Trump tweets about ‘fake news’ nearly 10 times often as ‘build the wall’
President Trump cares more about tearing down the news media than building a wall along the Mexican border — at least according to his Twitter feed.
Trump on Sunday tweeted a mocked-up wrestling video of him body-slamming and beating a character labeled as CNN. "#FraudNews," Trump tagged it. His supporters reveled in the joke while critics maligned him for suggesting violence against the media.
Since his election, Trump has published more than 60 tweets disparaging "fake news" — according to a search of the trumptwitterarchive.com database — mostly targeting CNN but also including a range of other media outlets. But since November, Trump has posted fewer than a dozen tweets about the border wall that was the hallmark of his presidential campaign.
Trump occasionally tweeted about the "dishonest media" during the campaign, but he did not tweet about "fake news" until Dec. 10, a month after he was elected. "Reports by @CNN that I will be working on The Apprentice during my Presidency, even part time, are ridiculous & untrue – FAKE NEWS!" he wrote at the time.
Since then he has regularly used his Twitter feed to engage his feud with the media, even as his key policy topics go undiscussed.
He has posted only 11 tweets with the word "trade" and three more about NAFTA, the free trade agreement he railed against during the campaign. From March to October 2016, Trump tweeted 15 times about NAFTA.
With Congress struggling to pass a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Trump has posted about 80 tweets referring to "health care" or "Obamacare." However, since taking office he has mentioned vets or veterans in only a dozen tweets, about half as many times as he has mentioned NBC.
CNN has gotten 27 specific mentions in Trump tweets; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has gotten two.
While Trump gets criticism among the press and political pundits, he clearly gets positive feedback on Twitter. The CNN wrestling tweet quickly became one of Trump’s most retweeted posts ever: more than 183,000 retweets by Sunday afternoon and close to 300,000 likes. By contrast, his most retweeted post about veterans, calling on the House to pass a VA accountability bill, got only 25,000 retweets and 105,000 likes.
Given Trump’s long-stated distrust of polling, "that sort of engagement in the form of likes and retweets from regular Americans is probably the only feedback loop he trusts," said Adam Sharp, former head of news and politics for Twitter. "Why does he do it? Because he clearly feels it’s working for him."
Sharp also notes that part of the reason Trump’s combative tweets generate so many tweets and likes is because the media publicizes them.
"It is fair to say that the media gives more attention to his media tweets than his policy ones," Sharp said. For example, far more attention was given to Trump’s ongoing Twitter spat with Morning Joe co-hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough on Friday than the president’s tweet the same day indicating he would be willing to consider a bill to simply repeal Obamacare if the Senate replacement bill collapses — a potentially dramatic change in policy.
"All of this is a great distraction from what he is doing or what he is failing to do," said Micheal Cornfield, associate professor of political management at George Washington University. "This is all show biz."
Cornfield noted that "the one time he didn’t tweet — which was during (former FBI director James) Comey’s testimony — he paid for it, because he did not dominate the conversation."
Trump stayed silent on Twitter June 8 while Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee about his conversations with Trump before he was fired. Cornfield notes that since Trump was not tweeting, the news narrative was consumed with Comey’s allegations that Trump urged him to drop an investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
It is worth noting that Trump maintains a much more traditional Twitter presence through the official @POTUS account, which generally documents achievements and daily events at the White House. But that account also retweeted the CNN wrestling tweet Sunday.