Yesterday, uttering the famous last words “F**k the flag tweet,” I entered the fracas over whether knee-jerk journalistic coverage of Trump’s tweets distracts from other, more important stories. “Fellow journalists,” I beseeched, “start doing it right TODAY. F**k the flag tweet. The story is Tom Price/HHS and his threat to health-care access.”
My plea rose from my growing concern with how well Trump works the media; my readings of several related laments, such as this from Jack Shafer; and from having just consumed Sarah Kliff’s fine story on how deeply and broadly Tom Price’s nomination threatens this country’s health-care system. The ensuing discussion took lines made familiar over the last few weeks: Some people cheered me on. Others objected, noting, quite sensibly, that they could very well absorb more than one story a day, thank you.
I found myself agreeing with both sides, and wondering why. Then it struck me that much of the problem—perhaps its root—lies in the mixed public-private nature of the conversations journalists tend to have on Twitter and Facebook. A typical journalist might have anywhere from 100 to 50,000 followers. The journalist might actually know one or two thousand of those followers; a few hundred will be fellow journalists or friends. On a social level, it’s perfectly natural—and hard to fault—that a journalist would share with those friends and colleagues an initial response, anywhere from amazed to dismayed, to Trump’s latest social-media blast.