Trump, Twitter and the might of media

Connor Johnson, Staff Writer

It is usually said “the pen is mightier than the sword,” and world history has shown the importance of a free media network. However, President Donald Trump seems to think otherwise, as his latest accusations have implied.

President Trump, in the last few weeks, has taken to Twitter to share his feelings on the “fake news” hounding his administration, and the White House took the unprecedented step of denying CNN, the New York Times, the LA Times, BBC, Buzzfeed and Politico from attending a press briefing.

“That presidents don’t like the press is nothing new,” Mark Trahant, an Assistant Professor in the University of North Dakota’s Communication program, said, “but what is new is Trump doesn’t need them.”

In his quote, Trahant means that Trump controls his administration’s media much more than other presidents, thanks to his frequent Twitter updates. In fact, Trump lately steered investigations away from him and his administration and instead toward former President Barack Obama with his tweets about “wire tapping” done in Trump Tower in New York City over the weekend, though no evidence has been uncovered supporting this.

Trahant also notes that the White House Press Corps, the area responsible for media relations with the president, does have the power to deny entry to news organizations, such as what happened at the press briefing last Friday.

“They have it physically, but not morally,” he said.

Trahant has unique relations to the White House and its press relations against other professors at UND. In 2004, he asked President George W. Bush during a campaign debate about his views on tribal sovereignty—the rights of Native American reservations to govern themselves. The president’s response to the answer was captured on several videos and subsequently posted to YouTube, the most popular of which has over 200,000 views.

Regarding his views on the current president, Trahant sees it a question of competence instead of experience, especially over rising claims that President Trump is mentally unfit to serve office. He does, however, defend the president, noting how politically divided the United States had become over the last three administrations and how presidents before him have dealt with negative publicity. For example, Trahant notes that Lyndon B. Johnson blamed journalist Walter Cronkite for losing the Vietnam War.

At the same time, Trahant doesn’t believe Trump’s actions against the media are the correct answer, and encourages continued pressure on the administration.

“I just think the press should keep on pressing for the truth,” he said. One historic example he gave was the reporter Helen Thomas, who was present at briefings from Lyndon B. Johnson up to Barack Obama.

If Trahant were to address the current president like he did to President Bush, Trahant stated he would “lower the temperature” regarding his questions, but would likely keep Trump on his toes.

“Running the federal government is not something you can do on slogans,” Trahant said.

Mark Trahant is UND’s Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism. He previously worked for PBS’s “Frontline” program, and also runs his own blog at His office is located in O’Kelly Hall, Room 209.

Connor Johnson is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]