say stay tuned: maybe January. Already, Trump has taken longer to hold a press conference than any president-elect in half a century.

This is curious (a word quickly losing utility). Trump, a man with so much to say to us with his dandy digits, criticized Hillary Clinton for going so long on the campaign trail without having a press conference.

And now? As he enters the presidency, Trump is job-shadowing Richard Nixon, whose "Rose Garden strategy" kept the press at arm's length as he used televised events to speak directly to the public. Trump's means of circumventing inquiry: to have all pronouncements Twittervised.

Interestingly, a key adviser behind Nixon's approach was an obscure TV news producer who would rise to run Fox News: Roger Ailes.

(Yes, that's the same Roger Ailes who recently lost his job at Fox because of sexual harassment. Who knew Rupert Murdoch held employees to higher standards than the American electorate?)

Back to the matter of whether or not to react to every tweet and twitch of a man whose Android should be registered with the local sheriff:

One could ignore -- until one could ignore no more.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

No comments: